The dust has settled from the New Year’s fireworks. Now Vienna looks forward to its famous ball season. Whether you’re a seasoned ball-goer or haven’t the foggiest about what it’s all about, Metropole has got you covered with tips and advice.
In a world that trips and stumbles trying to keep up with its own dizzying march of technological and societal progress, the reassuring tradition of the Viennese balls – which seem to inhabit a realm outside of time – is a thing to be cherished. Additionally the balls provide a shimmering apparition, whose vision warms and comforts the forsaken Wiener lost in the frozen tundra of the grim Vienna winter.
A peek behind the curtain…
The Austrian Chamber of Commerce (WKO) estimates that about €131 million will be spent by ballgoers this ball season, at an average cost per person of €270. This is no moribund throwback, but a thriving tradition, with the clamor for evening gowns and tickets as great as it has ever been. The Austrian love affair with balls should not just be dismissed as a simple fascination with the old-world elegance of the kind that glitzy affairs such as the Wiener Philharmoniker Ball provide in spades – although many go for the ambience and flair, or to maintain social standing – others are in it purely for a good time.
According to the WKO, the Kaffeesieder (Coffee-brewers) and Zuckerbäcker (Confectioners) Balls are the most popular choice this year, and whilst once these events would have been an opportunity for members of professional guilds to mingle and hobnob, now they are as much a chance for the layperson to feast the eyes (and the stomach) on various sugary and caffeinated treats.
As ever, Vienna proves to be the real heartland of the waltz: The city’s own residents make up an estimated three-quarters of all ball attendees. The rest are split almost 50-50 between other Austrian residents and foreigners.
What to expect
The very first thing to consider is dress code; find yourself in the wrong attire, and you could be kicked to the curb. Dress is usually a variation on the theme of “smart evening,” skewing towards formality in the case of the Philharmoniker Ball (the ladies wear a floor-length evening gown and gloves), and towards modernity in the case of the HipHop Ball, where the dinner jacket is set off with sneakers and a snap-back hat.
Once you’re inside, there’s a “ceremonial program” that generally holds true for most balls. The evening usually begins with a Damenspende – ladies attending the ball are presented with a gift, anything from jewelry to a piece of cake. The first big event is the opening ceremony (usually at around 21:00), where traditionally the debutantes commence proceedings with an inaugural dance. After the cry of “Alles Walzer!” the floor is opened to everyone.
At midnight it’s time for the “Mitternacht Quadrille.” The orchestras usually play Johann Strauss’ famous Fledermaus Quadrille from his operetta Die Fledermaus (The Bat), at which point couples assemble in rank and file to perform a fun dance, where you’re as likely to spot confused grimaces as smiles and laughter.
More hours of waltzing, dancing to DJs or bands, imbibing Sekt and conversing are nourished by occasional snacks – a steaming plate of goulash, a sausage with horseradish or a Brötchen (open-faced sandwich).
Traditionally a ball is closed with the Radetzky March – another famous number by Johan Strauss, the doyen of the Viennese Ball. As ballgoers spill out of the foyer into the chill, early morning air, most will head to a café – perhaps the Café Drechsler on Naschmarkt – for a beer or a kleiner Schwarzer (espresso). To really put the seal on the evening, the trip should be taken by Fiaker (a horse-drawn carriage).
Before you buy a ticket
There are a few things to consider before your first ball. Firstly – is your dancing up to scratch? Although many are confused by the quadrille, waltzing is a must. The Elmayer Dance School is renowned for helping beginners to whirl rather than stumble across the dance floor.
Then consider if you prefer a seat at a table, better enabling social intercourse (as well as a chance to rest your dancing feet), or is a simple flaneur ticket enough? (note: table tickets cost more!)
Finally, an insider tip: Bring a comfortable pair of shoes to substitute for the more glamorous ones you came in, for when sore feet begin to be an impediment to movement!
Shortlist of balls taking place in Vienna over the next two months:
Zuckerbäckerball (Confectioner’s Ball)
Jan 12, 2017
Blumenball (Flower Ball)
Jan 13, 2017
City Hall is resplendent in flower arrangements by the MA42 (the Vienna city gardeners) during this fragrant mainstay of the ball season.
Wissenschaftsball (Ball of Sciences)
Jan 28, 2017
Regenbogenball (Rainbow Ball)
Jan 28, 2017
As colorful as its name suggests, this fundraiser promises a fun night out with the LBGT community. Now in its 20th year and still going strong.
19:30-4:30, Parkhotel Schönbrunn.
Scroll further down this page for a longer list of both traditional and unconventional balls.
For more about the romance and magic of the ball season in Vienna, read this article from our Dec 2015/Jan 2016 issue:
[Note: Ticket prices below are for admission only. Table and VIP seating usually cost extra.]
Traditional Balls: Formal dress code
Non-traditional Balls: Diverse Dress Codes
Late Season Balls
Fête Impériale (Spanish Riding School Ball)
June 23, 20:00
Spanish Riding School
An exhaustive list of Balls (in English)