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While the Prater is the green lung of the city of Vienna, it also serves as both a place for relaxation and strolling and as an important leisure centre, thanks to the fact that in the 19th century part of the gardens were transformed into a lively amusement park that still operates today.
The park known as the Green Prater, an area populated by trees and lush meadows, was formerly a private hunting ground for a succession of emperors. In 1766 Joseph II decided to open it for the enjoyment of the city's residents, and of course where there are customers, sweets vendors began to appear, only to be followed shortly afterwards by hundreds of other stalls offering wine, beer, ice cream and coffee.
This was a park for all citizens alike, from the lower classes, who came attracted by the shooting galleries, carousel and snack bars, to the elite, who enjoyed the restaurants and dance floors where "Battles of the Waltzes" between Strauss and Lanner were commonplace.
Today the park is intersected by the Hauptallee, a 5-kilometre-long avenue flanked by chestnut trees, and is a place of pilgrimage for fans of cycling and horse riding as well as those who just want to run or stroll around this beautiful urban oasis.
While the park occupies a total of 6 million square metres, if you do not feel like walking far the Prater also offers the possibility of making a panoramic 4-kilometre tour via the so-called Liliputbahn, or Lilliput train. The perfect option for those traveling with children.
However, for the foreign visitor perhaps the best known part of this corner of Vienna is that which is often referred to by the peculiar name Wurstelprater, or "Sausage Prater ", so named because of the numerous stalls selling sausages that formerly existed here. However, it is not the sausages that currently characterize this part of the Prater, but rather the more than 250 amusement attractions.
These include modern roller coasters and a flight simulator, or, if you prefer, classic roundabouts and shooting galleries, though the main attraction is the giant Ferris wheel, the Riesenrad, which stands almost 65 metres high and offers great views of the city.
The Riesenrad was originally built between 1896 and 1897 by British engineer Walter Basset, who had already built similar structures in cities the likes of Chicago, Paris and London, but was destroyed during World War II, so the wheel you see today is the result of a reconstruction carried out in 1945. During the reconstruction 15 of the original 30 gondolas were removed.
The wheel, with its 61-metre diameter, 120 cabled spokes and 430-ton weight, rotates at just 75 centimetres per second.
In addition to conventional rides, those responsible for the Riesenrad also offer the possibility of renting the more luxurious gondolas, decorated in Art Nouveau style, for the celebration of events such as wedding banquets. This is nothing if not a tempting offer, since the wheel is one of Vienna's main icons and a landmark for moviegoers since its appearance in numerous films, most notably: The Third Man directed by Carol Reed.
As a curiosity we can tell you that, while strolling in the Prater, you may come across a very unique and entirely spherical building. The particularity doesn't end here, however, and by particularity we mean that this was formerly a micro-nation, the Kugelmugel Republic. This situation came about precisely because of the building's spherical nature. Following a dispute between the artist Edwin Lipburger and Austrian authorities over permission to build such a peculiar structure (the artist believed that this was the shape that best harmonized with nature - Kugelmugel mean spherical field), the Republic of Kugelmugel declared independence in 1984. When the Austrian authorities claimed that the artist was not in possession of the correct building licenses and that the area was designated for demolition, Edwin Lipburger responded by declaring the spherical house an independent nation and began to print his own money and stamps. He also refused to pay taxes, an act that led to his incarceration, though he was later pardoned by the Austrian president. Attempts by the mayor of Vienna to demolish the house led to the construction of a security fence around it. The Republic of Kugelmugel is both a work of art and a residence, but it is also symbolic of an unending struggle, that of the individual against the system. Lipburger, then, is one of the very few people who can truly say... Welcome the independent republic of my house.
If all this is not reason enough, you should also know that the Prater houses other additional attractions, including a museum dedicated to the history of the park, a planetarium, and sports facilities that include a race track, tennis courts and even a golf course. Fun is guaranteed.
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