TEDxVienna Adventures: Walk in Weird Vienna


One of the TEDxVienna Adventures led us on a “Walk in Weird Vienna” with author Harald Havas as our guide. Adventurers were able to see and hear about some of Vienna’s forgotten places and stories in the city’s most prominent district. In the afternoon, participants were encouraged to step outside their comfort zones and into newfound confidence. 

When you think of Vienna, you probably think of its encyclopedic history, music and art. You might also think of famous Viennese psychologists and scientists, who have forever changed the way we perceive the world today. Or maybe you think of Vienna, Alabama. But, that’s a whole other thing. What you may not think of are the many curious aspects of the city that make up Vienna’s eclectic culture and the Viennese’s ironic humor. The details of this tour usually only reveal themselves to those who stop and wonder why the streets are only named after dead people. Cue eerie music.

The journey begins

At our first destination, Havas stopped and asked the group to observe the surroundings in search of an anomaly. After a few failed guesses we finally saw it. Far off into the distance, atop an inconspicuous building on the busy Getreide Markt street in central Vienna, Havas pointed to a man. The man was dressed in a suit, holding a briefcase and standing on the ledge of the building. At first glance, the sight is somewhat shocking. While our minds tried to understand what we were looking at, Havas explained that the man is a sculpture of a banker.

The sculpture, titled “Reason to Believe”, was created by artist Ronald Kodritsch. Its purpose is to awaken critical thinking towards capitalism and to question its authority on our lives. However, there is no sign informing the public of the piece, therefore it often scares people who see it for the first time.

©Timar Ivo Batis

No horsing around

Shortly thereafter, we stopped at Heldenplatz near the notorious statues of Archduke Charles and Archduke Eugene riding their horses, which were created by sculptor Anton Dominik. The statue of Archduke Charles was the first ever statue of its size to be created with only two support points holding the statue. The two support points are the horse’s hind legs, making the sculpture an astonishing achievement at the time.

While Dominik was working on the second statue, of Archduke Eugene, he was unable to recreate a perfect balance and used the horse’s tail as a third support base. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, because both statues appear equally decent to everyone but the sculptor himself. Dominik tried so hard to achieve perfection with the second statue’s balance that he exhausted himself to the point of insanity, spending the rest of his life institutionalized in a mental hospital.

© Timar Ivo Batis

Underground Secrets

Later, we reached Vienna’s ‘Regierungsviertel’ (Government district), where we found out about a secret underground world lurking beneath us. Unbeknownst to the rest of the population there is a whole series of secret underground passageways that are interconnected throughout the city. They can only be accessed through the government buildings and were built by the monarch as escape routes. The tunnels are still in use today and one of the tunnels even leads to the subway station Herrengasse. Some of the passageways remain to be found.

Which makes us wonder what else could be down there, perhaps a tunnel leading to a getaway submarine through the Danube? The possibilities are endless.

Interesting tidbits between stops

Havas revealed more hidden treasures of information between stops, like that it is illegal to name a street after a living person. Not only does the person have to be dead, but they have to be dead for a year. But why is that the case? Just to be certain they’re really dead? Well, maybe. However, Havas believes the law was introduced as a ‘mourning period’ to avoid making haste decisions after the death of a politician.

Another neat reveal was that the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was tattooed. He loved traveling and got a souvenir tattoo from each place he visited. The Archduke’s tattoos were found on his body after his assassination in 1914. Other things that were found on the monarch post assassination were dozens of good-luck charms. The Archduke and his wife were highly superstitious and their bodies were found to be covered in good luck charms, which is quite paradoxical.

We recommend checking Harald Havas’ books for more weird facts about Vienna, specifically “Weird Vienna: A Hilarious City Guide”  for English speakers, so you don’t miss out on showing-off your newly acquired knowledge of the ‘odder’ side of Vienna.

Afternoon Comfort Zone Crushing

In the afternoon, the adventurers set out on a somewhat less-comfortable, but life altering, installation of the “Walk in Weird Vienna” Adventure. This part of the tour was hosted by one of TEDxVienna’s own conference speakers, Michael Herold. Herold invited participants to step out of their comfort zone by participating in something he creatively calls “Comfort Zone Crushing”. It is a social anxiety buffer that helps people overcome social tension and anxiety in a playful way.

The Comfort Zone Crushing took place in the middle of Mariahilfer Strasse, Vienna’s busiest shopping street. The participants were asked to lay down in the middle of Mariahilfer Strasse’s promenade for thirty seconds among hundreds of rushing passersby. Participants also had to high five strangers, howl like wolves, join a group of strangers and pretend to be one of their old friends, ask for unrealistic favors to get rejected, and many other comfort zone crushing activities.

The evening ended with a feeling of restored confidence, faith in humanity, liberation, and relief as everyone made their way back to the base. We recommend trying out some of the aforementioned Comfort Zone Crushing activities yourself.  It might just make you feel like a brand new person ready to take on the world.

© Johannes Herrnegger

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About Anita Matkovic

Anita has a degree in Transcultural Communication from the University of Vienna. She spends her time translating, teaching English, and proofreading. She is a language enthusiast with a chronic case of wanderlust.

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