That's why Vienna celebrates its biggest flop

That's why Vienna celebrates its biggest flop


Usually the anniversaries that are remembered and celebrated are of two types: the positive ones, which are celebrated, and the terrible ones, whose memory we want to keep alive to prevent it from happening again. Tertium non datur. The middle ground, the events that went wrong but not dramatic, usually don't deserve recall: they are slowly slipped into oblivion, if anything even with a certain gusto. Who among us likes to remember a fool, if not to laugh about it?

Here, Vienna this year chooses to show the healthy self-irony that characterizes modernity, just to dispel the myth of the serious, pompous and rigid imperial city. She does it by celebrating i 150 years from the Universal Exhibition of the 1873a long-awaited event to transform the urban planning of the citybut which went so badly that it also left some hints of hilarity in the annals.

It seemed that destiny itself was raging with all its might, seriously intent on transforming the extraordinary international showcase into a big flop.

An 1859 portrait of Naser al-Din, the Shah who appeared in Vienna with a retinue of 60 © 2007 Musée du Louvre / Claire Tabbagh / Collections Numériques

At the inauguration, for days it rained heavilyso that the exhibition area of the Prater was partially inundated and turned into a swamp, when not into a huge impassable puddle.

The central exhibition structure - then planned to be the largest dome in the world, at 108 meters in diameter, called La Rotunde - was not completed in time, like many of the other pavilionsand even once it's finished, he was unable to keep the water out. So at the opening, it rained on the visitors.

The influx into the city for the inaugural event completely blocked circulation, causing some protests from the inhabitants. But the worst was yet to come.

A cholera epidemic and the stock market crash shortly after opening day they kept many people away from even the idea of ​​reaching Viennawith the result that, from May to November, instead of the expected 20 million, they arrived only 7.3 million of visitors. A huge hole in state finances.

It was nonetheless a high-society event. They were 33 sovereigns on the guest list and among them were the Tsarthe German emperor and the king of Italy Victor Emmanuel II.

The visit of Shah of PersiaNaser al-din – who had an entourage of 60 people in tow – was by itself a little feeling. Emperor Franz Joseph placed it in the Laxenburg Palace, just outside Vienna. A move he would soon regret. The Shah's entourage destroyed the palace, so much so that costly repair work was required after his departure.


The interior of the Laxenburg Palace

The food on offer at the World's Fair also made headlines, for all the wrong reasons: in addition to being unspeakably expensive, much of the food on offer had seen better days. The actor and singer Janos Szika, the chronicles report, publicly complained that in the English restaurant he had been served a chicken that "had given up all hope of ever being eaten and had simply slipped into a state of decomposition".

In short, a total disaster.

But then why remember an event gone so badly?

Despite the downsides on the financial front, the Universal Exposition still paid off for the city. It was designed to be a showcase of technology, arts and crafts, in which to exhibit what was most beautiful and technologically advanced. Exhibitors from all over the world unveiled their latest creations. People looked at the world with new eyes and for Vienna the second half of the nineteenth century was a time of new visions and new beginnings.

Among the great urban planning innovations and in terms of amenities, there was the inauguration of a small technical masterpiecefor that time: a pipe of over 95 kilometres which led - and still leads - to the capital crystal clear spring water from the mountains of Lower Austria and Styria, so much so that even today the Viennese prefer it to the one in the bottle. The construction of no fewer than six new stations on railway lines then suddenly made Vienna an important railway hub in Central Europe.

Public transport and city tourism took off, with construction along the Ringstrasse new ones luxury hotels, such as the Imperial and the Hansen Kempinskicurrently in operation, as well as restaurants and cafés such as the famous Landtmann (where we strongly advise you to let yourself be tempted by the pastry shop, should you ever pass by).

During that period of renaissance, the first international trade congress was also held in Vienna and the city saw the emergence of many museums and collections which continue to be the envy of the world to this day.


A view of the Palais Hansen Kempinski which was built along the Ringstrasse on the occasion of the Universal Exposition

However, it's not just the works of art and the collections in museums that leave you speechless. Wandering around the center of Vienna, you can still admire the fantastic windows luxury craftsmen who exhibited at the time: splendid and very expensive crystal chandeliers and art glassware from J & L Lobmeyran activity that has now reached the seventh generation of the same family, unforgettable jewels from AE Kochertwhich has been designing and making le crowns and tiaras of royalty from all over Europeor even the unapproachable Rudolf Scheer bespoke shoe shop, where the wooden shoe molds of Kafka and various emperors are kept, where the first pair of shoes will cost you no less than ten thousand euros, provided you can afford them.

To cooperate in all this rebirth, the Strauss dynasty also took action, which at that time brought classical music to the masses.

In short, Vienna was completely transformed. And, thanks to the Universal Exposition, it became the cosmopolitan city we know today.

As part of the celebrations for the sesquicentennial, Casa Strauss opens this year, a new museum designed to also be a concert hall and space for themed events, as well as a brasserie. The chosen place is the Casino Zogernitz which was opened in 1837 by Johann Strauss father and soon became a meeting place for the city society, only to be used again by his son in 1850 as a venue for musical events.


The rooms of the Casino Zögernitz, Casa Strauss

At the Prater, the large green space in the city center so loved by the Viennese, Panorama Vienna will also open, an exhibition space whose shape is inspired by the Rotunde, the circular pavilion we mentioned above. 34 meters high and circular, it will be an immersive place that will host pictorial and photographic images to be appreciated - precisely - in panorama format. Already now, however, in the Prater Museum, located in the park, under the large Ferris wheel, you can see the drawings and projects of the pavilions of the Exhibition, together with a series of images and suggestions from the period.


The very slow Prater Ferris wheel, built in 1897, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Emperor Franz Joseph's accession to the throne

The events and celebrations linked to the Universal Exposition will also touch the Weltmuseum and the MAK, Museum of Applied Arts, with interactive exhibitions dedicated to the atmosphere and fashions of the time, to social changes and to the first movements in favor of women's work.

There is then a curious story linked to Japan and soybeans. For example, we bet that not many readers know of the beginning of the diffusion of soy in Europe right from here. In 1873, Japan presented itself as a nation for the first timewith its culture and traditions at the Vienna Exposition, giving way to a wave of orientalism that culturally invested much of Europe at the time, impacting private collections, but also art (Klimt in particular). Among the new and unknown things, there was also the humble bean, which the Western world encountered for the first time. The first attempts to grow a small crop of the bean were made in the gardens of Schönbrunn Palace, where if you go for a visit to the luxurious halls, you may encounter a series of events dedicated to the humble bean this year.


The foyer of the Japanese pavilion, illustration from an exhibition report compiled by Tsunetami Sano

One of the most interesting aspectsperhaps, of the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary, however, it is the generative one, which looks to the future: just as then the city reinvented itself urbanistically, today it wants to rethink itself according to the needs of the new millennium. Less smog, energy, economic and social sustainability, inclusion, intelligent mobility, quality of life. The entire second district can already be traveled practically only on foot and those who live there can move easily with public transport and the underground lines, often without owning a car. One will arrive in 2023 new subway linethe U5, which has been missing for years (bizarrely the U1, U2, U3, U4 and U6 have been built) and will serve to further improve urban transport.


The new districts, destined to welcome over 50,000 new people a year, are designed to have living and working spaces together, avoiding the commuting and traffic problems of many of the other European capitals and are imagined with large green spaces, ponds , fun public art works, games for children and an incredible attention for those who move on small wheels, whether they are strollers, bicycles, wheelchairs or skates. Spaces designed for socializing, playing, the outdoors, but also for integration: a Vienna, half of the population lives in social housing. The decision to make them accessible to middle-income families as well and to spread them throughout every neighborhood prevents them from becoming a ghetto, calms the market prices of other homes and creates social contamination between different cultures.


Even the way new trees are planted is now being rethought: with climate changetheir ability to receive water has changed, reducing their lifespan, so that now planting is done with different funds, large stone slabs buried to reduce temperatures and permeable asphalts so that the rains penetrate the ground, watering the plants, instead of flood the streets.


They work there major international architecture studios, urban planning offices, but also students who came here to enroll in university and ordinary citizens involved through consultations and shared planning. In short, all this takes time, thought and experimentation. But Vienna is in no hurry and is looking to the next 150 years.



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