A spooky experience in Vienna
One of my favourite films of all time is The Third Man, which as I'm sure you know is set in post war Vienna when the city, like Berlin, was divided into sectors controlled by the four main allied nations, the USA, Britain, France and Russia. Apart from some great performances by a cast including the indomitable Orson Welles, the attraction of the film for me was the stark, dark, yet romantic portrayal of Vienna. The tall apartment blocks, with their gloriously large door-ways and spectacular interiors, the Prater park with its iconic big-wheel and of course the sewers where the film climaxes. It is no surprise that the film has become as iconic to Vienna as Vienna was in the film, and there are now numerous tours based on the film and a cinema that is devoted to showing the movie most evenings.
On my first visit to Vienna I was almost a little disappointed that it was not the dark seedy city depicted in the movie, but a large and bright metropolis full of Hapsburg grandeur with broad boulevards, spectacularly beautiful buildings, palaces and gardens. I was immediately taken by the cleanliness of the city – a position I would have to revise after a more recent visit – and the plethora of coffee and cake shops for which the city is also renowned.
It was against this backdrop that I had one of the most bizarre and uncomfortable experiences ever. Whilst visiting the city on business I had an evening free so I decided to find a good local restaurant for some reasonably priced food and a little exploration of the city ensued. I exited the subway at Stephansplatz, circled the spectacular Cathedral and headed into the back streets. Without a map I wandered for about an hour before settling on a little Italian restaurant where I enjoyed a delightful pasta dish accompanied by a half-carafe of wine. I only mention this because the wine may have effected my senses and a possible cause of what happened a little later. I continued to explore the streets, aware that I had no idea where I was but always comfortable with the fact that I would either hit the river or a major road artery at some point.
There were people milling around enjoying a night out or evening stroll. Then I turned a corner into a narrow street with tall apartment buildings rising up on either side creating a slightly claustrophobic feeling. It was summer, a point I should have mentioned earlier, and the air was warm and dusk was settling over the city. The street was deserted and surprisingly quiet. I noticed a doorway which appeared to lead to a nightclub of some sort and yet no noise emanated from this or any other building. Maybe my senses were impaired by a heavy meal and a glass of wine, but as I walked past this building I had the most peculiar feeling come over me. It was almost as though someone had injected a flu virus directly into my blood stream. Every muscle became lethargic and heavy and I felt as though I had been encased in ice. I felt uneasy and a real need to pull myself away from this building, so with a real effort I walked a little further, as a shivering attack took over my whole body. I was pleased that there was no-one to see me in this peculiar state, but that said some company would have perhaps relieved me of the deep anxiety that I felt at that time. My heart was racing, desperate it would seem to rid the body of this hidden virus and at one point I thought that I might actually pass out. Then, as I moved a few more steps to a gardened square at the end of the narrow street, the feeling passed as quickly as it came over me. My body temperature returned to normal (or at least felt that way) and the shivers were gone. I didn't feel any particular emotion at this time but I did make a hurried escape around the square – keen not to return past the building which for some unknown reason I believed had been the catalyst for the 'attack'.
I have returned to the city twice since and despite hours of searching I have been unable to find the location, but will search again on my next visit; don't ask me why – but I hate a mystery!