The Head, the Star and the Lake

May 19, 2011

Ok, I have now come to terms with the fact that I won’t be going to Venice anytime soon, so for today’s post it’s back to the same old used to be, back to Vienna… Those of you who’ve ever been here will know that your average Viennese street looks something like this:

Vienna, view along Messenhausergasse

Well, actually, your average street doesn’t look quite like this because usually you won’t find any trees, and there’ll always be a few grey and nondescript post-war tenement houses or, worse, some colorfoul architectural atrocities dating to the 1980s in the mix. But still, Vienna’s architectural backbone consists mainly of the kind of four- or five-storey Bell Époque townhouses pictured above, and the city’s appearance is very much defined by them.

Occasionally, though, you’ll stumble upon buildings that are both smaller and older, neat two- or three-storey houses dating to the 18th or the early 19th century. The most coherent ensemble of this type of building is to be found in the famous Spittelberg quarter, but there’s more of them scattered all over the city. Some fine examples may be found, for instance, along Landstraßer Hauptstraße in Vienna’s 3rd district, and while most of these are now jammed between more monumental structures from later times, at Nos. 110 to 114 there’s still three of them all in a row:

Vienna, Landstraßer Hauptstraße Nos. 114, 112 & 110

These houses are rather basic and simple, but if you look closely you realize that they have some excellent ornaments on their facades. This is particularly true for the house in Landstraßer Hauptstraße 114 where the first floor windows are crowned by round pediments with classicist reliefs:

The most interesting bit about these three houses on Landstraßer Hauptstraße, however, is the fact they still bear their old house signs. Today, of course, we take it for granted that houses are numbered but, actually, the concept of house numbering become customary only towards the end of the 18th century. Before that, and indeed even some time after that, houses still had names, and usually there’d be some sort of sign on the facade visualizing that name. So, what is now simply Landstraßer Hauptstraße 114 was once known as The Black Head [Zum Schwarzen Kopf], and the corresponding sign is still in place just above the main gate:

Even more interesting is the sign on the house next door, now simply No. 112, but formerly known as The Comet Star [Zum Komet Stern]:

As you can see in the picture, in this case the sign also gives the year of the building’s construction, 1811.

But if this was an elaborate-sign-contest the prize would definitely go to house No. 110 or, as it was once called, The Lake Constance [Zum Bodensee]:

In this case, the sign consists of a rather extensive relief showing a sort of “Coastal Scene” which takes places on the shore of the Bodensee or Lake Constance as it’s called in English. Unfortunately, though, the relief isn’t in the best condition: While the facades of Nos. 112 and 114 have been cleaned and restored in recent years, no such work has yet been done on No. 110 so it’s a bit hard to make out the details of the relief. But thanks to Photoshop I can actually show you the whole thing in a slightly “cleaner” state:

Lake Constance, as you probably know, is one of the largest lakes in Central Europe and located at the northern foot of the Alps, on the borders of Austria, Switzerland and Germany. Its Alpine location is clearly indicated in the left part of the relief where we see a (fisherman’s?) boat before a mountainous landscape:

In the central part of the relief, there’s another boat, but this time a townscape serves as the backdrop:

Some of that town’s buildings look remarkably distinct, especially the one crowned by two pediments and a central tower which is at the very heart of the relief. I suspect that it’s supposed to be the portrait of an existing building but, so far, I haven’t been able to find out which.

Finally, in the right part of the relief, the townscape continues but gradually gives way again to open landscape – which, in this case, consist of soft slopes rather than mountains – and again there’s a boat on the waters of the lake in the foreground:

I must confess, I haven’t got the slightest idea why, about 200 years ago, someone living in Vienna would call their house The Lake Constance and choose this particular subject for their house sign. After all, the distance between Vienna and Lake Constance is about 650 km! Perhaps the owners of the house had business relations with the Lake Constance region? Or maybe they had family or friends living there? Who knows…

What we do know, however, is that [m] and I have ourselves a very good friend living in that region and that today is her birthday, so, dearest [k], we wish you all the best and hope to see you soon. Proper gifts will, of course, follow but for now this blog post will have to do…

One Response to “The Head, the Star and the Lake”

  1. kathrin dünser said

    thank you sooooo much – kisses and hugs from the far west! Yours [k]

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