Unusual Tours in Vienna: art in the sewers and at the garbage factory

It is not hard to find interesting non-tourist places if you go on tours for locals. In Vienna a trip to a garbage factory brings you to the biggest artwork in the city, while a tour of ugly architecture provides you with a sharp background for traditional sightseeing. I’ve been on many such tours in Vienna, but these four are the best. Each of these tours provides you with a different perspective on art and the city. But can also change the way you see yourself.

Ugly Vienna. A walking tour through the dark side of the beautiful city

The Vienna Ugly Tour was developed by a London-born journalist and urbanist Eugene Quinn during the Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna. The idea was simple: ugly music better accompanied by ugly architecture. I find this concept great because to mention the masterpieces of Otto Wagner and Alfred Loos during the celebration of music stars of the “D” category is a crime against harmony.

That’s why Eugene, accompanying his guests from a flak tower in the Augarten to St. Stephen’s Cathedral in the very centre, provides an overview of what is to find in every city — kitschy, tasteless and inappropriate buildings.

He turns a stroll into a fascinating conversation about how and why in any city, even in such a beautiful like Vienna, among other things, there are buildings to be ashamed of. This conversation spiced with humour is about communication in public space, about gentrification so many metropolises pass through, about the protest of those who remain outside from the representative centre, and much more.

For fifteen years, the tour has not only changed the route but also acquired many related projects — “Smells of Vienna”, “Best City in the World”, “Lost Places” — and it continues to be the best tour-discussion of the city. I recommend this tour to anyone who wants to Vienna not only as a set of tourist attractions illustrating history but as a living organism that does create this history.


The Third Man. A tour about Hollywood classic and the Vienna Sewerage

The British film of 1949 with Orson Wales is considered to be a classic detective movie of Hollywood (yes, it happens). The action of this noir masterpiece takes place in post-war Vienna, and the love for its past in this city is so strong that the film is shown at least three times a week at the Burgkino Cinema on the Ring.

There are many tourists agencies in Vienna offering tours based on the film, but since the key scene takes place in the sewerage system, it is difficult for them to compete with a tour organized by the city’s sewer service.

The tour starts at Karlsplatz, where visitors are led down a spiral staircase to the underground part of the river Vienna and back, along the way telling and showing how the flip side of of the most comfortable city in the world looks and functions. For the sake of persuasion, they use Dürer’s engravings and video quotes from several films and music videos that have been filmed here. Once here, you realize that the palette of aesthetic sensations is much wider than it seemed in the world above ground.

This tour recommended to anyone who wants to make sure that culture and art in Vienna are everywhere, even in the sewers, given, of course, the fact that you have a high tolerance level for unpleasant smells and no fear of rats and enclosed spaces.


Hundertwasser and Architecture of Recycling. A tour of the Spittelau incineration plant

Vienna is ahead of the whole planet in recycling and it’s a legitimate reason to be proud. Moreover, the city also holds the highest standards for informing residents about municipal services. Add an eye-catching architecture and you’ll understand why this tour is recommended for all ages and all levels of art interest.

The Spittelau factory is a local architectural landmark. Decorated by the artist Friedrichreich Hundertwasser, it is the embodiment of the ideology of environmentally friendly waste management in concrete and broken tiles. And here his defiant style is as appropriate as nowhere else.

Burning garbage is a very hot topic for a man who bequeaths to bury himself naked under a tulip tree to become a breeding ground for the plant. The only way to persuade Hundertwasser to participate in the incineration work was to prove that the plant leaves no dirty traces.

Spittelau’s employees on the tour pay great attention to both aspects – recycling and visualization of the process. You will also be guided through the terrace with wild plants and the cold production hall, taken to the furnace operator’s booth and shown the falcons who have made a nest right on the pipe topped with a golden ball.

This excursion will be interesting not only for eco-activists but also for those who are interested in conformity of external – architecture – and internal – the functional purpose of a building.


The Shadow Side Tour. A tour of street life conducted by homeless

Poverty is an unpleasant topic, is it possible to make a valuable excursion product out of it? It is and the tours of the “shadow” life of Vienna prove it.

How far this theme concerns me personally I learned from the local press. An article about these tours was illustrated with a photograph in which I recognized mine as I thought a dead acquaintance – a cultural manager with an MBA degree, who has successfully advised EU grant recipients for many years. Barbara comes from a well situated Austrian family and was always surrounded by a tight circle of friends. But life is full of surprises and so as a former homeless she invites the Viennese and guests of the city to see by their eyes of those thrown to the sidelines.

The tour began in the historic centre at the Bäckergasse. It was conducted by the recent homeless Nobert, a native Viennese in his early fifties, an owner of a construction company in the recent past. He told us how events one after another led him to life on the street and how the help of social workers and caring stranges brought him back. His speach was not very emotional even though the story was undoubly very personal.

We went to places where you can warm, spleep a night and eat for free. We saw where you can get medical care without social security card and also learned what a real help a homeless person look like. In front of the rare buildings of Red Vienna in the centre of the city, we got an interesting historical overview of the history of social housing in this city.

Any good tour whether in a museum or the city makes you to rethink your knowledge about the world and yourself, and not just about the subject of the tour. But not many tour can be compared to a walk through the “shadow” Vienna. It can be recommended to those who are not afraid of meeting their emotions or shattering stereotypes.



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