Riesenrad (Vienna) – A treasure of European cinema culture


Riesenrad is a giant Ferris wheel, located in the famous Prater Park and one of the city symbols that dominates the skyline of Vienna (Austria). Almost 65 metres tall, it offers visitors breathtaking and unforgettable views of the city and Danube.

The Wheel was built in 1897 to mark the 50 years (Golden Jubilee) of Emperor Franz Josef on the throne and is one of the earliest Ferris wheels ever built. It was constructed by the English engineer Lieutenant Walter Bassett and had 30 hanging gondolas. The authorities of the city issued a permit for the destruction of the wheel in 1916 but the project was abandoned due to lack of funds. During WWII its biggest part was damaged and after the war, only 15 gondolas were restored. Today the whole structure weighs over 430 tons and has a diameter of 61 meters or exactly 200 feet (a relic of the original English design). It turns slowly, but surely, at a pace of 2.7 km/h.

Riesenrad has been used as the filming location and played the “lead role” in several films. The famous “cuckoo speech” scene of the classic film “The Third Man” (1949), directed by Carol Reed and starring Orson Welles was filmed here. In the scene Harry Lime (Orson Welles) attempts to convince his old friend Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) to join him in underground criminal affairs, at the destroyed by WWII Vienna and delivers the famous lines, which were written by Orson Welles himself, “in Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock” (watch the whole Wheel scene here ).

Apart from “The Third Man”, other films in which the Riesenrad appears are : The James Bond film “The Living Daylights”  (1987) [picture below left], the Max Ophuls’ film “Letter from an unknown woman” (1948), the spy thriller with Alain Delon “Scorpio” (1973), the Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise” (1995) [picture below right], the film “Woman in gold” (2015) and many more movies and tv series. This is the reason why it was placed on the list of Treasures of European Film Culture by the European Film Academy in June 2016. 

Nowadays the Wheel is open all year round. There are 15-person cabins and also individual cabins that can be booked for exclusive dinners, cocktail receptions and weddings. Also, in the entrance area, eight cabins present moments from the 2,000 years of Viennese history. For opening hours, tickets, bookings and any additional information visit the official site. If you are visiting Vienna and especially if you love cinema, Riesenrad should be on your bucket list.

Finally a short video with our ride on the giant Ferris wheel of Vienna :