Vienna Under Ground (Austria)

by B.E.Seidl

It is not the most beautiful place to be but it is definitely a spot full of history: the Vienna sewage system. Being the first of its kind in Europe, it’s adventurous story goes back to the mid 18th century, when it connected several streams running from the Vienna Woods to the city.
As it often happened, people were gratefully disposing of their waste without giving much thought to the fact that waste doesn’t simply disappear. The consequences were a cholera epidemic and other unpleasant side effects of the contaminated water. Apart from health risks, the overflow of sewage caused the nuisance of a severe odor during floods. It took one and a half centuries after its beginnings until the Viennese canalization system was finally expanded and reconstructed, although flooding is still possible in the course of heavy rainfall.
The danger of floods and the slippery paths are the main reasons why you should not try to explore the wide network of canals under ground on your own, a circumstance some adventurous locals and tourists unfortunately ignore. Just a little over a year ago, a tourist in his fifties had to be rescued in a costly recue operation after slipping on a wet ladder and breaking his arm after falling down several meters onto a concrete path. Why would people take such risks to squeeze into tiny tunnels under ground, where the stink of sewage is so strong that you can hardly breathe normally? Because this is a place where history was made. Not the history of kings and queens as showcased in the several palaces of the city. Nor the rich cultural history presented in the various museums and art galleries, concert halls and theaters. The history you can revisit in the tunnels of the Viennese canalization system is a history of the hidden, secret, unseen and denied. The canals under ground carry everything we prefer not to talk, think or know about. At the turn of the last century, the labyrinth of tunnels provided shelter for hundreds of homeless people, half a century later it was a popular hideout for Allied spies. Thanks to the Oscar-winning cult-movie The Third Man, the sinister city under the city attained world-wide fame.
If you are intrigued to see and smell a different site of history, please don’t try climbing down a manhole or up a sewage pipe leading into the Vienna River on your own. There is a Third Man Tour starting at “Karlsplatz” which provides you with a tour guide and a safety helmet. It’s fun and definitely an interesting experience. And don’t forget: mind the rats!
More about the Third Man Tour:


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