Saturday, November 1, 2014

Abandoned Villas and a "Persian" Insecticide Factory

I have mentioned on several occasions that although I am a Volvo gal for life, I loathe driving within Vienna's city limits. Driving the autobahn to Venice, through autumnal Steirmark? Bliss. Driving across Döbling with its "on a hurry" moms pushing the upper bounds of the posted speed velocity? My blood pressure skyrockets. So I walk, past abandoned villas and insecticide factories, their stories to share with you.

Hohe Warte is the "High Viewing Point" up here, sprinkled with enormous 19th century villas, including the former Austrian President's home. Many of the villas have since been repurposed, but not this one.  We've always just assumed it was an abandoned embassy; this week curiosity finally got the best of me, and I learned that Villa Hohe Warte is modern, constructed in 1946 as a municipal orphanage for "war children."  The economics of running this large mansion probably had a hand in its 1999 closure. As best as I have learned, the building has recently been purchased for use as the new Chinese Embassy. Time will tell, though there is a new padlock on the gate.

A fellow Vienna blogger snapped a photo of this Persian-style building not long ago, and it reminded me to drop by with my camera, as well. This is the Zacherl-Fabrik, an "insect-killing tincture" factory formed around the late 1800s. The founder, Johann Zacherl had traveled to the Caucasus Mountains in his youth, where he discovered that villagers used leaves from the Pyrethrum plant to repeal insects, and by the by established trade contracts with village elders for the export of the ground leaf powder. His factory produced 600 tons of insecticide annually in its heyday.
So why the Arabic motif?  Johann's son, Evangelist, who took the helm after Johann's retirement, noted that the "exotic flair" of the insecticide added to its popularity, and hired an architect to design a bigger factory (with Oriental flair) and a now-former Imperial brick making company to design the tiles. With the rise of chemical industries post WWI, the factory closed. Only recently has its space been revived by Zacherl descendants; it is now a private art gallery and summer concert hall.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Vienna's Old Insane Asylum

I had the opportunity to tour the Narrenturm (Fools' Tower) on the grounds of the old general hospital this week. Originally constructed to house Vienna's poor, it was officially founded as continental Europe's first mental institution in 1784 and is now an impressive anatomical-pathological museum (but not one for the faint of heart). 
The campus of the old general hospital is now home to the University of Vienna, including the medical school, and our tour guide was an enthusiastic 4th year medical student named Ali. Beyond this point photographs were prohibited (out of respect for the privacy of the pathological specimens). The photos I've included are from the official Vienna government sites. (Thank you, Vienna.)
The tower has five levels with 28 cells each. Patients were housed according to their level of "insanity," with the most unbalanced and violent patients at the top.
In its day the institution was one of the most modern, though pretty difficult to appreciate when standing in the corridors today. The yellow doors lead to the patient cells; now they are individual galleries devoted to the over 4.000 specimens in the collection. If you can imagine a disease or deformity, there's a good chance you'll find it preserved in these halls. 
A view inside one of the cells. In the beginning just two or three patients shared a room, chained to the walls and with only straw mats for beds, though they were given a diet of meat and wine and allowed into the garden for exercise. This was state-of-the-art at the time. 
On the day of my visit the skies were a little gray and the leaves were rustling just enough to lend a creepy vibe to the tour. Or was that the rattle of bones I heard?