The Wurstelprater Amusement Park
Many international visitors of Vienna say „Prater" and mean the tacky amusement fair in the surroundings of the Riesenrad (Ferris Wheel). This is not quite correct, as this area is only a small section of the Prater, the large former hunting grounds of the Habsburg Emperors that were opened to the general public in the late 18th century.
What they mean is actually called "Wurstelprater" or – since 1873 – Volksprater. In any case, it is just an ordinary fun fair that runs here around the year. I never understood why this concentrated chunk of tackiness ranks among Vienna′s top attractions. It really is nothing to shout about and comes with the filth and prostitutes that every installation of this kind has.
The name Wurstelprater is derived from a theatre figure, the Hanswurst (similar to the idiot hero of many related genres, such as the Italian commedia dell′arte or the British pantomime). Hanswurst plays were unwanted in the central parts of Vienna and the many small stages that developed in the Prater area after their opening became new hot-spots for entertaining the common crowds. The region got its current face when the entire area was re-modelled in 1873 for the Great Exhibition. The nearby Messe Wien shares this fate.
Development of the Würstelprater
Only the attractions changed with time since then. It started with carousels and mini-trains, they were later complemented with the Riesenrad (1897), gambling venues, supposedly the first dark ride in the world (1933), a planetarium and many roller coasters and other, more modern attractions. Personally, I find the Wurstelprater filthy, noisy and utterly not interesting.
The neighbouring Stuwerviertel and the side-streets of the Messe Wien (especially Perspektivstraße) are known for street-prostitution. The only reason why I take note of the Wurstelprater is trivially that I moved to the Stuwerviertel in 2011. Luckily, the Wurstelprater tackiness is rather inert and well-contained.
A noteworthy culinary attraction is the Schweizerhaus or Swiss House, which is highly regarded for its "Stelzen", pickled ham hock. If you travel to Vienna as a tourist, you might be interested in the Riesenrad; do take a ride, think of the famous scene from "The Third Man" and enjoy the view on Vienna. But do not expect too much from the setting and immediate surroundings.
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