The History of World Expositions

The Vienna World Exposition 1873
Danube diversion and prestigious RingstraÃče

Year: 1873
City: Vienna
Country: Austria
Duration: 1st may - 31st october 1873


Copyright: Leipziger Illustrierte Zeitung, 3.5.1873

Exactly fulfilling the wishes of the Kaiser who as early as 1866 had already envisaged the Prater as the site of the unrealised 1870 World Exposition, the former imperial hunting park was officially designated the Exposition Site in 1869. The critics considered the long distance from the park to the city centre to be a major disadvantage - not to mention the danger of the area being flooded by the river Danube. Despite these reservations, the area around the Prater became an integral part of the city reconstruction measures.

A new river bed was excavated for the Danube to finally remove the centuries old risk of flooding of the city and the Prater. The Danube control measures - themselves one of the World Exposition exhibits - made it possible to construct the northern station in the northern part of the Prater from which railway tracks were laid into each of the exposition buildings during the construction phase. The lowering of the ground water level, which was another consequence of the Danube control measures, allowed Vienna's drinking water supply to be improved. In combination with the construction of new hospitals, the improvement of the water supply was a major weapon in the fight against the regular risk of epidemics such as cholera.

The Wurstelprater in the western part of the Prater site was renovated and "refined" as part of the World Exposition preparations. The informally evolved structure of this highly popular amusement park which had grown up since the beginning of the eighteenth century thus fell victim to the bourgeois fetish for order and control. The whole area was restructured in 1871 under the supervision of the architect Lothar Abel who ordered the tearing down of amusement booths, the straightening and widening of roads, the outlawing of vagabonds and the construction of regular rows of houses as per the master plan. The Wurstelprater - renamed the Volksprater (People's Prater) - thus lost the earthy charm which had endeared it to many of its visitors. The proponents of the gentrification countered these arguments by underlining, in their opinion, the already overdue need to: "Raise the standards of the people's amusements". Highlighting the extent to which they were out of touch with the grass roots, these spoilsports propagated the "beneficial change in the former tastes of the Viennese public which had lamentably gone astray." - A typical example of the inflexible encroachment and uncompromising restructuring of an urban institution with socio-political consequences.

The opponents criticised the reconstruction of Vienna - and the World Exposition project itself - as a planning failure because it was a short term measure which only benefited the upper classes and thus only fuelled social divisions. The essence of the criticism was that instead of helping to solve the housing shortage, money was being wasted in the construction of prestigious urban palaces and luxury hotels. The Danube itself became a temporary harbour for hotel ships hoping to cash in on the influx of tourists during the World Exposition. And the many foreign workers involved in the World Exposition caused tremendous inflation in the price of housing, hotels and consumables. The workers who had come to Vienna for the World Exposition lived in barrack-like conditions; locals were thrown out of their homes which were then rebuilt as guest houses for World Exposition visitors. Vienna became a magnet for speculators. The propaganda from the liberal government propagating the benefits of the economic boom for everyone including the lower classes was treated increasingly sceptically by many during this time.

EXPOSEEUM - The Museum of World Exhibitions, Hanover, Expo Plaza 11
Open every Sunday from 11 to 16