Over the years, I’ve only received two postcards from Austria through Postcrossing; the earlier card was received back in September 2006 and I believe it was the first homemade card that I got. This one arrived earlier this year and pictures the Wurstelprater amusement park in Vienna’s 2nd district (Leopoldstadt), often simply called “Prater”. It features the Wiener Riesenrad (German for Vienna Giant Wheel), a 212-foot (64.75-meter) tall Ferris wheel at the entrance. It is one of Vienna’s most popular tourist attractions, and symbolizes the district as well as the city for many people. Constructed in 1897, it was the world’s tallest extant Ferris wheel from 1920 until 1985.
The area that makes up the modern Prater was first mentioned in 1162, when Emperor Friedrich I gave the land to a noble family called de Prato. The word “Prater” was first used in 1403, originally referring to a small island in the Danube north of Freudenau, but was gradually extended to mean the neighboring areas as well. The land changed hands frequently until it was bought by Emperor Maximilian II in 1560 to be a hunting ground. To deal with the problem of poachers, Emperor Rudolf II forbade entry to the Prater. On April 7, 1766, Emperor Joseph II declared the Prater to be free for public enjoyment, and allowed the establishment of coffee-houses and cafés, which led to the beginnings of the Wurstelprater. Throughout this time, hunting continued to take place in the Prater, ending only in 1920.
In 1873, a World Exhibition was held in the Prater, for which a large area of land was set aside, centered on the Rotunda, which burnt down in 1937. This land now houses the Messegelände (exhibition center).
On the grounds of modern-day Kaiserwiese, an attraction called “Venice in Vienna” was established in 1895 by Gabor Steiner. The area included an artificial lagoon to simulate the canals of Venice, Italy.
The Wiener Riesenrad was constructed in 1897 by the English engineer Lieutenant Walter Bassett, Royal Navy. Its purpose was to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Emperor Franz Josef I, and it was one of the earliest Ferris wheels ever built. Bassett’s Ferris wheel manufacturing business was not a commercial success, and he died in 1907 almost bankrupt. A permit for its demolition was issued in 1916, but because of a lack of funds with which to carry out the destruction, it survived. The Ferris wheel and cafe on the Prater were once owned by a Jew, Eduard Steiner, who was murdered at Auschwitz.
The Wiener Riesenrad was built with 30 gondolas, but was severely damaged in World War II and when it was rebuilt only 15 gondolas were replaced. The wheel is driven by a circumferential cable which leaves the wheel and passes through the drive mechanism under the base, and its spokes are steel cables, in tension.
In 2004, major renovations to the Wurstelprater began, and a new underground railway line was finished and brought into service on May 11, 2008, which includes three stops along the Prater. The railway station Praterstern has been in operation for a long time and is only a few dozen meters away from an entrance to the park.
The overall area of the park has also been reduced by the building of the Ernst-Happel-Stadion (Austria’s national stadium), the Südosttangente (Austria’s busiest piece of motorway) and Krieau Race Track. In 2013, the new campus of the Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien (Vienna University of Economics and Business/WU) was opened next to the Prater.
The Hauptallee (main avenue) is the main artery of the Prater, lined with horse chestnut trees, closed to motorists and known to sports enthusiasts from the annual Vienna Marathon. The Wiener Prater is home to the Liliputbahn, a narrow gauge railway. Another unusual object to be found in the Wiener Prater is the Republik Kugelmugel (Republic of Kugelmugel), a spherical micronation. The Wiener Prater also houses a planetarium and the Prater Museum.