Today, I took a ride on Vienna’s Giant Ferris Wheel – Wiener Riesenrad. The Ferris wheel’s prominent visibility along the skyline sparked my curiosity, but it wasn’t nearly as scary as I hoped it would be :). Views over the rooftops of Vienna were fantastic!
Trademark – Vienna and Green Prater
The Ferris Wheel is a “trademark of Austria’s capital and a symbol of Vienna’s world-famous Prater”. Glad to have experienced it, but the gondolas seemed like small railcars. The ride was tame when compared to the open seats on Ferris wheels I rode as a child – where a small bar fastened across your waist held you inside.
The Wiener Riesenrad is part of the Prater, Vienna’s nature reserve in Leopoldstadt, an island district between the Danube River and the Donaukanal. The Prater is known as “one of the best city parks in the world”. It includes water areas and wooded trails for walking, hiking, jogging, bicycling, and skating.
The Ferris wheel was “originally built in 1897 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Emperor Franz Joseph’s throne”. At the time, it was “one of the largest in the world”.
Plans for the Ferris wheel were designed by English engineers Walter Bassett and Harry Hitchins and “built on the Prater site leased by Gabor Steiner, the real father of the Ferris wheel.”
“The official inauguration of the Vienna Ferris wheel took place on July 3, 1897, a hot summer day when the Viennese visited the Prater grounds in large numbers.”
World War I
“During the First World War, in 1916, the owner of the Ferris wheel put the attraction up for auction. Three years later, Prague merchant, Eduard Steiner (unrelated to Gabor Steiner), acquired it. He originally wanted to tear it down, but leased it instead.”
In 1938, the Ferris wheel was “Aryanized” by the National Socialists. A year later, it was listed as a historical monument. During World War II, the Ferris wheel was almost destroyed by fire and bombs. In 1944, it burned out. That same year, Gabor Steiner died and Eduard Steiner, the last legal Ferris wheel owner, was murdered at Auschwitz. In 1953, the Ferris wheel was given to Eduard Steiner’s heirs.
The Ferris wheel with 15 gondola cars became a symbol of Vienna reconstruction after the War.
Due to damage suffered during the war, only half of the original 30 gondolas were restored, with 4, instead of the original 6, side windows. In 2002, an “exhibition hall called the Panorama Museum” was created with 8 replica gondolas, depicting the Wiener Riesenrad.
In 2016, work began on replacing the restored gondolas with new ones built according to the original plans from 1896-97. The weight of the rotating structure is 244.85 tons, and the total weight of all iron structures is 430.05 tons.
“The drive is provided by two motors. Although each of the motors could move the wheel alone, another two smaller motors are integrated into the drive system for safety. In the event of a power failure, the energy supply is maintained by an emergency generator. Ultimately, the power transmission system is designed so the Ferris wheel can also be turned by hand.”
“Vienna’s Giant Ferris Wheel has quite a few stories to tell. It’s been in motion for 125 years and has seen it all: wars, heartbreak, Hollywood fame, and love stories. Reaching high into the sky, with dazzling views over the city, this ferrous lady offers a peek into the Zeitgeist of a tumultuous era in Vienna.” Mariette Steinhart and Marsa Kindl-Omuse austria.info
Stunts, Movies, Fame
Over the years, the Ferris wheel became a setting for stunts and “daring actions,” by sports personalities and rock stars. TV series and movie sets, like The Third Man, used it for a backdrop.
On June 9, 2016 – the 250th anniversary of Vienna’s Prater Park – and in memory of the 1949 movie, The Third Man, the film was added to the European Film Academy’s list of Treasures of European Film Culture. Other films, including a scene in the James Bond adventure, The Living Days (1987), have also been filmed near the Ferris wheel.