Ode to the Odds #1
The Sound of Vienna

This month we start a new series in the TEDxVienna Blog, in which we want to introduce you to all the quirks of Vienna: Our bloggers uncover unusual facts and trivia, and weird aspects of Vienna you may never have noticed. Whether you are Viennese or have moved to the city from elsewhere, some of it just may surprise you. Welcome to the first blog post of our new series “Ode to the odds”.  This time, we will tell you some interesting and random facts about the sound of Vienna which has changed over the centuries, but influences the atmosphere  of this city until this day.

The Sperrsechserl

Back in the days, before coffee houses and bars stayed open until 4 o’clock in the morning and clubs closed long before 6 o’clock, Vienna used to be a very quiet city. Compared to other big cities it  probably still is,  due to the lack of 24/7 supermarkets, malls and McDonald’s. During the Habsburg Monarchy it wasn’t unsual for everyone to go home before 10 pm to prevent paying the “Sperrsechserl”. In the 1800s only the caretaker of a building had the key to its front door. And most of you already know that monopolies are the source of business sense. So, every Viennese who wanted to enter a building after 10pm, had to pay the caretaker the so called “Sperrsechserl” to open the door. Due to this fee, the streets of Vienna were almost empty at night. Try to imagine that the next time you open your window, facing the street, on a Saturday night.

For whom the Bieringerin tolls…

Saint Stephen's Cathedral

The Dome

Around the same time, there was another acoustic event that dominated the soundscape of Vienna and dictated the day: the bells. There were bells for basically everything: time bells, wedding bells, warning bells and mourning bells. But the most hated bell of all was probably the “Bieringerin”. Located in Saint Stephen’s Cathedral, the Bieringerin’s only purpose was to announce the closing hours of all the pubs around the dome. That’s why she (yes, Viennese bells are female) also had the nickname “Gurgelabschneiderin”, which is pretty difficult to translate, but basically means “throat cutter”. She wasn’t a very popular bell at all.

Animals vs. the machines

As everyone who has ever been to the first district knows, horses still play an important role in the soundscape of Vienna’s city center. Nowadays, mostly tourists enjoy the typical Viennese “Fiaker”, since they are a little too expensive to use them to commute to work. But back in the good old days, horses used to be the number one way to travel around town. In October 1865, the first horse-tram was introduced to the capital of Austria. It was a horse-carried tram able to take its passengers from the University in the 1st district to Hernals in the 17th district, within just 20 minutes. The horse-tram was very popular for a long time. But it was only the start of the Viennese tramway system.  In 1897, the first electrical tram was launched. Apparently, this was a very turbulent time for Viennese traffic as the new transport technologies – trams and cars – took over the traffic system bit by bit and there were a lot of accidents. Imagine all the confusion on the streets.

Animals again

Some of you might wonder about the weird names some of Vienna’s streets have. If you have ever asked yourself  why they would name streets “Sensengasse” or “Schlachthausgasse”, the answer is because Viennese people give very accurate names to their streets. Schlachthausgasse for example was leading to the slaughter house in St.Marx. So, around the 1850s once a week hordes of animals marched through the inner district to the slaughter house, to then be sold on the markets. Just to give you a feeling of how this might have sounded: Every year around 850.000 animals were sold on the markets.

Don’t forget the Classics

Johann Strauss

Johann Strauss

When you think of the sound of Vienna, you probably first think of Mozart, Strauß and Beethoven (just kidding). As the capital of classical music, Vienna carries on a very well-known tradition: The New Year’s concert at the Musikverein. Each year it is broadcasted live in 92 countries and has around 50 million viewers. The New Year’s concert is so popular and exclusive, you cannot even buy tickets like you normally would; instead you are put on a waiting list and only if you are randomly selected, you are able to purchase a ticket. I honestly don’t think that kind of enthusiasm for classical music can be met in any other city.

We hope we could tell you some new and surprising facts about this city. If you want more, watch out for our next blogpost in May!

Pictures by Pixabay

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About Julia Unteregger

Julia is a writer and a mental health professional. In her free time she likes to hike, even though she fears heights. She also drinks a lot of coffee and plays an excessive amount of solitaire.

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