Vienna: Grinzing, Prater Amusement Park

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Vienna: Grinzing, Prater Amusement Park

Grinzing  This is a village just north of Vienna, for centuries an important center for Austrian wine making. A popular tradition in Vienna is for people to spend an evening in Heurigen of the town. These are small, picturesque taverns where discerning wine tasters sample the first vintage of the season. The wine is young and still fruity, bearing the flavor of the surrounding hills and vineyards. The wine has not yet aged, and so is not as mellow and dry as it will eventually become. But the experts can judge from the taste of the young wine what it will be like months or years later. The tasting is a sort of "sneak preview" of that year's vintage. Much ceremony accompanies the tasting: singing, joking in local dialect, music, feasting, and a general feeling of Gemutlichkeit.

Prater Amusement Park  This immense green space takes up the area between the two arms of the River Danube. Originally, it was a private hunting ground used by the Viennese aristocracy, but by the 19th century it had become a popular public park. Cafes and outdoor pavilions were built everywhere, with Viennese singing and dancing away their idle afternoons and evenings. The waltz and the polka were popularized during this era of good times and high spirits.

The amusement park in the Prater was also built in the late-19th century, as the Viennese middle class, conscious now of their prosperity, wanted a place to come for recreation and to show off their "Sunday best." The amusement park carries the usual assortment of roller coasters, fun houses, flying and whirling contraptions, and of course the famous Giant Wheel (Riesenrad). This huge, 200-foot "bicycle wheel" is made up of hundreds of steel cables which radiate as spokes from the center. Little observation cars dangle from the circumference, and as your car reaches the top, the whole of Vienna is spread out before you.

To illustrate the size and weight of the Giant Wheel, the story is told that when it was installed in 1896, the wheels of the carts used to transport it sank down to their axles in the ground. A special pavement had to be built to complete the installation. Modern electric engines drive the Giant Wheel today, making it turn slowly and seemingly effortlessly.

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