Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Only In Vienna...

Where can you...

Visit an art space in a telephone box?

Live in a council flat designed by a world famous artist?

Find a waste-to-energy plant that looks like an art installation? 

Do your shopping in a gas tank?

Answer? As if you needed me to tell you.


I'll begin at the very beginning. A very good place to start. (Listen, I'm allowed the odd Sound of Music reference. Next year will be the 50th anniversary of the musical that informed a whole generation that not only did Austria have fewer syllables than Australia, it also had lots of cattle. And mountains. But definitely NO kangaroos).

The art space in a telephone box:

Its proper name is The Kunstzelle (art cell) - a former Austrian telephone box left over from the days before the fancy new models, digital phones and mobiles. Inside, artists respond to the challenge of presenting a complete installation in a confined space. Don’t ask me how or why, but it works. In the past, it has housed an adventure playground, complete with barbeque (by Gruppe Anonim), an extraordinary and prolific grass sculpture (by Katrin Hornek) and even a street theatre group - Carpa (pictured at the top). Yes, all of them, crammed in together. Health and safety anyone?

At present, there is a lovely little exhibit entitled ‘Never Walk Alone’ by Christiane Spatt, inspired by the classic James Stewart film, ‘Harvey’. I understood it was supposed to end in July but here we are in September and, at the time of writing, it is still there. Really cute.

The Kunstzelle is situated in the Werkstätten- und Kulturhaus  (WUK) Währinger Straße 59
A-1090 Wien. It’s easily reached by public transport (which in Vienna is easy, fast, reliable and cheap). WUK houses a wondrous collection of art spaces, theatre, music, in a relaxed and laid back atmosphere. It is a place to wander, meander, relax and enjoy. Or, indeed, create.

Want to live in a council flat designed by a world famous artist?

Then, join a long waiting list! But until you manage (somehow) to scramble to the top, you’ll find the house in question – known as Hundertwasserhaus – on the corner of Kegelgasse and Löwengasse in the Landstraße district of Vienna. The city countil commissioned controversial artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser, who collaborated with architect, Joseph Krawina, in 1977, to design a block of flats which would be a world away from the usual, featureless concrete blocks to be found all over Vienna. Hundertwasser had very firm ideas on the role of mankind on the planet, what man gives away he/she must put back. If a tree is removed to build a house, then room within that house shall be made for another tree to grow. Hence, now, these many years later, views of Hundertwasserhaus can be almost obliterated by dense summer foliage. 

Hundertwasser also abhorred straight lines, or any windows ‘without eyebrows’. Straight lines do not occur in nature, he said. So you will find the pavements (sidewalks) undulate a little, the colourful wall painting is all curves and soft edges and every window has its decoration. In fact, if they want to, the residents can add their own embellishment (within a specified measure from their window). So far, none have chosen to do so. The apartments themselves are, of course, private, but the exterior is worth the short tram ride from the centre alone. And the shops are pretty neat too.

Now, about that waste-to-energy plant...

Hop on the U4 or the U6 underground train and head off to Spittelau and you will find the most extraordinary looking thermal waste treatment plant. It was partially destroyed by fire but, by 1987, Friedensreich Hundertwasser had been hard at work again. This time designing a façade that transformed an ugly, functional industrial eyesore into a work of art visited by people from all over the world. Around 60,000 homes in Vienna are heated by this plant.

  Ready for some shopping? A bite to eat? A film maybe?  

You can do it all in one of four gas tanks. Seriously. Well, obviously there’s no gas in them now but there was once. 

 Four enormous (70 meters high) gasometers were constructed at the end of the 19 century to cater for an expected high demand from a rapidly growing city. They were the largest in Europe at the time but, less than a hundred years later, they were lying there. Gigantic, defunct monster relics of a bygone age. What to do with them? Demolish them? Plenty had been all over Europe. Or – how about doing something creative with them? 

The latter option was chosen and now, shopping complexes, cinemas, cafes, restaurants, offices, its own underground station (Gasometer, on the U3) and an event hall for 4000 people have created their own city. Sadly, it seems to have been undergoing a downturn of fortunes recently. I noticed a lot of shops closed down and an unusual, almost eerie, stillness where they used to be a buzz. Maybe it’s just the post-summer lull before Christmas. I’ve been known to do all my Christmas shopping there, but not for a few years. Memo to self: rectify that this year!

The video for Falco’s Coming Home (Jeanny Part II) was partially filmed in one of the empty gasometers, prior to renovation:

If you are a fan of the quirky and unusual, you’ll find ‘111 Places in Vienna That You Shouldn’t Miss’ an excellent guide, it’s written by Peter Eickhoff, with some super photographs by Karl Haimel. (Damn! I wish I’d thought to write it first!) You can find it here: Amazon

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