As you may have noticed by now, my visit to Vienna was a bit on the unorthodox side. Skipping the galleries and palaces (but not the cafes!), I’ve spent my two days searching for the weirder bits of the city. After spotting some old Nazi Dark Towers, I then boarded the U3 line towards Simmering, alighting at the Gasometer station.
The station’s name spoils the surprise a bit, but then if you ventured so far away from the city centre, you probably already know what’s waiting for you. A vertical brick wall, arcing to the left and right, forming a giant cylinder. One of those huge XIXth century coal gas tanks that every European city used to have. But this one is different; and not only because there are four of them in one place.
Remarkably, these gas tanks were in use until the 1980’s – but finally, the more efficient
pipelines and underground tanks had replaced them and, as it often happens, they just stood there, on the outskirts of Vienna, great, useless, empty halls of brick. They may have gone the way of the Flakturms – too big and expensive to dismantle, too peculiar to be of any use. Luckily for all of us, the city had different plans.
At the brink of the new century, four architects (including Jean Nouvel of One New Change fame) presented four designs for the Gasometers. Each involved splitting one of the gas tanks into residential and commercial parts. The results were stunning: the ultimate combination of old and new, brick, glass and steel, more impressive than any old loft. With their hanging gardens, trees growing over the roofs of the mall centres below.
The photos hardly give justice to the overall impression of these massive constructions. Almost self-contained, cities-within-cities, the Gasometers are the Arcologies of science-fiction come to life, but combined with the steampunk panache: old clock dials, steel pipes, brass valves and flanges mix with modern flats, cinemas and shops. Within the brick walls, neighbourhood communities have formed; artists settled in, sociologists and journalists arrived to write about the phenomenon.
If you have an hour or so to spare on your visit to Vienna, I seriously recommend taking the trip to the Gasometer. Thanks to the U-bahn station, they are easily reached from anywhere within the town centre, and the sight of the four ancient giants against the bright Austrian sky is unforgettable.
Check out my other travel recommendations in Top 5 Inner-city Getaways
Lastly, here’s one of the Gasometers before the reconstruction, used as James Bond’s hideout in a ridiculous scene from “The Living Daylights”.