Wiener Riesenrad: The Ferris wheel in the Prater

The Ferris wheel on the Prater amusement park in Vienna is one of the oldest of its kind that are still turning. It was designed and built by two English engineers, Walter B. Basset and Harry Hitchins, in 1896. The two engineers were partners of Gabor Steiner, a Viennese entrepreneur, who had also rented the piece of land on which the "Riesenrad" (literally "giant wheel") was erected.

The Riesenrad Ferris Wheel in Vienna.

It was opened in 1897, on the occasion of Emperor Franz Joseph II′s 50th jubilee. With the beginning of World War I, British citizens lost their property in Austria and so the Riesenrad was put up for an auction. It wasn′t until 1919 that Eduard Steiner, a Jewish businessman, purchased the Riesenrad. Eduard Steiner was not related to Gabor Steiner.

The two Jewish Steiners lost their property in the course of the Nazi reign in 1938. Gabor Steiner, by then considered to be the "Father of the Riesenrad", died in 1944 in Beverly Hills, Eduard Steiner was murdered in the concentration camp of Auschwitz. In the same year, the Riesenrad was hit by a bomb and burnt down.

Post-war Turning of the Vienna Ferris wheel

After the end of World War II, the Riesenrad was re-built between 1945 and 1947. However, half of the originally 30 gondolas were given up and until today, the Ferris wheel spins with only 15 gondolas. The Riesenrad′s diameter is 60.96 metres and at its highest point, passengers are 64.75 metres above the ground. From there you can enjoy some really impressive views over Vienna. The wheel rotates at a thrilling speed of 2,7 kilometres per hour.

The Riesenrad had several appearances in movies and on TV. In 1914, the circus performer and manager Madame Solange d`Atalide rode a horse on the roof of a gondola. More famously, but less dangerously, some scenes of "The Third Man" were taken during a Riesenrad ride. In the 1949 movie with Orson Welles and Jerry Cotton, the Ferris wheel plays a crucial role. Today, the wheel is still a popular attraction for domestic visitors as well as sightseeing-keen crowds of the touristy kind: The city of Vienna′s tourism board ranks the Riesenrad on place four of the top places to go.

Fun-fair at the Wurstelprater

Other nearby attractions include the Prater in general. The amusement or fun fair area of Vienna is called "Wurstelprater", whereas the other parts of the area are natural landscapes or parks. The area was a hunting territory of the emperors for centuries, but in 1766, Emperor Joseph II opened it to the general public as a recreational area.

Since then, amusement facilities, pubs and restaurants supplemented the natural attractions and until today, the Prater is the primary playground for many Viennese. The Wurstelprater in particular can be a bit scruffy and filthy; it doesn′t differ too much from fun fairs elsewhere in the World, it is just a permanent one and the only attraction I would recommend to the international visitor is the Riesenrad itself.


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Further Reading

Official Website of the Riesenrad

City of Vienna: Riesenrad Ferris wheel, Vienna

Top-Attractions & Where to Go in Vienna



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