Haus des Meeres

Coordinates: 48°11′51″N 16°21′11″E / 48.19750°N 16.35306°E / 48.19750; 16.35306
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Haus des Meeres
Esterhazypark Leitturm 01.jpg
The Haus des Meeres in 2010. The slogan wrapping around the top of the tower was created in 1991 by American artist Lawrence Weiner.[1]
48°11′51″N 16°21′11″E / 48.19750°N 16.35306°E / 48.19750; 16.35306
Date opened1957
LocationVienna, Austria
Floor space4,000 m2 (43,000 sq ft)
No. of animals10,000+
Annual visitors436,500 (2012)[2]

The Haus des Meeres (HdM, English: House of the Sea) is a public aquarium in Vienna, Austria. It is located in Esterhazy Park in downtown Mariahilf district, one block south of the busy Mariahilfer Straße. The Haus des Meeres houses over ten thousand aquatic beings on an area of around 4,000 square meters (43,000 sq ft) inside a tall concrete flak tower built during World War II.[3] In 2012 the Haus des Meeres attracted a record high of 650,000 visitors.[2] The Haus des Meeres is managed by Aqua Terra Zoo, a private non-profit organization which, according to its web site, receives only marginal financial support from municipal authorities.[note 1] However, the maintenance costs for the former flak tower are paid by the taxpayer.[4][5]


The first public seawater aquarium in Vienna was opened in 1860 by Gustav Jäger. Jäger's aquarium, like its contemporaries, relied on regular delivery of natural seawater. It became a reality in 1854 with the construction of the Semmering railway linking Vienna with the Mediterranean coast.[6] After two years of experimenting with small seawater tanks Jäger built a large aquarium for public display. He described the feelings of contemporary people who faced the unknown submarine world: "The first-time visitor ... cannot contain his inner excitement. His curiosity is so great that he can hardly enjoy the moment: I am sorry, but he looks so helpless, as if he has suddenly found himself among people whose language he neither speaks nor understands."[7] Visitors sought new experience, but resisted believing what they saw behind the glass. The aquarium was a financial loss, and Jäger had to close it after four years of operation.[6]

The concrete tower housing the present-day aquarium was erected as a fire control flak tower in ten months between October 1943 and July 1944.[8] The tower is 47 meters (154 ft) tall, with a footprint of 31 by 15 meters (102 by 49 ft), and its gross volume, including extensive foundations, reaches 55,000 cubic meters (1,900,000 cu ft).[8][9] In 1944 it was crowned with a Würzburg radar dome. In case of imminent air raid threat, the radar could be lowered into a concrete shaft with 3.5-meter (11 ft) thick concrete walls.[8] The subordinate gun battery tower is located inside a city block north of Mariahilfer Straße. The two towers operated as a single combat unit, in cooperation with two other pairs of flak towers built in Augarten (north) and in Arenberg Park (south-east).[note 2] After the war the tower in Esterhazy Park was temporarily used as a hotel with 38 rooms in a bunker, and then converted to a fire station.[10]


The gravel which lines the bottom of new fish tanks was recycled from concrete rubble.

In the 1960s the underground part of the bunker was used as a youth hostel, named Stadtherberge Esterhazypark.

Volunteers moved into the flak tower in November 1957. The ground floor and the bunkers were then occupied by the firefighters, which left only one and half habitable floors for the exhibition. The rest of the tower was filled with debris and open to the elements. Step by step, the aquarium expanded over the empty floors. Eventually, when the aquarium expanded to six floors, the firefighters left the buildings, and the aquarium staff was at last allowed to clear the basement of war relics.[11]

In 1991 the building was crowned with a lightweight wraparound box with the slogan Smashed to Pieces .. In the Still of the Night (in English and German), a memorial against war and fascism designed by Lawrence Weiner. Eventually it became an obstacle to the expansion plans. The city authorities divided whether Weiner's work was a disposable billboard or a piece of artistic heritage,[12] but by 2005 the latter viewpoint prevailed and the city picked up its maintenance costs.[5] The old elevator, installed in 1944, operated without failure until 1997. It was replaced during an extensive renovation that enabled opening of three new floors (7, 8 and 9). The glass wings which house the reptiles and tropical birds, were added in 2000 and 2007. As of 2010, the tower houses ten habitable above-ground floors plus an open sightseeing roof deck.[11] The tenth floor, which recreates a flak turm control vault, houses World War Two exhibits and is open only on weekends, with advance registration of visitors.[13] The expansion had a side effect: the City of Vienna struck the "defaced" tower off the list of protected landmarks but enforced preservation of Weiner's billboard.[12]

In 2007 the Haus des Meeres installed its largest, 300,000 L (79,000 US gal) tank for sharks. On 7 May the aquarium moved six adult blacktip reef sharks, properly sedated, to the new tank. All sharks quietly died in a few hours after awakening.[14] Autopsy revealed fatal internal bleeding which was blamed on stress (after the accident other zoos confirmed that blacktip sharks are, indeed, prone to stress injury).[15] The four replacement sharks of the same species that were delivered next month survived without lasting effects.[16] The gravel lining the bottom of the tank was recycled from World War Two concrete which was torn down during the expansion. It is visible on the 55 euro cent commemorative stamp 50 Jahre "Haus des Meeres" issued by the Austrian Post in 2007.[9][17]

The global financial crisis caused an abrupt drop in visitor numbers of Viennese art museums. The Haus des Meeres, on the contrary, steadily attracted more visitors every year: 258 thousand in 2007, 336 thousand in 2008, 353 thousand in 2009. In 2009 it rose to number ten in the list of Vienna's tourist attractions ranked by ticket sales,[18] despite a significant increase in ticket price.[19]

Expansion plans[edit]

Further expansion and ownership of the tower is a controversial matter. The property is owned by the City of Vienna, which pays for the maintenance costs, and is determined to get rid of the financial burden. In 2008 the City proposed selling the tower to an outside investor and approved plans to build a private hotel on top of the flak tower. The plans were vocally opposed by the residents of Mariahilf. The Haus des Meeres itself wanted to retain future upward expansion rights. They proposed building three new exhibition space floors inside an all-glass capsule shaped like a manta ray. As of 2010, both these projects were canceled.[10] The Haus des Meeres received a vote of confidence from local residents[note 3] but had to choose a less radical solution. The six million Euro expansion project, scheduled for 2011, will add a million-liter fish tank and an open-air restaurant. The city officials are willing to consider the sale of the building to the Haus des Meeres, on condition that the new owner preserves Weiner's artwork and picks up the maintenance bill from the taxpayers.[4][5]


  1. ^ 85 thousand euros in 2009, or 2.5% of the annual budget. - Vereinsvorstand (in German) Archived 2010-01-25 at the Wayback Machine. Haus des Meeres. Retrieved 2010-08-28.
  2. ^ Owing to prohibitively high costs of demolition, all six Viennese flak towers stand to date. As of 2009, demolition cost estimates start at 100 million Euro for each tower. - NS-Gedenkstätte im Flakturm (in German). Die Presse. April 5, 2009 (printed edition: April 7). Retrieved 2010-08-28.
  3. ^ According to local Social Democrats, the poll collected 2271 votes out of 8297 eligible residents, a record turnout for such polls. - Ausbaupläne: Dinieren auf dem Flakturm (in German). Die Presse. May 1, 2009 (printed edition: May 2). Retrieved 2010-08-28.


  1. ^ Lawrence Weiner (in German). Haus des Meeres. Retrieved 2010-08-24.
  2. ^ a b Haus des Meeres (9 January 2013). Neuerlich Besucherrekord 2012! (in German) Retrieved 3 March 2013.
  3. ^ Aqua Terra Zoo (in German) Archived 2010-01-24 at the Wayback Machine. Haus des Meeres. Retrieved 2010-08-24.
  4. ^ a b "Haus des Meeres" muss ohne Riesenmanta auskommen (in German). Die Presse. February 2, 2010. Retrieved 2010-08-22.
  5. ^ a b c Maritz, Mariam (2010). Haus des Meeres: Mariahilf kämpft gegen Verkauf des Flakturms (in German). Die Presse. January 14, 2010 (printed edition: January 15). Retrieved 2010-08-28.
  6. ^ a b Brunner, Brendt (2005). The ocean at home: an illustrated history of the aquarium. Princeton Architectural Press. ISBN 1-56898-502-9. p. 104.
  7. ^ Brunner, Brendt (2005). The ocean at home: an illustrated history of the aquarium. Princeton Architectural Press. ISBN 1-56898-502-9. p. 7.
  8. ^ a b c Flakturm (in German). Haus des Meeres. Retrieved 2010-08-24.
  9. ^ a b 50 Jahre "Haus des Meeres" (in German). Post.Philatelie (Austrian Post magazine), November 2007. Retrieved 2010-08-28.
  10. ^ a b Wofür die Flaktürme heute verwendet werden (in German). Die Presse, February 2, 2010 (printed edition: February 9, 2010). Retrieved 2010-08-28.
  11. ^ a b Das Haus des Meeres im "Flakturm" Archived 2010-02-16 at the Wayback Machine. Haus des Meeres. Retrieved 2010-08-24.
  12. ^ a b Maritz, Mariam (2007). Barbaren-Akt: Werbeschild mitten in Kunst-Installation (in German). Die Presse. November 28, 2007 (printed edition: November 29). Retrieved 2010-08-28.
  13. ^ Erinnern im Innern (in German) Archived 2010-07-12 at the Wayback Machine. Haus des Meeres. Retrieved 2010-08-24.
  14. ^ Maritz, Mariam (2007). Haus des Meeres: 6 Haie 9 Stunden reanimiert – ohne Erfolg. Die Presse. May 8, 2007 (printed edition: May 9). Retrieved 2010-08-28.
  15. ^ Haie im Haus des Meeres an Stress gestorben (in German). Die Presse. June 1, 2007. Retrieved 2010-08-28.
  16. ^ Vier neue Haie im Haus des Meeres eingetroffen (in German). Die Presse. June 26, 2007. Retrieved 2010-08-28.
  17. ^ Schuh, Karin (2010). Briefmarken: Vier Quadratzentimeter Design (in German). Die Presse, June 26, 2010. Retrieved 2010-08-24.
  18. ^ 2009 numbers: Schönbrunn ist Wiens beliebteste Sehenswürdigkeit (in German). Die Presse, August 4, 2010. Retrieved 2010-08-15. See also source data tables from the Vienna Tourist Board: Sehenwurdigkeiten 2009 (in German). 2008 numbers: Sehenwurdigkeiten 2008 (in German)[permanent dead link]. Vienna Tourist Board. Retrieved 2010-08-28. 2007 numbers: Sehenwurdigkeiten 2007 (in German)[permanent dead link]. Vienna Tourist Board. Retrieved 2010-08-28.
  19. ^ Eintrittspreise: Was alles teurer wird (in German). Die Presse. April 6, 2009 (printed edition: April 7). Retrieved 2010-08-28.

External links[edit]