Destinations Magazine

A Fabulous Ferris Wheel

By Linda
A Fabulous Ferris Wheel

photo : Troels Dejgaard Hansen

No trip to Vienna would be complete without having a look at the Wiener Riesenrad – a fabulous Ferris Wheel and iconic symbol of this UNESCO world heritage city.

Ferris Wheel

The Ferris Wheel in question is the world’s oldest surviving example of the work of Britishmen Walter Basset and Harry Hitchens – and of the ferris wheels built in the 1800′s.

Built in 1896, the Wiener Riesenrad (translation: Giant Wheel) was opened to the public in 1897 to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Emperor Franz Josef Ι. Although on Austrian turf, the Wiener Riesenrad remained the property of Walter Basset until 1916.

Other taller wheels of the time were the original Ferris wheel in Kentucky, USA (built in 1893) and ‘The Great Wheel’ built in 1895 for the Empire of India Exhibition at Earl’s Court, London (demolished 1907). If you have never seen one of these ‘wheely big’ wonders, it’s hard to imagine how just big they are.

To give you an idea, the Empire of India Exhibition wheel had 30 gondolas, each capable of carrying 40 passengers per trip. Compared with (say) the London Eye and all it’s technological tinkering – which has 32 ‘capsules’ each holding a maximum of 25 people – for their time, these ‘wheel wonders’ of the 1800′s were pretty impressive!

The Wiener Riesenrad has other interesting historical features and facts. It operated without error until WWΙ, when it was confiscated from Walter Basset (for being a Brit!) and scheduled for demolition. It was only saved from the axe by lack of funds to perform the final dastardly deed.

After the war salvation came in the form of Eduard Steiner, a Jewish Businessman, who bought it at auction. He owned and operated the wheel until the outbreak of WWΙΙ,  when it was nicked by the Nazis (1938) and poor Eduard was arrested and placed at Auschwitz. A while later Eduard was murdered at that deplorable place and in the same year – 1944 – the wheel was hit by a bomb and burnt severely. An allie avenging dear Eduard,  I hope!

Rebuilding of the wheel took place between 1945 and 1947, though the original number of gondolas was reduced to 15. It still dominates the skyline of Vienna from its position in the Prater park (formerly a hunting reserve of the Emperor), where an amusement complex (Würstel Prater) was built to further entertain the ancient aristocrats. It’s still there today and we more lowly sorts can enjoy an hour or two there taking in the sights and sounds of these lovely lands.

Revolution on the Riesenrad

A 10 to 20 minute ride (revolution) on the Wiener Riesenrad will add to your enjoyment and help you see sights over and beyond the Vienna skyline, to the distant lands of the Danube Valley and into the plains of Hungary. Then when that pleasure is passed, visit the panaorama museum (included in the ticket price) that takes you on a travel through time from the Romans to the present in a series of reconstructed gondolas.

For more information about taking a ‘revolution’ on the wonderful Riesenrad (times and prices), see here.

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