The Aardvark Speaks : essence, effervescence, obscurity. Established 2002. A weblog by Horst Prillinger. ISSN 1726-5320

September 15, 2006


Something in my office emanates a smell that is remarkably similar to the very smell which used to be present in the trains and stations of the old Vienna metro. I have not yet found out where it comes from, but, as smells do, it brings up strong childhood memories.

When I was a child, my parents and I would travel to Vienna at least once a year, usually during the summer. The three things I seem to remember most vividly from the time when I was around four years old are:

  • the smell of the old Vienna metro, especially in Westbahnhof station
  • some absurd pieces of concrete furniture in the Donaupark
  • the Quisisana restaurant on Mariahilferstrasse

The latter was particularly intriguing, with it being half a modern espresso, and half a self-service restaurant with one wall consisting entirely of vending machines. It closed around 1972. I have been trying to find pictures of the Quisisana's interior for about a year now, but so far without success. In fact it was only last year that I was able to confirm that it even existed.

The old metro station at Westbahnhof used to be my second impression of the city, right after the railway station itself. Back then it was the only metro station entirely underground, and the gloomy lighting and the trains coming out of the tunnels were particularly fascinating. Plus, because it was underground, the metro smell was especially strong there. It was a rather technical smell -- possibly a combination of the tar they used to impregnate the sleepers and some lubricating oil for the trains' motors or bogies -- but a fairly addictive one. It disappeared with the old metro trains around 1980, and when they closed the old Westbahnhof station about ten years later, even the last faint notion of it was gone forever.

As for the strange concrete furniture in the Donaupark, I have no idea if it still exists or not. Actually, I couldn't care less, so it's probably still there.

If anyone knows about or even owns photos of the interior of the Quisisana automat restaurant, please drop me a note.

Posted by Horst on September 15, 2006 06:31 PM to my so-called life | Tell-a-friend

Jann said on September 16, 2006 06:45 PM:

Yes, smells can be very evocative. The smell of cabbage cooking always reminds me of my grandmother's kitchen, and evokes strong feelings of nostalgia.

dieter said on September 18, 2006 11:24 AM:

Sorry, no historical photos here.
Unfortunately, I first came to Vienna in 1984, and I have not experienced any addictive smells in the underground.

scott said on September 18, 2006 01:44 PM:

I'd say that Stefansplatz now qualifies as the most "distinctive" smelling U-Bahn station. Despite the more varied stench of Karlsplatz, nothing can top Stefansplatz for it's pure vileness.

But regarding the more evocative and pleasant aromas of subways...

When I returned to Vienna after more than 15 years away, I descended into an U-Bahn station and the scent took me instantly back to my time as a student in Vienna and slapped me with a nostalgic almost melancholic but ultimately elated feeling. There were so many components brought to me by that smell:

a twinge of sadness for my youth
memories of all those friends from then
total excitement about the fact that i was now living in Vienna (again)
on and on...
i need to get back to work ;-)

Horst said on September 18, 2006 11:16 PM:

Trading that rather pleasant railwayish smell of the old metro for the stink at Stephansplatz was definitely a bad deal.

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