Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Places: Vienna: The Prater

In 18th Century Vienna, the Prater, a park in the Leopoldstadt, was the center of all sorts of social activities, entertainments, and gatherings. There were several coffee houses, restaurants, casinos, taverns as well as large expansive lawns and ponds with boats. Horse racing was a center attraction on the Hauptallee (the main avenue), as well as booths and pony rides during Winter Carnival. It was a favorite leisure attraction for both young and old, courting couples, as well as families. It was while Mozart and Constanze (his wife of only two days), were strolling along the Hauptallee, walking their little dog, that Emperor Joseph stopped and conversed with them and congratulated them on their recent marriage.

The following history is from Wikipedia:

The Wiener Prater is a large public park in Vienna's 2nd district (Leopoldstadt). The Wurstelprater amusement park, often simply called "Prater", stands in one corner of the Wiener Prater and includes the Wiener Riesenrad.

The area that makes up the modern Prater was first mentioned in 1162, when Emperor Friedrich I gave the land to a noble family called de Prato. The word "Prater" was first used in 1403, originally referring to a small island in the Danube north of Freudenau, but was gradually extended to mean the neighbouring areas as well. The land changed hands frequently until it was bought by Emperor Maximilian II in 1560 to be a hunting ground. To deal with the problem of poachers, Emperor Rudolf II forbade entry to the Prater. On April 7 1766, Emperor Joseph II declared the Prater to be free for public enjoyment, and allowed the establishment of coffee-houses and cafés, which led to the beginnings of the Wurstelprater. Throughout this time, hunting continued to take place in the Prater, ending only in 1920.

In 1873, a World Exhibition was held in the Prater, for which a large area of land was set aside, centered on the Rotunda, which burnt down in 1937. This land now houses the Messegelände (exhibition centre).

In 2004, major renovations to the Wurstelprater began, and a new underground railway line was finished and brought into service on May 11, 2008, which includes three stops along the Prater (see Vienna U-Bahn). The railway station Praterstern has been in operation for a long time and is only a few dozen metres away from an entrance to the park.

The overall area of the park has also been reduced by the building of the Ernst-Happel-Stadion (Austria's national stadium), the Südosttangente (Austria's busiest piece of motorway) and racecourse.

From Chapter 10 of So Faithful a Heart:

     The hot July sun bore down on the lawn as Mozart and his little family lazed under a large Linden tree near a pond at the Prater. The park was abuzz with activity: children playing games on the lawn, mothers pushing their infants in prams, couples sitting on blankets, eating Italian ices, roast chicken, fresh strawberries, and fresh mozzarella cheese with basil on sliced tomatoes, drizzled with olive oil.
     Constanze watched as baby Karl, who was a little over ten months old and who was already beginning to toddle, pulled himself up on the lawn and tried to chase the butterflies that flitted by, only to fall onto his backside when his chubby little legs couldn’t carry him fast enough. This was the indolent summer Mozart had promised himself and his family and he was enjoying it to its fullest with no guilt or remorse. As he lay upon the blanket in his stocking feet, having kicked off his shoes, he read, another luxury that he’d promised himself.

This is the Rondo movement from Mozart's Clarinet Concerto in A major. I chose it for this post because, to me, it evokes a cheerful stroll through the park.

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