Vienna is preparing for Dancing on Ice. From 21st of January to 22nd March the 8,000 sq.m. open air ‘ice-dream’ ice skating ‘rink’ will be open from 09.00 to 22.00 for the 21st skating season. Information in English here
However, as we can see below, Vienna’s love of ice skating is much older than this.
Georg Emanuel Opiz [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Der Eislaufplatz beim Stubentor 1805 [The Skating rink at the Stuben gate].
Like London and its famous frost fairs of the mid 16th century Vienna had the frozen waters of the river Danube, its subsidiary arms and countless ponds and small lakes to skate on.
The first skating club was founded in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1642. In Vienna the first written record of skating can be traced back to the 1680’s
This appeared as a copperplate engraving in a book by the well known preacher Abraham e Santa Clara. Around 70 years later, many Viennese aristocrats held small winter festivals with skating and sledging. Around the turn of the 19th century, skating on the small decorative pond at the front of Schloss Belvedere was mentioned in writing.
The pond at the Belvedere today
Around the time of the painting above, Vienna experienced a skating boom which coincided with the opening of the Wiener Neustadt canal port in 1803. Not only was this commemmorated in painting but also in music: a certain Emil Waldteufel composed a piece for piano called Ice skaters [„Schlittschuhläufer” (opus 183).
In the winter of 1814/15 the Congress of Vienna were treated to winter delights such as a magnificent sleigh ride from the city out to Schloss Schoenbrunn where other people ice skated on the frozen garden ponds in special northern outfits
For the next few decades the Viennese skaters frequented the Wien river near the Stuben gate bridge, the city moat, the Belvedere pond, the Prater water meadows and the Wiener Neustadter canal. By the 1860’s with the opening of the city park, they could use the pond here too. The princely Schwarzenberg family’s gardens, just tucked beneath, the Belvedere boasted its own large ice skating tracks. However the sport was only considered suitable for the gentlemen at first, with the ladies being pushed on a sledge or seat by their male partners. Various skating associations opened up in different areas of the city such as the Cottage in the 19th, The Fuenfhauser Ice rink in the 15th and the 7th district ice in the Neustiftgasse in the 7th. The most famous of all was the Hernalser Eisclub in the 17th district which was founded by the Engelmann family. Of whom more later…
After 1825 the bone skates were replaced with wood and metal blades. In 1850 screw in American skates were in fashion and in 1865 the advanced Halifax skate became available. This had a spring in the sole and heel.
Meanwhile in England the popularity of skating and the rinkmania encouraged inventors to look for ways of creating artificial ice.
“Great thaw of the Artificial Ice! 3000 square feet in extent.
Baker Street Bazaar, King Street, Portman Square.
Image courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.
The first artificial ice rink was made in London, England, in December 1841. It was called a Glaciarium. An 1843 issue of Punch magazine carried an account of a rink near Baker Street in London wherethe ice was made “not of frozen waterbut of a slush of chemicals including hog’s [pigs] lard and melted sulphur, which smelled abominably.” This was made by two men, Henry Kirk, who had patented his ‘Substitute for Ice for Skating and Sliding Purposes’ , and William Bradwell, an architect. However, it was not a financial success and the novelty wore off. The surface was costly to produce and to maintain, not only that but the quality of the ice was not good enough.
In 1867 in Vienna the followers of ice skating founded an association: The Wiener Eislauf Verein. The famous American skater and ballet dancer Jackson Haines gave demonstrations here a year later. Even the emperor attended.
Ice-skating ring of the Vienna Eislauf-Verein at Heumarkt, Vienna, next to the Stadtpark.}}|Date=1900 |
By English: unknown (Archiv Bezirksmuseum Landstraße) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Another spectator on 16th January 1868 was a textile factory owner called Edward Engelmann Snr. He founded the aforementioned skating association and the Engelmann skating dynasty. From 1892-1936 this family won 17 world titles, 11 European and 4 Olympic titles.
The Engelmann-Arena, an open air ice track, was licensed to trade from 1871 in the outlying Hernals village. The regulation of the Danube and Wien river a few years later made skating near the Stuben gate bridge possible. The associations set up racing and figure skating champtionships. The Augarten ice rink was used between 1898 – 1920.
In 1894 Eduard Engelmann jun. took over the Hernalser ice rink from his father. Using his expertise as an engineer, he installed an artificial ice network of 12 km of pipes and cold compressors. This enabled skaters to enjoy the ice on 10 November 1909 when the air temperature was plus 6. This was the very first open air artificial ice rink in the world. The ice surface was 3,000 sq.m and the area was enlarged with modern facilities and a training hall. Unfortunately it was destroyed in an allied bombing raid during the national socialist occupation of Vienna.
Today’s Ice Dream then is merely a continuation of a Viennese love affair with having fun on the ice. So when the 21st of January comes along think about a whirl round the Town Hall park under the illuminated trees to the sound of music interspersed with some seasonal food and drink…….