Painting of the Hohe Warte natural arena by Anton H. Karlinsky (1928)
It was once the largest stadium on the continent and the birthplace of the legendary “wonder team”. Not only the First Vienna FC and the Austrian national team thrilled the crowds on the Hohe Warte.
Opened 100 years ago, boxing matches, opera performances, rock concerts and football games also found their worthy stage in the Naturoval in Döbling. The Vienna celebrates the stadium’s milestone anniversary on Saturday with a Viennese league game and a museum inauguration.
In the opening match on June 19, 1921, Vienna celebrated a 2-1 victory over Hakoah. The Blau-Gelben were founded in Döbling in 1894 and were only a stone’s throw away from home before moving to the new venue. But the old building had long since become too small. What engineer Eduard Schönecker, who had already designed Rapids Pfarrwiese in Hütteldorf, but then planted on the green hill, was considered a sensation far beyond Vienna.
In the oval open on one side, with a mighty natural grandstand up the slope towards Grinzing, on the other side a simple wooden roof construction based on the English model, fit 90,000 spectators. Only in London and Glasgow were there larger cathedrals for the then flourishing mass spectacle of football in the 1920s and 1930s. The Hohe Warte “was definitely one of the leading arenas in continental Europe, if not the leading arena,” says sports historian Matthias Marschik.
The birth of the wonder team
The Hohe Warte became famous as a playground for several Viennese clubs and as a fortress for the Austrian national team. The wonder team was born on May 16, 1931, Austria beat the clearly favored Scotland 5-0 in Döbling. By 1933, the team of team boss Hugo Meisl won 13 more games, only lost to England 3: 4 in London. The names of the stars at the time, Matthias Sindelar, Toni Schall, Karl Zischek, Fritz Gschweidl and Josef Smistik, are still haunted in the collective memory and in the ÖFB statistics.
After the wonder team era, grass literally grew over the facility, which the press liked to call the “giant playground” of the Viennese facility, which had already faced overwhelming competition in 1931 with the Prater Stadium. Even before the Second World War, nature began to quietly recapture it. The monumental slope stand in particular was gradually overgrown by greenery, and the number of officially admitted spectators continued to decline.
Bob Dylan – Dr. Kurt Ostbahn
Vienna, Austrian champions for the sixth and last time in 1955, has been the main user of the property since the post-war period. However, Viennese derbies also took place on the Hohe Warte, concerts such as those by Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan or Austro rocker Dr. Kurt Ostbahn, operas, track and field competitions, rugby and American football games and boxing matches. Of course, little remains of the glory of the past. “You need someone to explain how it used to be,” emphasized Marschik.
Vienna celebrates the birthday appropriately with a soccer match. In the Vienna City League, Gerasdorf-Stammersdorf will visit the leaders on Saturday. Before that, the club’s new museum will be opened, the Vienna women will receive their trophy for the championship title in the 2nd division and the promotion they have achieved to the Bundesliga. The blue-yellow men want to move up to the Regionalliga Ost and gain a foothold in the professional field again in the not too distant future. Saying goodbye to the Hohe Warte, which is leased by the City of Vienna, is unimaginable.
One tries to counter the decay of the building substance step by step with various renovations. The last time there was a major intervention in 2005. In 2020, the city’s audit office criticized above all “severe damage to the load-bearing reinforced concrete structures”, as well as a main access staircase in a “desolate condition” or mold infestation in the sanitary facilities. The Hohe Warte is now designed for almost 7,000 spectators. A new gastro concept is to be implemented soon.
“You could fix it. But Vienna can’t pay for it, the city of Vienna would probably have to step in,” Marschik explained. But that would almost certainly arouse further desires. “Then the FAC, the third force in Vienna, would come first and demand money. Because the Leopold-Stroh-Stadion (old name / today FAC-Platz; note) is of course in a questionable state.”