Kultur- und Themenführungen - Wien Fremdenführer - Wien

Cultural walking tours - Vienna

Guided tours - Vienna



 Tales and legends from old Vienna


The great heritage of Viennese popular legends, passed down from generation to generation, gives us a very colourful picture of life and mental attitude in historical times. Popular imagination has certainly elaborated and enriched many a story but nevertheless most of them are based on a historical incident or a real event.

The legend of Paracelsus, a historically documented figure from the period of the Renaissance, tells us about a mysterious physician, scholar and alchemist who made a pact with the devil, but it also addresses the period of transition from the middle ages to modern times and a new scientific approach to the world which lead men like Paracelsus to do research in the forbidden fields of anatomy, astronomy and natural science.

The legend of the bagpiper and juggler Augustin takes us into the 17thcentury when the city was stricken by the black death and the ottoman attacks. Even such horrible scourges could not prevent the citizens from merrymaking and frequenting the wine taverns where dear Augustin was a welcome guest and entertainer. Life and death appeared to be very close to each other in the baroque age.

Many legends bear testimony to the people’s profound devoutness in past times, as for instance the famous legend of the “trunk in iron”, a nail studded tree trunk near St. Stephen’s Cathedral which tells the story of a hapless locksmith selling his soul to the devil in exchange for fame and wealth. These stories must be seen as admonitory examples for believers not to leave the path of catholic morality and were very much promoted during the period of the Counter Reformation.




The walk starts on Schwedenplatz which was a place of trade and commerce in Roman times and during the middle ages. The Danube with its side arms, at the beginning a strategic defence line, became soon a very important trade route, but it has also brought forth numerous tales and legends, the most famous one being the story of the “Donauweibchen” which is about a water siren enchanting the young boatmen and fishermen. Close to the banks of the Danube canal once stood the Inn of the Black Eagle, also called “Kiss the penny house” after a legend which tells the mysterious story of Paracelsus turning a penny to gold.

The historical Griechengasse leads to the famous Griechenbeisl; this old wine tavern was the favourite place of dear Augustin. Only a few steps away lie the grounds of the Heiligenkreuzerhof. This peaceful, hardly ever visited courtyard belongs to the prestigious abbey of Heiligenkreuz in the Vienna woods. Having crossed the courtyard we enter one of the oldest lanes of medieval Vienna, the Schönlaterngasse. Here we can see the “Basiliskenhaus” (“house of the basilisk”). It is rumoured that the strange mythological animal (a cross between a snake and a cock) infested this house till a brave and clever baker’s boy was able to overwhelm it. Walking through the former district of the university where we will see a lot of charming old houses and intimate passage-ways we come to St. Stephen’s Cathedral which plays an eminent role in many old legends such as “Our Lord of the tooth ache”, “Master Puchsbaum” or “The bowler of St. Stephen’s”. The walk ends near the Cathedral at the legendary “Stock im Eisen” (“trunk in iron”) where we will hear the most famous legend of old Vienna.


Practical information


MEETING POINT: on the corner Franz-Josephs-Kai 19/ Hafnersteig (which is on Schwedenplatz opposite the Italian ice-cream shop).

DURATION: 2 hours.

END OF THE TOUR: Stock-im-Eisen-Platz (on the corner of Kärntnerstraße/ Graben).

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Jorge Luis Borges, The Book of Imaginary Beings, London 2002.

William Carew Hazlitt, Dictionary of Faiths and Folklore: Beliefs, Superstitions and Popular Customs, Senate Books 1995.