The Viennese Karlsplatz

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It’s difficult to recognise that Karlsplatz actually is a platz (square). Lying at the intersection of the first and fourth districts, it’s dissected by roads carrying heavy traffic. It’s not difficult to track it down though: it’s framed by Otto Wagner’s Art Nouveau station of the old stadtbahn urban railway, the Kunsthalle, the Wien museum, the baroque Karlskirche (St Charles’ church), and, a little further afield, the Wiener Secession and the Naschmarkt.

“Karlsplatz isn’t a square, but an area.” Austrian architect Otto Wagner (1841–1918) about Karlsplatz

History and origins of Karlsplatz

The junction is named after Emperor Karl VI (1685-1740), who during the bubonic plague epidemic of 1713-1714 turned for help to the “plague saint” Karl Borromäus, and dedicated the magnificent church, with its green dome and distinctive relief-covered pillars, to him. It stood for almost 300 years before the gates of the old town, separated by the Wienfluss river and the city walls. It wasn’t until the Wienfluss was built over and the city walls demolished that the church came to be situated at its current location, the Karlsplatz.

Ever since then it’s been the subject of controversy among the residents of Vienna. No-one really knew what to do with this hub, however, and the various suggestions regularly caused raised tempers, so that Karlsplatz was soon given the mocking nickname “Chaosplatz”.

 Church and garden

Secession building golden dome

 Entrance subway Karlsplatz

Sooner or later the heated arguments died down, and the residents got used to Karlsplatz, with its large green space in the middle. Nowadays it’s lively, especially directly in front of the Karlskirche: in summer there are concerts and festivals, and the round pond becomes a stage or an outdoor café. It can happen that hard techno-beats clash with the strains of the church organ. Before Christmas it’s a little more peaceful. The square is transformed into one of the city’s best advent markets, with fragrant Glühwein, beautiful handicrafts, and pony-rides for children in the empty pond.

Text: Verena Brandtner, Fotos: Christine Wurnig