Ominously named after the mysterious navigational hazard that allegedly claims countless vessels in the Caribbean, Vienna’s Bermudadreieck (Bermuda Triangle) is an adventure, particularly on weekends
The jocular nickname for the area between Schwedenplatz, Marc-Aurel-Strasse, Hoher Markt and Rabensteig was coined during the 1980s, based on tales of students and party animals who might disappear there for days and afterwards claim they couldn’t remember a thing.
But young denizens are often unaware that their playground is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city – in fact, it dates from the time of the Roman garrison of Vindobona, where the “philosopher emperor” Marcus Aurelius’ passed away in 180 AD. In more recent history, the area was a prominent Jewish enclave (hence the street “Judengasse”) with countless vendors and shops specializing in textiles. When business slowed down in the ’80s, the first bars such as Krah Krah and Kaktus filled the void, turning empty storefronts into jazz clubs and watering holes and earning the Grätzl its enduring reputation.
The historic heart of the area is Vienna’s main synagogue the Stadttempel, constructed between 1824 and 1826. At that time, only Catholic churches were allowed a presence on the street, so many temples, like this one, were squeezed in between residential buildings. Ironically, this saved the Stadttempel during the Nazi Novemberpogrome: It couldn’t be torched without setting the adjacent buildings on fire. Still, it remains under 24-hour police guard today after being targeted twice in the late ’70s and early ’80s by Palestinian extremists.
Located just a stone’s throw away is the equally venerable Ruprechtskirche, erected sometime between 796 and 829 and the oldest church in Vienna. Also boasting the city’s oldest bell (circa 1280) and oldest stained glass window (about 1370), fires, wars and the passing of centuries have taken their toll, resulting in a hodgepodge interior whose stones themselves tell a story. But this church bears more than silent witness: St. Rupert’s nave hosts a regular series of baroque and early music concerts, and since 1972, the lower level is home to Vienna’s oldest jazz club, Jazzland. Accessible from Schwedenplatz, the venue has hosted legends like Roosevelt Sykes, Memphis Slim and Big Joe Williams over the last 45 years.
When in Vindobona
The city’s Anglophones have a haven in nearby Pickwick’s, a combination café/bar/bookstore and video rental. Cozy and cluttered, it serves Anglo-American comfort food and broadcasts sport events in English.
Another must for lovers of the word is Shakespeare & Company, which has supplied the city’s English-language literati since 1982. With books stacked to the ceiling at their tiny shop, their excellent selection and friendly service should be reason enough to get you off Amazon and into the endless pleasures of a real-world browse.
Just to the south is Hoher Markt, a spacious square that was the site of executions until 1707, when a wooden monument replaced the gallows and pillory. The fragile structure was eventually replaced by the magnificent Vermählungsbrunnen in 1725, an opulent fountain with marble statues of Mary and Joseph being wed by a priest.
Across the street is the Römermuseum (Roman Museum), which documents the origins of Vienna as Legion camp. More than 30,000 people lived in Vindobona, erected to secure the northern borders of the Roman Empire. Browsing through the exhibits, you’ll see that the first residents enjoyed living standards not seen again until the 19th century – paved sidewalks, a sewage system, a reliable water supply, spas, taverns and even theaters.
But let’s face it: History is all very well, but it can’t compete with the Bermudadreieck’s notoriety as party central.
So let’s go and have a drink. The Kaktus bar is one of the Grätzl’s oldest dives, serving hangovers since 1980. Virtually unchanged today, it makes a good living off its boozy reputation. Singles looking for action are definitely in the right place.
The Bermuda Bräu microbrewery down the road has a restaurant on the top floor, a bar on the ground floor – and a basement dance floor they call the “distillery.” Skip the rest and make your way straight downstairs, to a tiny room packed with people dancing to Austro pop hits most natives would never admit to knowing by heart (although they do!). It reeks of sweat, secondhand smoke and the adjacent restrooms, but in the right mood it can be legendary.
Philosoph is the sophisticated place to get hammered, preferred by liberal arts students who are too high brow for the hormone-driven, more “vulgar” dives of the Bermudadreieck. The atmosphere is laid- back and brainy, making it a great place to escape the surrounding madness – and possibly the only bar where you’ll stand a chance of impressing that stunning doctoral student with your take on Derrida.
From Legions to Jägerbombs, the Bermudadreieck is a living example of Vienna is as a whole: A place where high-color history and a lively lunacy coexist happily side by side. Sometimes being “lost at sea” is just the right thing.