Viennese Fiakers

Historically trough Vienna with the Fiaker

 A horse-drawn carriage

The clopping of hooves, rattling wheels, flowing manes and the impatient snorting of the horses: you can’t imagine Vienna without the sounds of the Fiaker (carriages drivers) and their horses. In their heyday, in the second half of the 19th century, there were more than 1,000 of them. All over the city you could hear the hearty greeting: “Fahr’n ma, Euer Gnaden…?” (“Shall we take a drive, your honour?”)

“I’m proud to be a real Viennese kid, a Fiaker driver like you won’t find every day.” Fiakerlied (“Fiaker song”), Gustav Pick 1885

A different taxi

Today there are just over 100 coaches which ferry guests around Vienna on alternate days, half on even days, half on odd. Many of these carriages are now over 100 years old. For a long time the Fiaker enjoyed autonomy, and there were no price regulations: the coachman decided the price on the basis of his mood, the customers, the weather – and how far away the next carriage was. Fortunately nowadays the Fiaker drivers have to adhere to the pricing regulations set by the City of Vienna.

Even if the comparison with the modern-day taxi driver seems obvious, the Fiaker driver was more than that: they were often well-known originals, their profession was something special. Legend has it that every driver was born with the talents of a yodeler, a whistler and a singer. The most famous of them was the personal coachman of Crown Prince Rudolf, known as “Bratfisch” (“fried fish”). He was known for his talents as a singer of comic songs – and for his love of “Heuriger” (wine taverns).

 horse-drawn carriage

 Hofburg with carriage

Fiaker with horses

The Crown Prince would laugh heartily when his driver started up: “They call me Bratfisch, but don’t blame me. I do like to swim – but only in beer.”

The residents of Vienna appreciate their Fiaker – so much so that they named a square in the city after them (Fiakerplatz), and topped it off with a stately statue: as a reminder of the heyday of this unique profession. Although a memorial wouldn’t really have been necessary: even among today’s coachmen there are enough originals, Viennese humour and charm included…

Text: Agnes Hamberger, Fotos: Christine Wurnig