It was a sunny Sunday morning and Vienna beckoned. Without a specific destination, we hopped the nearest U-bahn with the intention of getting off at a random stop and exploring. It was only after we were in Praterstern station that we realized The Prater, Vienna's amusement park, was just up the stairs. Destination decided! Let's go!
One attraction here is the Riesenrad, a giant ferris wheel and a perennial symbol of Vienna. Built in 1897, survived WWII intact, standing 65 meters tall and feautured in Orson Welles' The Third Man...blah blah blah...Come to Vienna, we'll go for a spin, it'll be fabulous.
Enormous century old ferris wheels aside, the Prater is a remarkable place, if for no other reason than that they have devised more ways to tumble your guts than anywhere else I have ever been. On a relatively small plot of land you can be shaken, stirred, suspended, plunged, mixed, jiggled, flung, agitated, swirled, vibrated, thrown, plummeted, spun, jumbled, and overturned in ways that defy the imagination.
Though we passed on actually riding any of the attractions, we were like little kids pointing them out to each other “Holy crap!! Look at what THAT one does!!” And we’d watch 9 poor souls being shot up, dropped down, twisted and turned upside down in a matter of 3 vomit-inducing seconds. Good fun people, good fun.
At any given time there are at least nine mechanical contraptions moving in your field of vision. This place is an orgy of site and sound.
One part Coney Island, one part Disney Main Street and three parts traveling carnival, there is a surreal tone to this place. A menacing undercurrent that none of those other places have. Maybe Coney Island's seediness, slight air of desperation and side show freaks come closest. Something malevolent, yet not overtly threatening, lurks beneath the surface and that, in my humble opinion, is a large part of the Prater's charm.
This place used to be the Royal hunting grounds. And even after Austria’s Emperor So-and-So opened the land for public use, much of it remains rural and wooded. Does that explain why Grimm images of broiled orphans and poisoned princesses come to mind? Wandering though this park, past hawkers and dizzying rides, bier gartens and cotton candy machines, I conjured up insane clowns, evil jack-in-the-boxes, and warty old crones.
It was all very Something Wicked This Way Comes meets IT.
Maybe why my eyes kept catching sights like this...
...and this (What is that thing?!?) The underbelly that plays at least a small part of every carnival atmosphere is alive and well here.
There were families, sunshine, laughter and a carousel with real ponies, but it just felt like something unnamed skulked. Like 99 people will go through that haunted house, but YOUR kid might be the one to disappear forever. I suspect if I checked the local newspaper’s archives I’d find an alarming amount of people get electrocuted on the bumper cars, or have their necks broken on the tilt-a-whirl. That the giant robotic gorilla advertising the King of the Jungle ride actually fell and crushed someone in 1987. That a chain broke on the Chair-o-Planes ride and sent three people plummeting to their deaths in '72 AND ‘94. That something toxic got into the gas lines last year and all the beer served on May day poisoned hundreds.
I'll get back to you after my research is done....
I couldn't tear my eyes from (or turn my back on) this guy. Funny, but also slightly unnerving. As we passed I gave him an overeager attitude and an accented voice for Chris's benefit: “Hallo, my name ist Klaus und I am ze spirit of MUSIC! Shall ve have some fun??”And the whispered finish... “Come closer little kinder und I vill grab you ven your mutter is not looking!”
Maybe the Dungeons of Doom really will be where you meet your end? Maybe the fun-house mirror that shows you 10 times actual size will cause you to compulsively eat yourself to death? Perhaps the stodgy frau operating Cinderella’s Magical Tour turns into a leering flesh eating gremlin once the giant swan boat disappears down the tunnel?
Or maybe you will wake up tomorrow and be trapped in the body of that giant baby. Or worse, trapped in the tiny fedora'd man that the crazed giant baby drags around through eternity. Or not. You never know. And that's what will keep me coming back to the Prater.