More than six months before arriving in Vienna, Austria, I rented a small one-room apartment from an online listing at Craigslist.org. The price was just 600 Euros (about $800 USD) for a three week rental. According to the listing, the apartment was located in an area of the city just across the street from the city’s famous Wurstelprater amusement park, often simply called “Prater”. The woman I rented the place from said I could pay her in cash upon arrival there and with this strange under-the-table cash arrangement made so many months in advance, I crossed my fingers and prayed that the place actually existed.
After taking a 10-hour night train across the length of Austria, I exited the “Zug” in the early morning hours. I had arranged to meet the female apartment owner at 9 AM, so with less than two hours to make my way across five miles of a busy, unknown city, I loaded up my bike and took off in a flash.
Using my GPS no navigate, I shot through the streets Vienna like a pro. In a narrow side street I met a well-dressed, middle aged man and showed him the address of my apartment building, asking if he knew the best way to get there.
“Just follow me,” the man said. “I’ll direct you through the center.”
The Austrian man had been living in Vienna for nearly his entire life. He was an architect and he said he rode his bike to work each and every day. Following him through a complex network of bike paths and side streets, he pointed me off in the right direction, wished me a wonderful stay in the city, and cycled off in the opposite direction.
Back on my own again, I found myself in the center of downtown Vienna (or Wein as the Austrians call it). Riding over bumpy cobblestone roads and past magnificent white buildings and tall dark churches, I made a mental note of the places I wished to visit during my stay in the city.
Just as I began to get comfortable making my way through the winding streets of Vienna, I saw the Ferris wheel that signaled my apartment was near.
With ten minutes to spare, I cycled through the Prater district and identified the building where my apartment was located. After waiting on a nearby bench to kill some time, I returned to the apartment building and rang the bell. A few seconds later, a tall woman with fuzzy reddish-brown hair opened the front door of the apartment building and asked, “Are you Darren?”
I told her I was and she welcomed me inside.
“Bring your bike,” the woman told me. “It’s not safe to leave it out here.”
That definitely wasn’t what I wanted to hear. I could tell the building was far from new, but hearing that the area was unsafe as well made me a bit nervous.
My main fear at this point was that the apartment didn’t exist at all. The woman knew I was carrying at least 600 Euros and I feared that I would be led inside the building, attacked by numerous individuals and robbed of everything I had. But that never happend.
Following the woman’s orders, I brought my bike inside and found myself standing inside a tall, dark hallway. Ahead of me were two large doors that led to an outdoor courtyard. To my right were a row of bicycles parked along the wall. And to my left were a series of small trash cans and phone books that has been stacked up on the floor.
Walking out through the second set of double-doors, we entered a large outdoor coutyard. It was dark and cold… and deathly quiet. Before walking up a small set of stairs and into another set of doors, I made note of the fact that some of the windows on the first floor had bars over them. This place was getting scarier by the second.
Now inside the second-half of the building, we walked across broken tile floors, over a series of small carpets that looked as though they might be 100 years old, and made our way to the right, to the very first door on the right-hand side, where I was walked into the apartment that would be my home for the next three weeks.
I found it odd that there was a drinking fountain in the hallway of the apartment building. After seeing the inside of my apartment, however, it was easy to tell that this building was not originally designed as an apartment complex. My guess is that this building used to be a school or a hospital or some kind of industrial office building.
If you recognize this building and you know what it used to be used for, please get it contact with me and let me know. I’d be extremely interested in finding out the history of this particular Austrian structure.
Inside the apartment, we walked immediately into the kitchen. But this wasn’t an ordinary kitchen. This was the strangest kitchen I had ever seen! On the right side of the room was a small sink, a stove-top with two burners and a cabinet filled with pots, pans, and various utensils. Directly behind the kitchen sink was the shower, no more than two feet away. And on the other side of the room was a bookshelf, another small sink and a mirror. To the left of the bookshelf was a large white door, that revealed a small closet type room containing a toilet and nothing more. It was a kitchen and a bathroom all rolled into one!
Walking through the kitchen/bathroom, we entered the main bedroom/living room area. On the right side of the room was a small dresser on top of which sat a tiny TV and various electrical devices. Behind the TV was a small table with two chairs. This is where I would sit most of the time in the apartment while doing my work and updating this website.
There were two windows that looked out of the apartment and into the courtyard below. One window had bars over it… and that worried me just a little.
On the other side of the room was a couch and a small coffee table. I often times sat here and watched TV while eating bread with cheese and vegetable soup.
And to the left of the couch was a large bed with an orange headboard and a blue quilted bedspread. A modern radio sat on a bookshelf directly over the head of the bed. I’m not a big radio person, but I used this radio a lot while staying in Vienna. I remember that the radio station I was listening to played ABBA and Michael Jackson over and over ad over again.
Finally, to the left of the door that led back into the kitchen/bathroom was a small closet, which is where I eventually stored my clothes and the rest of my travel gear during my stay in the city.
My apartment in the Prater district of Vienna, Austria was not the nicest place I have ever stayed in my life, but after a couple weeks in the city it did begin to feel like home. There was a supermarket just a couple blocks away and walking to get food became a daily part of my life in the city. Several strip clubs were also in the area, and while I never visited these establishments, it started to become normal for me to see their lights casting a neon glow onto the streets at night.
After three weeks in the city, I really began to enjoy myself in the city’s Prater district. It was just a short bike ride to the Danube river, a brief 30-minute walk into downtown Vienna, and the Prater amusement park was right across the street.
My apartment in Vienna, Austria took some getting used to and it turned out to be a safe and reliable home for my three weeks in the city. If I were to go back to Vienna today, I would happily rent the same apartment, walk the same streets and feel more comfortable than ever in my second German speaking home.