The Giant Ferris Wheel – And it still keeps spinning!
The Giant Ferris Wheel of Vienna is regarded as one of the most popular and remarkable landmarks of the city. As a native Viennese, I had a soft spot for the Ferris Wheel since I can think. And as a tourist guide, I absolutely wanted to use it in my logo. So, there it is!
But when the construction of the Giant Ferris Wheel was finished in 1897, nobody expected that it would still be spinning 120 years later. Meanwhile it had been dispossessed, auctioned, aryanized and restored. It burned down and it was rebuilt. And there even was the idea to tear it down.
Actually, it had been erected as an attraction on the occasion of the Golden Throne Jubilee of Emperor Franz Joseph in 1898. A Year before, on July 3rd 1897 it was opened to the public. Back then a ride cost 8 guilders. To give you an idea: a clerk earned an average of 30 guilders a month. So hardly anyone was able or wanted to pay the fee for the ride. The Viennese woman Marie Kindl caused a stir though when she hanged on a rope she held between her teeth outside one of the cabins. With that, she wanted to draw attention to the poverty surrounding her. And in the year 1914 the circus director Madame Solange d’Atalide took a ride with the Ferris Wheel – outside one of the cabins sitting on a horse.
Still though: it remained to be a financial failure and the British owners were eventually dispossessed in 1916. Only a short time later there was a court decision made to tear it down. But in the turmoil of the First World War nobody wanted to finance the demolition. And so it remained standing. A couple of years later, even after the end of the First World War, the jewish salesman Eduard Steiner was able to buy it and initially he wanted to tear it down as well. He later changed his mind about it and leased it instead. When Hitler annexed Austria to the Third Reich in 1938 the entire property of Eduard Steiner was aryanized. Steiner himself died in the concentration camp of Auschwitz in 1944 and the Giant Ferris Wheel was heavily damaged by a fire in 1945.
Originally the people of Vienna had a good laugh about the steel construction which they thought was ridiculous. But at the end of the Second World War it was quickly rebuilt by the people of Vienna and it became a symbol of rebuilding Austria after the Second World War. Because it was feared that the stability of the construction had suffered through the fire only half of the original 30 cabins were installed during the rebuilding. The original cabins had six windows but due to the lack of glass after the war, the new cabins were built with only four windows. Only a year ago, in 2016, all the cabins were exchanged again and today all the 15 cabins have six windows again. In 1953 the rebuilt Giant Ferris Wheel was restored to the heirs of Eduard Steiner. Today it is the property of the lawyer Dr. Dorothea Lamac who owns it with her cousin Hans-Peter Petritsch. At no time in history the Giant Ferris Wheel has ever belonged to the city of Vienna, it was always privately owned.
Nowadays you can take a simple ride with it and enjoy the sight. But you can even rent the cabins exclusively and have brunch or a business dinner inside or you can even get married!
The unique atmosphere of the Giant Ferris Wheel was quickly discovered by Hollywood and so the key scene of “The third man” was there in 1949. And in 1987 even James Bond took a ride in it in “The living daylights”.
With its height of only about 65 metres (that’s about 250 feet) it is fairly small today. But up until 1985 it was the tallest Ferris wheel in the world. Then the Technocosmos was built in Japan and compared to the famous London Eye, which is about twice the size of the Ferris wheel in Vienna, it is tiny. However: it is the oldest Ferris wheel in the world that is still spinning.