Ugly? Vienna? Is that even possible? All the more after Vienna was awarded as most livable city in 2018 by The Economist? To learn more about Vienna’s not so bright side and architectural quirks, I joined the almost three hours long “Vienna Ugly” tour. Spoiler alert: Not all that glitters is gold.

 

First of all…

…it is a “walk” and not a “tour”. A “tour” is only allowed to be called a “tour” if it is guided by a certified tour guide. The occupation of a tour guide in Austria is strictly regulated by law. As Eugene is not a certified tour guide, his ”tours” are called “walks”. If you are interested in why he is allowed to organize his tours, join him for a walk and he will definitely tell you his hilarious story about Austria’s infamous red tape.

 

Starting out near not so ugly Augarten park

Some time ago I woke up early and started out to Vienna’s second district. The meeting place was next to the main portal of the Augarten, a big park in the area.

The meeting point for the Vienna Ugly tour is in front of the Augarten park's main gate, 2nd district, Vienna, Austria.

The meeting point was in front of the Augarten park’s main gate.

After some time I found our exiled British guide Eugene in the crowd. Note: he is the orange garbage collector-pants wearing guy. At first I did not realize that he was the host. I thought he was just a participant with a strange taste of fashion. You can’t miss the pants on the next photo. ↓

After I paid him the 10 Euro fee, I received a sticker to identify myself as a member of the walk.

Mister Wong exlores "ugly" Vienna with Space and Place's Vienna Ugly tour. All members of the tour get "ugly" stickers.

After paying the 10 Euro fee, my personal photographer got a cute unicorn sticker to identify as a tour member. Gladly Eugene didn’t see me in her bag!

 

Ugly Vienna? Vienna Ugly?

The website description promises a tour full of ugliness in beautiful city of Vienna. And they started with the ugliness at the very beginning before the tour even started. Did you notice the grammatical error? It should even make the name more horrible as well.

After a small introduction in front of one of the flak towers which was built back in World War Two, we started our tour through the second district to the Karmelitermarkt, where we stopped for our very first building.

The meeting point was in front of the Augarten park's main gate, you can see a flak tower built back then in WW2.

The tour started with the historic background of one of Vienna’s flak towers which was built back then in WW2.

 

Bizzare style and strange looks

The building was painted by the owner of the it, an artist whose name I forgot instantly after it was mentioned. Before, the tour paused right in front of the building. But because the owner was not happy that his building became part of the Vienna Ugly walk, he took legal steps to cut it off. Long story short, the tour is not allowed to halt right in front of the building anymore. Therefore it now does a few steps right of it, still offering a nice view of the eccentric drawings.

Eccentric house at the Karmelitermarkt in Vienna's second district. The building really sticks out among the plain ones around it.

Eccentric house at the Karmelitermarkt in Vienna’s second district. The building really sticks out among the plain ones around it.

 

Architectural accidents and other structures

The tour lasted about two and a half hours. From the Augarten we walked through the Karmeliter district…

…we passed other buildings of the tour were a colorful brain fart from the 1970s and the Hungarian cultural center…

Seen at the Vienna Ugly Tour: the Hungarian Cultural Center, Vienna 2nd district, Austria.

… which looks a little like an Italian pizzeria…

… the Graffiti at the Danube Canal…

Seen at the Vienna Ugly Tour: Graffiti street art at the Danube canal, Vienna, Austria.

… where new street art can be found almost every week…

… crooked buildings in fifty shades of grey…

Seen at the Vienna Ugly Tour: There are so many shades of grey found in Vienna.

(there are so many shades of grey in that photo)

… and the Ministry of Transport.

Seen at the Vienna Ugly Tour: the Austrian ministry of transportation.

Would you have guessed that this is actually an Austrian ministry?

Seen at the Vienna Ugly Tour: inside the Ministry of Transportation, Vienna, Austria.

It doesn’t get better inside the building. It smelled a little bit scungy.

They have a statue that looks like tissue papers in the wind. Before it was on the top of the building, but they eventually had to put it down. It seems like it is not the safest construction for snowy winters.

Seen at the Vienna Ugly Tour: a statue that looks like tissue papers blowing in the wind.

Me in front of the tissue paper statue.

 

Botanical Insights

Afterwards we went to the back of the Museum of Applied Arts to gaze at a small tree in wonder which has not died of chronic lack of sunlight yet.

Seen at the Vienna Ugly Tour: a tree grows a hole into a building, Vienna, Austria.

What was here first? The building or the tree?

Shortly after a walk through the Stadtpark (City Park), a big park in the middle of Vienna, the tour ended in front of a building of Wiener Netze, a Distribution network operator for electricity and gas. Aside from not being an architectonic masterpiece the building lies right behind the St. Stephan’s cathedral and therefore the historic city center, which is UNESCO world heritage.

Seen at the Vienna Ugly Tour: a grey building in Vienna's historic UNESCO world heritage center.

A grey block inside Vienna’s historic city center, which is, by the way, UNESCO world heritage.

 

What has been seen can’t be unseen

Eugene’s repertoire of stories about the city, their buildings and corresponding laws is remarkable. He pointed out a lot of details which I normally overlooked in the past. One for example are modern roof structures on historic buildings which are spoiling their whole appearance. I never realized them before, and thanks to him, I now since them see them all over the city now.

The same goes for the grey boxes with the control systems for nearby traffic lights in it. They look so ugly but the city officials just do not care about them.

All in all the tour was informative and fun and I learned many new details about my hometown. Although we weren’t shown any building of “historic significance”, we learned a lot about Vienna’s urban planning, architecture of the 1970s and Austrian laws. Also from now on, my view of the city will never be the same and I will pay more attention to not so obvious details.

What has been seen cannot be unseen.

 

Mister Wong’s obvious and less obvious insider tips:

  • Wear comfortable shoes, because you will walk a lot.
  • Dress appropriately. The walk will be held in any kind of weather, even if it’s raining. Pouring rain seems to make the Ugly tour even more ugly.
  • No knowledge about Vienna or interest in architecture is required. You will have fun anyway.
  • No need to reserve a spot, just be at the meeting place at the time stated on the website of Space and Place. There you can find all the dates for the upcoming tours as well.
  • The tour is held entirely in English.
  • After every building you can vote whether it is ugly or not. If the majority thinks it is not ugly enough for a tour about Vienna’s ugly sides, it will be switched with a more disgusting one.
  • As there are no breaks at the walk, go to the toilet before it starts and bring something to drink.

Mister Wong in front of a building from the 1970s at the Vienna Ugly Tour.

 

Have you ever thought about joining an “ugly” walking tour of any city that you have visited? I would really love to hear your thoughts.

 

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