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The New Life of the Prater Whale

Once Upon a Time

The New Life of the Prater Whale

Did you know the restaurant “Zum Walfisch”? Until 2013, it was an institution and the second largest restaurant in the Wiener Wurstelprater – beaten only by the Schweizerhaus. But how long has it been in the Prater? And what about the Prater whale and its new life?

Two Bones and a Carousel

The restaurant “Zum Walfisch” is mentioned for the first time on a map in 1782. Over the following decades (and centuries) it was repeatedly rebuilt and expanded by various owners – among other things, it was expanded with a carousel and a swing. At the end of the 19th century, guests entered the restaurant through a large archway. But it wasn’t just a normal archway. This particular one consisted of a rib and the lower jawbone of a whale caught in the Bering Sea in 1895 (📷 in the 1st carousel you can see pictures from 1926-1932).

Then came the Second World War, which in its last few days also hit the Wiener Wurstelprater. Like countless other buildings and attractions, the restaurant “Zum Walfisch” was affected and burned down completely in April 1945. But that wasn’t going to be the end of the restaurant.

A Whale in the Middle of Prater

In 1951, the restaurant was completely redesigned by a Viennese architecture firm. The design for the whale sculpture, which was to be enthroned on the roof, came from Maria Benke, a young graduate from the University for Applied Art (Universität für Angewandte Kunst Wien).

The impressive sculpture, almost 10 meters long (to be precise, it measures 9.2 x 2.7 x 3.2 m) and weighing 1.4 tons, was made of wood and copper plate. It had two technical highlights to offer: the eyes glowed blue in the darkness and the whale blew a water fountain out of its blow hole at regular intervals.

Incidentally, the whale had its first big appearance on its way to the Prater. The sensational transport along the Zweierlinie was captured on film by the restaurant’s beer supplier, the Austrian brewery Gösser, and then used for advertising.

For more than 60 years, the whale was a real eye-catcher and point of orientation in the Wurstelprater (📷 in the 2nd carousel you can find pictures from 1950-2013).

The End of an Era

In 2013 the restaurant “Zum Walfisch” was demolished and the impressive whale ordered to be recycled. However, this was prevented by the owner of the construction and demolition company who was commissioned to do so – he saved the sculpture from its demise and stored it on his company premises.

When Prater entrepreneurs (re)discovered the whale there three years later, everyone was beyond happy and the sculpture was donated to the Wien Museum after brief negotiations. Due to a lack of space, the whale could not be exhibited in the museum. Instead, it was taken to the museum depot in Himberg (Lower Austria) and restored there in the years that followed. In order to be prepared for its future destination, the whale was stabilized with wooden beams and a tubular steel construction. This also increased its total weight to 1.7 tons.

The Whale’s New Destiny

The Prater Whale only came back into the limelight this year when it was transported from Himberg to its new home on July 19, 2022. The Wien Museum on Karlsplatz is currently still a construction site, but due to its size, the whale had to be hoisted into the building before all walls were finished (📷 in the 3rd carousel you will find pictures of its journey to the museum). The museum will celebrate its reopening at the end of 2023.

In the future main hall of the Wien Museum, the Prater Whale will dangle from the ceiling and will be in the company of 2,000 other objects steeped in history. Other exhibits will include the original figures of the Donnerbrunnen, the mayor’s gala carriage, the St. Stephan model and the old Südbahnhof lettering. After the opening of the new Wien Museum, we will of course update this post with new photos.

If you want to learn more about the past of the Wurstelprater, take a look at our Prater History! By the way, we will continue the series “Once upon a time” 🤩🤟

So many photos demand a big thank you

An article with so many photos – especially this far from the past – naturally requires a large number of sources. We would particularly like to single out the Topothek and its founder, Alexander Schatek. If you have a thing for looking back through time, be sure to check out this great online archive!

And now the photo credits in order:
Ansichtskarte 1926, ©Archiv Topothek
Ansichtskarte 1928, ©Archiv Topothek
Ansichtskarte 1930, ©Archiv Topothek
Ansichtskarte 1932 x2, ©Archiv Topothek
Ansichtskarte 1937, ©Archiv Topothek
Foto 1950, ©Archiv Topothek
Foto 1956, ©Thomas Sittler
Ansichtskarte 1956, ©Archiv Topothek
Foto 1960, ©Thomas Sittler
Dia 1995, ©Archiv Topothek
Foto 90er, ©Archiv prater.at
Fotos 2008 x2, ©Hannes Hochmuth
Foto 2013, ©Stefan Sittler-Koidl
Transport, Fotos 2022, ©Kollektiv Fischka/Wien Museum
Transport, Foto 2022, ©Florian Wieser/apa
Walfisch, Foto ©Birgit + Peter Kainz/Wien Museum

If you made it this far, we’re going to reward you with a beautiful body shot of the Prater Whale: