How it all began…
The Alte Donau (Old Danube), an arm of the Danube, has been a popular meeting place in Vienna for hundreds of years and now, with the UniCredit Center Am Kaiserwasser, it will offer a unique recreational experience for all UniCredit employees. Located in Kaisermühlen, a region whose renown extends beyond Vienna, the centre nestles on the bank of the Kaiserwasser, a side arm of the Alte Donau, which is steeped in history. Let us take a short tour through time and learn more about this unique location.
Kaisermühlen – from a port city to council housing
Until 1875, when the Danube was not yet regulated, Kaisermühlen was situated on the right bank of a major arm of the river. It was mostly home to fishermen, raftsmen and ship millers. And this is how Kaisermühlen, which – literally translated – means “emperor mills”, got its name. The origins of the settlement can be traced back to 45 years earlier: a steamboat dock was built at the place where the Gänsehäufel is situated today, which significantly increased the economic significance of Kaisermühlen. In 1850, Kaisermühlen became a part of Vienna’s 2nd district known as Leopoldstadt. But the biggest changes took place after the Danube was regulated.
After the regulation, Kaisermühlen was suddenly situated on the left bank of the Danube. As the Alte Donau was now no longer driven by a current, there was no power to turn the ship mills. But the advent of the industrial revolution was making the ship mills redundant anyway, and they soon disappeared completely. The steamboat dock which had been built a few decades earlier had to be relocated to the city side of the Danube proper, a move whereby many innkeepers and carters in Kaisermühlen lost their source of revenue. The area was subsequently used for building tenement blocks (low-standard housing) in a grid pattern, with some land being appropriated by industrial firms.
The turn of the century for the first time saw a tram service operating on Wagramer Strasse and Reichsbrücke, thereby giving the periphery of Kaisermühlen access to public transport. During the war, Kaisermühlen with its numerous new, large council housing estates was one of the most important arenas of the February skirmishes in 1934. Following the Anschluss, Austria’s Union with Germany in 1938, the district was transferred to Floridsdorf, Vienna’s 21st district. Kaisermühlen has been part of the 22nd district – Donaustadt – since 1954, together with seven other former municipalities.
Kaisermühlen underground station was opened at Wagramer Strasse almost fifty years later.
The Alte Donau – evolvement of a recreation area
We now know how the Alte Donau originated. Before it was regulated, the Danube had many different arms and channels, and the river formed wide, wild watercourses interspersed with woodland meadows. But that changed very fast, with Vienna becoming a bathing city.
Today, the Alte Donau is divided into two interconnected parts: the upper Alte Donau (from Floridsdorfer Brücke to Kagraner Brücke) and the lower Alte Donau (from Kagraner Brücke to Praterbrücke). The Floridsdorf arm, which is the youngest arm of the Danube, is completely cut off from any water inflow and is fed only by groundwater.
The Alte Donau is now a recreation area, popular with people coming to swim or simply relax. Along its bank are numerous bathing establishments (including the above-mentioned Gänsehäufel). While the high-rise buildings nearby (Donau City, UNO City) add to the special bathing experience, they also put yachtsmen and yachtswomen to the test because of the treacherous winds.
Bathing and swimming in Vienna – originally an offence
Although only a handful of Vienna’s population was able to swim in those days, bathing in the various arms of the Danube was a popular pastime. So it is not surprising that the number of persons who drowned was very high.
This prompted the government of Lower Austria to forbid bathing in the Danube in 1633 (at that time the area was still part of Lower Austria). The authorities in any event considered bathing in public to be immoral, sinful and a source of disease. So preventive steps were necessary.
About 100 years later the government of Lower Austria issued a further decree according to which the clothes of all persons who were caught bathing naked in public places were confiscated. Another eleven years later people even risked imprisonment. This ridiculous regulation culminated in 1752, when people who were caught jumping into the water were additionally subjected to corporal punishment or flogging.
Surprisingly, the attitude of the authorities to open-air pools was quite different; the pools were even built and run by them, enabling them to control the bathers. Men and women were separated, guests were decently dressed and the risk of death by drowning was minimized. The country was therefore not in danger of losing any workers or soldiers by drowning.
Open-air pools however quickly disappeared with the regulation of the Danube and the development of many bathing establishments, and they were replaced by new buildings. One of these new bathing establishments was the Länderbankbad. It was built in 1953 and in 1991 it was renamed “Sportanlage der Bank Austria AG” – today the UniCredit Center Am Kaiserwasser.
Finally, something of historical interest on the address of UniCredit Center Am Kaiserwasser: in 1966 Eiswerkstrasse was named after the “Wiener Eiswerke” (Vienna ice factories) which were located on the banks of the Alte Donau. These ice factories harvested natural ice in winter before storing and then delivering it (before the invention of refrigerating machines) as ice blocks to breweries, restaurants, households, dairies and other customers.