From traditional Russian steam baths to a residential development and cultural centre: the Sofiensaele can look back on an eventful past. This site in the third district originally contained a steam bath and later a swimming pool, the Sophienbad. In winter the pool was covered and the space was used as a ballroom and concert hall. Later it would be rebuilt and given a new lease of life several times over, including stints as an operetta venue, lecture theatre and recording studio. The building was devastated by fire in 2001, standing empty until it finally reopened in 2013. Today, the Sofiensaele is a multipurpose building comprising apartments, event space, a restaurant and even a hotel.
Once upon a time Vienna was the location of the largest industrial bakery in Europe. The brick buildings that constituted the Ankerbrotfabrik in the 10th district – parts of which date back as far as 1891 – are no longer used to bake bread. Instead, they were given over to creating and exhibiting art. Now completely refurbished, the historic rooms have provided a new home for numerous contemporary art institutions, filled with workshops, galleries and showrooms. The Hilger Modern Contemporary gallery (www.hilger.at) opened its HilgerBROTkunsthalle and Hilger NEXT offshoots at the former bread factory, while OstLicht (www.ostlicht.at) and the Anzenberger Gallery (www.anzenbergergallery.com) both focus on photography.
Urban hotel rooms instead of empty retail units: that’s the concept behind the Urbanauts Street Lofts. Viennese architects Kohlmayr Lutter Knapp have converted a street level store in the fourth district into a hotel room. Different locations clustered together make up a decentralised hotel, with services dotted around the neighbourhood: the coffeehouse next door is the breakfast room, the hammam across the street is the spa, and the hotel bar is that trendy watering hole around the corner.
Starting in the 1950s, a total of five pedestrian underpasses were built under Vienna’s showpiece Ringstrasse boulevard to keep step with ever increasing traffic volumes. But a change in the capital’s urban planning philosophy has seen the Ring reopen to above-ground pedestrian traffic. Two of the original underpasses have now been transformed into subterranean clubs. In 2003 a nightclub opened in the Babenbergerpassage (Club Passage, www.club-passage.at), followed by a makeover for the Albertinapassage outside the Vienna State Opera in 2011. The Albertina Passage Dinner Club is a captivating crossover between a gourmet restaurant, classic American bar and live music club.
The nation’s largest aquarium is located in a defunct anti-aircraft tower left over from the second world war. Sharks and turtles swim in one 300,000 litre tank at the House of the Sea (Haus des Meeres), while a giant water tank on the 10th floor of the monolithic concrete structure welcomed a family of hammerhead sharks in fall 2013. The aquariums at the House of the Sea are largely given over to species from the Mediterranean and various tropical salt and freshwater habitats.
From the former imperial stables to one of the world’s largest cultural complexes: opened in 2001, Vienna’s MuseumsQuartier (MQ) not only contains architecturally significant new buildings such as the Leopold Museum (www.leopoldmuseum.org) and the mumok - Museum of Modern Art ludwig foundation (www.mumok.at), but also extends into the original Baroque edifice which had been used as a temporary exhibition space. Spread out across some 60,000m², the MQ brings together various cultural institutions representing different genres, as well as restaurants, cafés and shops. The complex has established itself as one of the city’s favourite meeting places thanks to its excellent choice of cafés and restaurants.
- Sofiensäle, Marxergasse 17, 1030 Vienna, www.sofiensaele.com
- Ankerbrotfabrik, Absberggasse 27, 1100 Vienna, www.loftcity.at
- Urbanauts Street Lofts, www.urbanauts.at
- Dinnerclub Albertina Passage, Passage Opernring/Operngasse, 1010 Vienna, www.albertinapassage.at
- Haus des Meeres - Vivarium, Fritz-Grünbaum-Platz 1 (Esterházypark), 1060 Vienna, www.haus-des-meeres.at
- MuseumsQuartier, Museumsplatz 1, 1070 Vienna, www.mqw.at