Vienna′s Main Recreational Area
If you are in Vienna and refer to the "Prater", you normally mean the "Wurstelprater", a small section of a recreational area called formally called "Wiener Prater". "Wurst" means sausage, but has nothing to do with wieners - in fact, to a German native speaker like myself, the confusion around Wiener Prater and Sausage Prater / Wurstelprater would not naturally occur - if it wasn′t for English-speaking friends of mine.
The name "Prater" is most likely derived from the Latin word "partum" for "meadow". Anyway, the Wurstelprater is a rather disgusting amusement park or permanent fair in the North of the Prater area and I have described it briefly in an article on the Riesenrad or Ferris wheel. Now more on the rest of the Prater area. The Prater is an area in the South of the second district of Vienna, the Leopoldstadt, and spans over approximately six square kilometres.
Its earliest record dates back to 1162, when a document refers to it as an area that Emperor Friedrich I gave to a nobleman called Konrad. Little do we know about Konrad or what he did with his chunk of wilderness, but we do know that the term "Prater" was used for the area as early as 1403. The "core" Prater was a small island in the Danube north of today′s Freudenau area, but soon the name "Pratter" (with double-T) was used for surrounding forests.
Prater goes from Hunting Reserve to Public Park
The Medieval Konrad was by far not the last owner of the Prater - it changed landlords a couple of times before it went back to the top: In 1560, Emperor Maximilian II (he of Schloss Neugebäude) purchased all the land that is known as Prater today. The Emperor did that in order to create an extensive hunting ground - and it remained one for quite some time, the last organised hunting party roamed the forests of the Prater in 1920.
Maximilian′s son and successor, Rudolf II, banned all people who were not associated with official hunting parties from entering the Prater area, in an attempt to fight poaching. Since the ban was officially announced once every couple of years over and over again, historians assume that it was never taken very seriously by the people of Vienna.
A turning point in the history of the Prater came in 1766: Emperor Joseph II opened the Prater as a recreational area for everybody who fancied to catch eels, ticks or get bitten by mosquitos. Joseph II also allowed Cafes to open in the Prater, which added hugely to the appeal of the area. Within a few years, the Prater - especially the area of today′s Wurstelprater - became Vienna′s primary entertainment and recreational zone. Amusements ranged from carousels to prostitutes.
Wiener Prater since the 19th Century
In 1873, a World Exhibition was held, modelled after the Great Exhibition of London. The venue for this show was the Prater, which turned into the showcase of the Habsburg Empire for the duration of the "Weltausstellung". Speculations before the opening had led to a serious economic crisis - for details, read the articles on Palais Ferstel and the Wiener Börse. The Prater benefited from the Weltausstellung: Several exhibition halls were built around one central, round pavilion. This central pavilion burnt down in 1937 - the site is where today′s Messezentrum can be found.
The actual Prater is still primarily a park and woodland. Its size decreased significantly in the 20th century, when several very large building projects required significant amounts of space: The Ernst-Happel-Stadion (sports stadium), the horse race-course, and even a highway. Nevertheless, the Prater is still popular with joggers, people who walk dogs or look for cheap, illegal and often under-aged prostitutes. To learn more about the Prater and its history, try the Pratermuseum near the Ferris wheel.
Attractions nearby are limited - note the UNO City and the Donauinsel. As a residential area, the parts north of the Prater are considered cheap and unattractive; real attractions start only at the Karmeliterviertel. From there, getting to the First District is easy.
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