JULY 2016: Prater by Night Photo Walk

I have never been a fan of amusement parks; I love the junk food (in this country, that means Lángos, Käsekrainer, and cotton candy), but am not a fan of the rides; I’m scared of heights, uncomfortable with high speed, tend to get carsick and seasick… you get the idea. Growing up, a nightmare situation involved being invited to a friend’s birthday party at the Prater: while all the kids were busy having fun, I was busy trying to keep my shit together at the Dizzy Mouse and the Donau Jump, the only two roller coasters I could face. Unfortunately, they did not help my street cred much; they were known as the “kiddy rides”.

Needless to say, traumatized throughout my primary and middle school years, I carefully avoided the Prater like the plague for the next decade. Fast-forward to the year 2016 and the launch of our VPW summer nighttime photo walks. I had been racking my brain, trying to come up with a truly dramatic place to shoot at night, and remembered the amusement park. But first, a short history of the Prater:

The Prater was once imperial hunting ground and only accessible for the aristocracy, until the Austrian Emperor Josef II donated the area to the Viennese in 1766 as a public leisure center. And since Emperor also allowed the establishment of restaurants and snack bars – small wonder that it didn’t take long until the precursors of today’s Wurstelprater appeared on the edge of the former aristocratic hunting grounds. Innkeepers, coffee brewers, and gingerbread bakers (Lebzelter) hung out their shingles; seesaws and merry-go-rounds as well as bowling alleys were not far behind.

The first and only World Exhibition in Vienna took place at the Prater in 1873. Around 53,000 exhibitors presented their achievements focusing on cultural issues in an area covering approximately 2.3 million square meters. The 84 meter high Rotunda with cupola diameter of 109 meters, around which the exhibition was centered, fell victim to fire in 1937. Today, the Wiener Messe (“Vienna Trade Fair”) main building is erected on these grounds.

In 1895, the amusement area “Venice in Vienna” was established, in whose midst one of the landmarks of the city, the Riesenrad, appeared in 1897 The Prater became a place where everyone finds enjoyment. The “better” class of people came here in their horse-drawn carriages, military cadets and laundry girls met on secret dates, one found barrel organs, Heurigen singers and ladies orchestras – and some of the great composers of their time, such as the Waltz King Johann Strauss or the composers Joseph Lanner and Carl Michael Ziehrer performed here. For children’s entertainment, puppet theaters were established in simple wooden booths, where Hanswurst played the leading part. The name “Wurstelprater” derives from this figure.

In 1938, the Prater became the property of the City of Vienna. During World War II, bombs and the construction of trenches destroyed large parts of the Prater area. A large part of the Wurstelprater fell victim to fire in April 1945. After 1945, the Wurstelprater rebuilt with the help of private initiatives, and the devastated Prater grounds afforested by the Vienna public park authorities.

Here is a short timeline of the Giant history of the Ferris Wheel, the Riesenrad:

1897: The Giant Ferris Wheel was erected to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Emperor Franz Josef I.

1916: A demolition permit was issued, but the Ferris Wheel was saved from destruction by a lack of money.

1944: The Giant Ferris Wheel is burned down.

1945: The Wheel is rebuilt, at the same time as the reconstruction of St. Stephan’s Cathedral, the State Opera House, and the Burgtheater.

1947 The Giant Ferris Wheel is taken back into operation.

The idea to visit the Prater for one of our summer walks was received with enthusiasm by the members of VPW, and so off we went on a hot, sticky July evening. For this particular walk we were less bothered with capturing the golden or blue hour, and more interested in seeing the Prater by night: amusement parks are perfect for long exposure photography! It is not a technique I have very much experience with, but I know that many of our members are very skilled at it.

Meeting at the ubahn station at 8:00pm, the fourteen of us walked over to the Riesenrad and began pulling up our equipment: setting up our tripods, pinning the remote shutters to our cameras, and tinkering with exposure times. It was dusk by 8:45pm, and almost completely dark by around 9:00pm. With all the attractions in full swing, there was a plethora of blinking, turning, vibrating, and spinning neon-lit subjects to capture. Our walk ended at around 10:30pm, with everyone catching their respective train home from the Praterstern ubahn station again.

I took a lot of pictures that night, and was very pleased with the effects achieved in some of them; I hope others were too! We are running our July 2016 Photo Contest based on this photo walk, and everyone may cast there vote here. May the best photographer win!

Below are some pictures taken during the walk by the member of VPW. Have a great start to the week, and see you at our next photo walk on July 27 at the Belvedere & Schwarzenbergplatz! You may bring partners, friends, and kids. The only ‘must’ – an interest in photography. As always, absolutely all cameras (smartphone, compact camera, disposable, polaroid, DSLR, etc.) are welcome. Please watch our Facebook Group, Facebook Page, Instagram, and this homepage for details of upcoming walks.

If you are interested in suggesting or planning a photo walk, please get in touch with me.