Celebrating Epiphany at the Prater

Celebrating Epiphany at the Prater

After Krems, Michael and I settled into a nice routine of going to the Freud Museum to work, with occasional restaurant meals and also cooking at home in the flat. Jan. 6, Epiphany, was a government holiday (religious holidays important to the Catholic Church are still official holidays in Austria). In the morning, in fact, we were visited at the Museum by one of many roving bands of “3 kings” dressed in costume and soliciting donations for charity. The staff kindly scrambled and gave them a good chunk of change from the staff coffee money. Here is another such group, seen in the Prater later in the day:

1-6 Three Kings in Prater on Epiphany

It was a gorgeous, springlike day (still hadn’t had any real winter yet), so at lunch time we decided to go to the Prater – the huge park across the canal in the 2nd district which was an imperial hunting ground from the 12th century, predating the Habsburgs, and donated to the public by Emperor Josef II in 1766 as part of his efforts at reform. Josef was one of the better emperors, and is known for his Edict of Toleration in 1782 which allowed greater religious freedom in general and a radical improvement in the status of the Jews. The Prater “Hauptallee” or main avenue lined with trees was one of Freud’s favorite places to walk, and it was one of his regrets upon leaving Vienna that he was too ill and the exigencies of the family’s imminent escape too fraught to go walking there one last time. Here is a photo of the Prater Hauptallee in the beautiful late afternoon light:

Prater Hauptallee

Once there, of course we had to take a ride on the Riesenrad (literally “giant wheel”) – one of Vienna’s most famous tourist landmarks. Built in 1897 as part of Franz Josef’s grand plans for the city, it survived both WWI (for lack of money to tear it down!) and WWII (after rebuilding, but with only half its gondolas). It is featured most famously in Carroll Reed’s postwar film noir “The Third Man,” (which can still be seen every Friday night at the Burgkino on the Ringstrasse), as well as “Scorpio,” and a forgettable James Bond movie “The Living Daylights,” and numerous novels ranging from pulp fiction to more literary works. The ironworks are very impressive, and pack a certain Hitchcock-ian visual punch.

1-6 Riesenrad Prater steel works

The ride, however, is very gentle, with periodic stoppage to allow the fancy dining car not only to deboard passengers, but to have candelabra, dishes, wine goblets, silver, linens, and tables all offloaded, by tuxedoed attendants looking more suitable for Downtown Abby than an amusement park! The view from the top is very rewarding, with increasingly misty views stretching far into the distance. This view is to the east, with its modern skyline rising above the more traditional red tile roofs of old Vienna.

1-6 View of Vienna to the east from the Riesenrad

We then took a stroll through the Prater Hauptallee, and ended with some Glühwein at a Punsch stand in the small village of stalls in the amusement park. For us, in the unusually warm, bright afternoon, it was a lovely outing. The Prater is truly a pleasure garden in every sense of the word, and it has its “shadow side” – the ferris wheel and other rides, a rather worn funhouse, a miniature railroad, and many stalls selling food, drink and souvenirs by day; after 9 pm more adult “pleasures” including bars, illegal drugs, and the sad shadow of legal prostitution (so-far; this is currently under debate) are all available on the same park roads that accommodate children, families and young lovers strolling in the afternoons. These juxtapositions add to the slightly seamy, film-noir quality of the place even in daylight – not unlike Venice, whose canals were once replicated here as “Venice in Vienna” in its fin-de-siecle heyday.

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About pcooperwhite

Christiane Brooks Johnson Professor of Psychology and Religion, Union Theological Seminary, New York NY
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