Vienna’s grand ferris wheel, the Wiener Riesenrad, was, until 1985, the largest in the world. Found in Prater Park, just north of the elegance of Vienna’s Inner City, the giant ferris wheel will be, for lovers of cinema, forever linked to the classic film, The Third Man.
Carol Reed’s 1949 film noir masterpiece starring Joseph Cotton as Holly Martins, concerns a writer searching amidst the ruins of post war Vienna for his enigmatic friend, Harry Lime, played by Orson Welles. Filmed almost entirely on location amongst the actual rubble of Vienna in the late 1940s, one of the most famous scenes was shot on the iconic ferris wheel. Discovering that his friend Harry Lime had not only faked his own death, but was mixed up in a black market racket selling doctored penicillin which caused the deaths of many children, the Riesenrad was where Lime, looking down 212 feet to the people below, asks Martins, “Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever… if I said you can have twenty thousand pounds for every dot that stops.”
The Prater Park itself dates much further back, to when Emperor Joseph II, at the height of the power of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, gave his hunting ground over to the public to become an amusement park in 1766. Called the Wurstelprater, the amusement park is one of the oldest in Europe. The Riesenrad itself was built in 1897 by an engineer of the British Royal Navy, Lieutenant Walter Bassett Bassett.
The grand ferris wheel is largely unchanged from its condition during the filming of The Third Man. The distinctive red numbered gondolas provide the same exceptional views over one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. Some of the old gondolas can be reserved for romantic dinners, and at the height of the ferris wheel’s slow turning to the top, the people down below do indeed resemble dots.
Know Before You Go
Make your way to the U2 metro line. Get off at Praterstern and follow the crowd up the escalators and out of the station. Cross the street, and you'll see the theme park attractions. The Riesenrad is to the right if you're looking from the station.