Walking through the historic center of Vienna, you can admire magnificent splendid palaces. Sometimes, however, you may see a building that does not seem to fit into a block of old houses. Such is, for example, the administrative building opposite the State Opera. Originally, a palace had also stood here but it had been damaged during World War II so that it had to be demolished and a new, modern building was built in its place. Another story is connected to the weird tower that will immediately catch your attention when you take the Fleischmarkt-street towards the Jerusalem Stairs (Jerusalem-Stiege) which was named on the occasion of the 3000th anniversary of the city’s founding.
A strange, 35 meter high, angular building with only a minimum of windows, as if did not fit here. It was built by famous Austrian architect Josef Georg Kornhäusel (hence the name Kornhäusel’s Tower) in the years 1825-27 – during the short Biedermeier period, when a solid style was preferred and emphasis was placed on usefulness. That is why the tower is so different from other houses. The architect had his flat and studio in the building. When he moved to the top floor, it was rumored in Vienna that he had fled here from his jealous and quarrelsome wife. All he needed was to lift the drawbridge and close the door and he could happily continue in his creative work.
In the past, the tower was completely surrounded by other buildings (today some corbels and remains of the walls are still visible), it had no entrance directly from the street but it was entered only through a staircase in a neighboring house. 20 years later, the writer and painter Adalbert Stifter, one of the most important representatives of Biedermeier in literature, lived here. On July 8, 1842, he observed a total solar eclipse from the roof. The description of this extraordinary experience, given in a wonderful storytelling style, is one of his most famous texts.
The name of the architect Kornhäusel is also connected to a number of buildings in Czechia – the hunting castle in Kladruby and the theater in Olomouc. In Vienna, he rebuilt the Theater in Josefstadt (Vienna’s 8th district) for which Ludwig van Beethoven composed an overture and conducted it at the opening of the theater. In Vienna’s 16th district (Ottakringer Strasse 233), you will also find a villa that Kornhäusel built for the wealthy businessman Joseph Jenamy. As the house was then located in the suburbs, today it is described as the oldest, still preserved country villa in Vienna.
Kornhäusel is also the architect of the synagogue which is located near his tower. It was the only synagogue in Vienna which survived the destruction by the Nazis in 1938. However, even today it is in an extremely sensitive part of the city. Kornhäusel’s Tower has already witnessed several terrorist attacks: in 1979, half a kilogram of plastic explosives exploded here (fortunately without casualties), in 1981, Palestinian terrorists killed two people and injured 30 others – a memorial plaque is located on one of the houses in Desider-Friedmann Square. And finally, only recently – on November 2, 2020 – it was the attack by a lone gunman who killed 4 people and 23 others were injured. The Viennese are still commemorating this sad event, coming to these places, bringing flowers and lighting candles.
Text: © Copyright Ingrid, Travelpotpourri
Fotos: © Copyright Ingrid, Travelpotpourri