A close inspection of the imposing statue of a knight in armor outside of the Vienna Rathaus reveals its interesting back story: his armor coating is created entirely from nail heads.
The soldier is known as the Wehrmann in Eisen, or “Iron Soldier” and it does not date from the days of chivalrous men battling on horseback, but the the more recent days of men in trenches battling with machine guns.
The wooded base for the statue was commissioned in 1914 as a patriotic fundraiser for the war effort, and erected in Schwarzenbergplatz in 1915. As a kind of interactive art piece/fundraiser, for a small donation, members of the public could help sheath the knight in nail head armor, one nail at a time. The funds raised from the estimated half million nails went to underwrite the costs of supporting the widows and orphans of WWI.
An inscription in the alcove reads:
Wehrmann Wiens gemahne an die Zeit, Da unerschöpflich wie des Krieges Leid Die Liebe war und die Barmherzigkeit!
Iron man of Vienna commemorates the time when suffering brought by war was as great as love and charity!
The Wehrmann triggered a sort of frenzy of copycat projects, eventually leading to the creation of hundreds of nail-head monuments, popular not only in Austria but across the border in Germany.
After the war, the Wehrmann was relocated into storage until he re-emerged in tome for another war in 1934, ready to take on more patriotic nails in a new monumental base. The knight was more recently given a tune up in 2007.
Know Before You Go
He is across the street from the Rathaus on Lichtenfelsgasse.