Designed by the Austrian architect Otto Wagner
The “Gürtel” road, with the elevated railway known as the “Stadtbahnbögen”, may not sound like the most inviting place in town. The “belt” which separates the inner and outer districts of Vienna is the busiest road in Austria, and the subway runs above or below ground down its centre. But this is exactly what gives it its charm, or at least the charm of its western section.
But let’s start at the beginning: in the mid-19th century Kaiser Franz Josef decided to tear down the ancient city walls and erect a broad boulevard with a railway line in their place. The railway was to travel through the city elevated on crenelated brick viaducts, the so-called “city railway arches”. Fortunately the famous Art Nouveau architect Otto Wagner was drafted in at the last moment, and it is thanks to his artistic intervention:
The city railway arches were created as a by-product of the light rail. But they have not been a byproduct today for a long time. They have long been part of the cityscape of Vienna.
Much has happened
that the viaducts don’t have a military character, and are today one of Vienna’s most admired highlights!
Up until after the Second World War, the Gürtel running along the Stadtbahnbögen was a popular residential area. With the coming of private cars, however, traffic along the six-lane highway increased massively and the area fell into disrepair, turning into a notorious red-light district. In the early nineties the City of Vienna turned its attention to the rundown area: the 218 arches and Otto Wagner’s underground stations were restored, the city library became part of the modern Urban-Loritz-Platz, and the gardens blossomed again.
Today the western part of the Gürtel, with its charming tree-lined archways and Art Nouveau underground stations, is the centre of a popular club scene – thanks to the heavy traffic. In many of the old viaducts – many of them now with open glass facades – new shops and restaurants have opened up, and in the many music venues and clubs DJs and live bands can really pump up the volume. Thanks to the traffic noise no one is bothered by loud music, even when in summer the parties carry on in the beer gardens.
Text: Verena Brandtner, Fotos: Christine Wurnig