Kunsthaus Graz

Graz – From The Clock Tower To The Science Tower

By Reinhard Mandl*

Spring begins earlier in Graz than in other parts of Austria. While grey showers still sweep across the city in Vienna, people are already sitting in beer gardens in Graz. A touch of the south blows through narrow alleys in the old town, which is also reflected in the architecture. Since 2011, the former European Capital of Culture has also carried the title of “City of Design”. The train journey from Vienna to Graz still takes a comparatively long time, but this will soon change with the upcoming opening of the Semmering Base Tunnel.

Off to the„City of Design“

To celebrate the Capital of Culture in 2003, the significance of the station hall of Graz Central Station as the city’s most important reception room for arriving visitors was honoured by a work of art by Peter Kogler. To this day, a plastic fabric covers the ceiling and walls of the entrance hall with computer-generated shapes that seem to float like virtual liquids above my head.

I step outside, walk over the wide forecourt of the station, and take the next tram to the Hauptplatz (Main Square). It is the most important public transport hub along with the Jakominiplatz. I stand in front of the Archduke Johann Fountain and my gaze wanders between the many magnificent houses. The town hall occupies the entire east side of the square. Diagonally opposite, a baroque building stands out with striking stucco elements on the façade: The Luegg House on the corner of Sporgasse.

In order to view the historic centre of Graz from above, it is recommended to take a trip to the Schlossberg, which can be reached on foot via the steep “Kriegssteig” stair at the Schlossbergplatz square or with a lift, which I can even use for free with the KlimaTicket.

The Schlossberg is interesting not only for its view but also for its history. The “small castle” once stood at this striking point. The name “Graz” derives from its old name “Gradec” as a diminutive of the word “castle”. The Small Castle was converted into an impregnable fortress in the 16th century, which even withstood the Turks and later Emperor Napoleon. Nevertheless, the French managed to raze the fortifications in 1809. However, the citizens of Graz were able to pay a ransom to procure the bell tower on the summit plateau of the Schlossberg and the clock tower. The view from the “citizens’ bastion” (Bürgerbastei) of the historic centre of Graz, which was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1999, is particularly impressive because it is almost completely preserved and offers an unforgettable sight with its unique tiled roofscape.

Back to the city centre, from the Schlossbergplatz through the Sackstrasse. It is the oldest street in the city. Over time, t has been gradually extended: The first stretch was mainly inhabited by nobles. Today, two important cultural institutions in Graz have their headquarters in the Grand Palais Attems: The Styriarte, a summer festival for classical and early music, and the Steirischer Herbst, a multi-disciplinary event series that focuses on international contemporary art. There are other magnificent buildings on the opposite side of the Sackstrasse, which house the Museum of History and the Graz Museum.

The next stop on my way is the Kastner & Öhler department store. I take the escalator up the successive floors to the attic and visit the traditional headquarters of this Austrian department store chain. I find a free table in the Café Freiblick on the roof terrace and enjoy the beautiful view of the famous red brick roofs from close up.

After lunch, I walk down Herrengasse and on to Graz Castle, the former Habsburg residence before they moved to Vienna. In the first courtyard, opposite the staircase III, there is a Gothic twin spiral staircase, a masterpiece of late medieval craftsmanship. It was created in 1499 under the soon-to-be Emperor Maximilian I.

Via the Freiheitsplatz (Freedom Square), I reach the Hofgasse and carry on into the Sporgasse, where gun smiths and spur makers practised their trade in the Middle Ages. Today, many traditional businesses are located here. At house number 22, I take a look at the arcade courtyard of the former preceptory of the Teutonic Order, which is paved with round-cut stones, the so-called Murnockerl.

All the sunny spots in the numerous beer gardens of the old town are already occupied in the early afternoon. The spring-like atmosphere creates a cheerful mood among the guests. In contrast, the high number of beggars occupying many corners in the old town, hoping for alms with despondent faces, is not to be overlooked.

I cross the Erzherzog-Johann bridge over the Mur to the Kunsthaus Graz art museum. The blue shimmering bubble of the “Friendly Alien” really does look like an alien standing on the banks of the Mur. No, the Capital of Culture 2003 was not a one-off bubble, to burst after the initial big fuss! This major event has changed cultural life in Graz in a lasting way, and the striking architecture of the Kunsthaus symbolizes the beginning of the new era.

A tram no. 6 stops at Südtiroler Platz. It goes to the Smart City, one of the new districts. I decide to get on quite spontaneously, and I am quite surprised when I leave the tramway six or seven stops later. Not from the sight of the new Science Tower, which I already know from pictures. Also not from the Helmut List Hall right next to me. An unusual sight presents itself to me, however, giving me totally new feeling of Graz – a modern residential building in Waagner-Biro-Strasse, which is bordered on both sides by shipping containers painted in different colours and stacked on top of each other. I ask a local woman, who explains: Unexploded bombs from WWII were discovered during the excavation for this residential building, so no basement compartments could be built. As a substitute for this, the architect came up with a solution using the containers, which also scores points for originality as a stylistic element in lofty heights.

Thankfully, there is a rear access to the central station from Waagner-Biro-Strasse, because my train will be leaving soon. Graz is hardly farther from Vienna than Linz, but the journey over the Semmering takes twice as long: I have more than two and a half hours to review the many impressions of the day.

My timetable on the 06/04/2022
depart from Vienna Central Station at 6:58 am, arrive at Graz at 9:33 am // depart from Graz Central Station at 6:26 pm, arrive at Vienna Central Station at 9:02 pm

(CO2 emission savings compared to driving by car: 58.60 kg)

* This text is an abridged version of chapter 7 of his boo Discover Austria with the KlimaTicket – 20 Trips by Bus and Rail.