In Vienna, the coaches of the Giant Ferris welcome visitors as a world in lockdown opens up
Vienna’s iconic tourist attractions—palatial museums, breathtaking sights, famed restaurants and hotels–are gradually opening their doors and in motion once more is the landmark Giant Ferris Wheel.
The Riesenrad, as the Giant Ferris Wheel is known as, located in the famous Prater amusement park in Vienna, happens to have quite a history. It was constructed way back in 1897 and has never known a day’s laziness — except during the COVID-19 pandemic, sadly enough, when it had to be switched off for the first time since 1947. The Riesenrad has been synonymous with Vienna and tourism.
But finally, today Vienna witnessed a big moment when at exactly twelve noon (Vienna time) Nora Lamac, whose family has operated the Giant Ferris Wheel for generations, and the Mayor of Vienna Michael Ludwig pressed the Giant Ferris Wheel’s power-on switch, setting the wheels of the Viennese landmark turning again. Undoubtedly, this is an emotional moment for Vienna’s citizens.
“In Vienna the Giant Ferris Wheel is turning once more, hotels are reopening and the city is slowly coming back to life,” said Michael Ludwig, Mayor of Vienna. “We have once again proved what the rankings such as those published by Mercer and the Economist have been showing for years: Vienna is a safe and livable city with excellent infrastructure, and also one that is adept at overcoming difficult situations.”
Life stands still no more
If there is a symbol of life returning to normal, it is the resumption of the Giant Wheel taking up its endless journey where it left off. Giant Ferris Wheel CEO and co-owner Nora Lamac certainly feels so: “Before corona, the Giant Ferris Wheel was in continuous service for more than 70 years. When the wheel stops turning, life stands still. Today is a very emotional moment for me and my family. The fact that the wheel has started turning again gives grounds for hope – not just for me, but for the whole of Austria and for everyone who has been going through a difficult time over the past few months.”
The cars of the Giant Wheel look charmingly like luxury railway coaches. Held high aloft, they turn unhurriedly and dreamily round and round suspending the usual hustle and bustle of busy city life, giving visitors a fabulous view of Vienna. Its history is dotted with some extremely amazing and amusing facts however. It may weigh 430 tons, but the Riesenrad can actually be operated by hand. Two English engineers Walter Basset and Harry Hitchins actually designed it to be manually operated in the event of a power outage, a reassuring thought for those who may be worried over that unlikely eventuality.
To begin with the Giant Ferris Wheel originally made its rounds with 30 cars. After the Second World War, however, only 15 were hung in place for safety reasons.
Interestingly, the Riesenrad happens to be perfectly arranged in line with the four points of the compass and turns precisely in the north-south direction. When it turns, it serves as a rather good aid for orienting oneself up at 64.7 meters up in the sky. The wheel makes its rounds at a leisurely pace. With a top speed of 2.7 km/h, it takes about 4 minutes to complete one round, but only when it does so in one go, of course. On average, a ride takes about 12-15 minutes.
Unsurprisingly, the Giant Wheel has been a popular film backdrop. From classics like “The Third Man” (1949) to “James Bond 007 – The Living Daylights” (1987) and the coming-of-age story “Before Sunrise” (1995), there have been many films that have featured it. A restaurant was built in an instant at the base of the Giant Wheel for a scene in The Living Daylights. This so impressed Vienna’s residents that just a short while later, a restaurant actually was built right on that spot. Most romantic of all however is the fact that visitors can dine in those cars, each course of the meal being served to coincide with the turn of the wheel.
Back in business
Unlike the run-of-the-mill Ferris wheel in an amusement park, the Riesenrad is so tied into Vienna’s identity that its being in motion again is seen as a sign of hope.
Norbert Kettner, Director of Tourism: “Like virtually no other landmark, the Giant Ferris Wheel is now a symbol of the city’s restart. The fact that it is moving again is a source of great hope. We are very much looking forward to welcoming guests from elsewhere in Austria, as well as from abroad shortly, and can promise that Vienna has a lot to offer this year, too – in spite of distancing and the no- or low-touch economy.”
Its movement shows that Vienna is again open for business. Peter Hanke, Executive City Councilor of Finance, Business, Digital Innovation and International Affairs says, “The past few weeks have shown us just what diverse effect tourism has on the city and its residents. In good times, tourism is responsible for more than 116,000 jobs, around EUR 4 billion in induced economic impact and a rich cultural and culinary offering. After the hiatus brought about by the pandemic, Vienna is now coming back to life, and we are doing everything we can to get back to full strength.”
Austria didn’t have it too bad as far as the coronavirus is concerned. 16,638 cases with 15,286 of them having recovered. As a result, the country is actually able to open up safer than most amidst the pandemic as long as visitors have their medical documentation as required, tourists are being welcomed once more.