Blog #73: Viennese Water - a Minor Miracle!

June 9th, 2022
Monika Weber-Fahr
I had had no clue. In fact, it was not until I began working professionally in the field of water management and water protection that I discovered the very existence of water museums. Why a museum for water - in fact: why so many museums for water, I then asked myself.  Just like most of us growing up in the world’s Northern hemisphere - where we have enough and often even too much water - I had somewhat taken it for granted that there would always be a tap to turn whenever I needed a shower, a drink, or something to boil my potatoes or eggs in.  It had never dawned on me what kind of miracles were needed - brought about by those knowing and understanding nature, geology, and engineering - to make clean water accessible to everyone, everywhere.  I knew it was difficult and had something to do with pipes and pressures.  But only when I discovered how much ingenuity it actually takes to bring water to each and every one of us, I realized that museums are a great place to tell the stories behind the impressive men and women that made these minor miracles happen. If you are like me - a little ignorant but also very curious - then you might enjoy taking a moment to read about my visit last week at the Vienna Waterpipe Museum, about 90 kilometers from here in Kaiserbrunn in the Viennese Alps. You will find that Yes, sometimes a museum, even if small, is a great way to remind us of the miracles needed to carefully use mother nature’s gifts to help all of us. And if you’d like to check out the museum itself - do skip to the last paragraph and consider a little outing that we will organize for those of us left behind here in Vienna during the summer.

 
Picture:Beautifully located in Kaiserbrunn in the Höllental, the Waterpipe Museum lets its visitors admire what it took to build the pipes necessary to transport water along 90 kilometers down to Vienne. Source: Self.

At the beginning, like so often, there had been a crisis: By the mid 19th century, the 300,000 plus inhabitants in Vienna had access to all but 4-5 liters of water per person per day, mostly drawn from wells within the city and pipe systems drawing water from nearby resources. Typhoid and Cholera were rampant, and mortality among children and infants was high. Clean water was accessible - coming both from the Siebenbrunnen wells in the seventh district or even straight from the Vienna Alps, carried on horseback  - but only to those lucky ones at the Imperial Court.  It was up to a geologist and later head of Vienna University - the England-born Eduard Suess - to come up with an idea that would serve the entire population: He suggested building a 90 kilometer long pipeline to bring freshwater to the burgeoning population of the imperial city.  At the time, it was a courageous if not crazy plan - and yet the Vienna City Council approved it in 1864.  Construction started five years later and was concluded in 1873 - and ever since Vienna’s water comes, crystalclear, straight from the mountains, along the way even generating a little electricity here and there. Eduard Suess in the meantime became a pioneer in several other environmental areas also, including by introducing the concept of a biosphere - which has become so important as we manage complex ecological assets. On Schwarzenbergplatz - where the Hochstrahlbrunnen is one of the nicest water fountains in town, having been built in 1873 in celebration of the new water pipes - Suess is remembered with a statue and a plaque as a fighter for freedom and progress
Want to learn more?  This would be best done by visiting the Vienna Waterpipe Museum in Kaiserbrunn itself. Tucked in between the meadows in the middle of the Höllental, the museum features a few rooms with original artifacts from the time of constructing the pipe system, accompanied by appropriate illustrations and explanations, taking the visitor even back to the times when the Romans and Greeks dealt with the challenge of bringing fresh water to their city populations. You will also get to see a film that gives you more details, and you can check out all sorts of impressive things such as old pumps and tunnels.  When taking a tour, the guide will also take you to see the original wells themselves. If the weather is great - which it was when I went, last week - one can even stroll along the Wasserleitungsweg (water pipe path), four kilometers that will take you from Kaiserbrunn to the neighboring village Hirschwang.  If you are lucky, you can catch the historical Museumstrain to Payerbach from where the regional train will take you back to Viennay. 


Picture: Looking miraculous – the underground tunnels through which water flows from Kaiserbrunn in the Viennese Alps down to Vienna itself.  Source: Self.

Curious? Want to check it out yourself? Visiting is indeed a joy - you only need to consider two things: The museum is open only on weekends and official Austrian holidays and only between May and early November.  And: In order to get there, you either have to travel by car or you can take the - very convenient - train from Vienna to Payerbach, connecting from there either by Bus or cab. Alternatively, if you are in town in late July, you may want to consider joining a group outing: On Sunday, July 24, if all goes right, we will organize a little trip out there, including an english-speaking Museum tour. If you want to join, do send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and stay tuned for updates in the coming weeks!y!
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