Vienna is famous for epic architecture, magnificent museums and music icons like Mozart and Beethoven, but the picture-perfect Austrian capital has a strange side most visitors do not see. The city with the world’s oldest zoo also claims a world-famous loo, and other Austrian oddities include a make-believe sex school, gas-tank apartments and a Trojan museum that has nothing to do with the city of Troy. As the following list attests, Vienna has oddities that even Robert L. Ripley might not believe.
“Dog Shit Blvd” appeared in bright red ink over Stuckgasse street on a popular Vienna map, which also described Danube Island as “heaven for … dog shit spotters.” The title Dog Shit Blvd is hardly a boom for property values, and the mapmakers clearly sought to shame homeowners into scooping up those Lassie logs. Per the Poop Report (for reals), the problem got so bad that a petition for tougher turd laws landed 157,000 signatures, and one politician wanted to DNA-test doggie droppings. Still, the best quote came from activists who called on people to “count the number of Vienna sausages they see in the space of five minutes” and send the info to city officials. Old Yeller must be rolling in his grave.
Photo via hundertwasser-village.com
Hundertwasser Village is an artistic space honoring the wacky works of Viennese artist-architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser, and one of the main attractions is the village throne. The Toilet of Modern Art (TOMA) is a kaleidoscope of styles, textures and images that include cracked mirrors, mish-mashed tiles and bright colors popping off mostly white walls. Ironically, Hundertwasser later built his own TOMA-inspired public toilets in New Zealand, and his written works include The Holy Shit manifesto and a guide for building humus toilets (that is humus, not hummus, my falafel-loving friends). Likewise, the nearby Hundertwasserhaus building boasts uneven floors, golden onion spires, glass-enclosed spiral staircases and indoor trees that stretch out the window frames.
Language is a tricky thing, and even the most adventurous traveler might pause when offered a tall glass of Wiener water. If you are in Austria, fret not, since you probably already brushed your teeth with it. The word Wien is German for Vienna, and Wiener refers to food, drink or other items from the Austrian capital. In this case, Wiener water refers the city’s famously fresh wasser locally sourced from the Alps.
From clocks and globes to Sigmund Freud’s apartment, Vienna has a museum for everything, but few inspire pill popping like the Museum of Contraception and Abortion. Visitors learn the German army officially issued condoms to World War I soldiers and that people used pig bladders as condoms in ancient times. Likewise, the creator of the Zeppelin airship sued a condom distributor in 1909 for selling packages with the Zeppelin image, and though the company could keep the packaging, it had to stop using provocative phrases like, “Zeppelin rises above Lake Constance.” It might not be the Met, but at least the museum has fewer tweens swarming the halls on field trips.
Photo via wiener-gasometer.at
A century ago, fuel was often stored in giant gasometers, and Vienna claimed four 19th-century structures that were the largest in Europe. While other cities demolished their industrial age relics, Vienna’s repurposed gasometers hosted huge raves and made a cameo in the 1987 Bond film The Living Daylights. By 2001, Vienna turned the old gas tanks into a city within the city with ultra-modern apartments, offices, retail stores, a movie theater and a concert hall. The Wiener Gasometer (a great band name?) currently houses about 1,500 residents. We assume the building is non-smoking.
Where some people see a blogosphere void of fact checking, others see an opportunity. In 2011, a political action group launched a website and press release for the Austrian International Sex School, the first educational facility to offer lovemaking classes for students 16 and older. From the school’s 18th-century mansion, Swedish schoolmistress Ylva-Maria Thompson wrote, “Our core education is not theoretical, but very practical … sexual positions, caressing techniques, anatomical features. And we teach people hands on.” The €1,400/semester school sparked a global media frenzy, but the 600 people (i.e., men) who applied sadly discovered it was a hoax designed to highlight a civic issue. For that level of tease, the issue could not be less sexy: Austria’s inequitable pension system. That’s right, the Viennese sex mansion is actually a retirement home.
Austrians apparently love signs. Placards throughout Vienna tell you things like where Mozart had an affair and where a drunk-ass Hitler puked his guts out. A blood-soaked rat graces one sign that says feeding the pigeons is the same as feeding the rats, which suggests Vienna hates pigeons, has rabid rodents or had facetious intent in naming city hall the Rathaus. The best sign, however, is the one in the city center that says no mobile-home parking. Assuming a past event inspired the sign, one imagines an American family (had to be) rolled into Vienna in a massive Winnebago and parked it at St. Stephen’s cathedral. In terms of Austrian horror, not even the doggie droppings can compete with that.
David Jenison is a Los Angeles native. He has covered entertainment, restaurants and travel for more than 20 years as a writer and editor.