Vienna had to deal with a lot of problems post WWII and one of them was what to do with the flak towers or bunkers. These were giant concrete blockhouses with walls 3.5m thick, built to house air defences to counter bombing raids by the allied forces.
Too big to easily demolish, the flak tower in Esterhazy Park now houses the Haus des Meeres, a large aquarium and vivarium with five floors of visitor displays.
It’s an excellent way to kill an hour or two in wet weather, particularly if you have kids. Since it’s located just off one of Vienna’s major shopping streets (Mariahilfer Straße), you can combine a trip with a shopping expedition.
Highlights of the exhibition are:
A multistory tropical house built on to the outside of the flak tower, with wooden walkways and rope bridges, small waterfalls, ponds and tropical vegetation. Various water tanks house fish and turtles. And numerous tropical birds and marmosets move freely among the visitors. The animals aren’t shy, so you’ll get some close encounters.
A vivarium with snakes, lizards, frogs, giant spiders and crocodiles. When I was there, the most impressive exhibit was the albino python and its friend, which were BIG. There’s also a Chinese giant salamander, which is quite stunning when you’re used to the typical salamanders you get in your garden pond. They don’t call it giant for nothing.
The shark aquarium on the ground floor. The sharks are reef sharks, so not the dangerous or large variety, but impressive nonetheless. See if you can spot the well-camouflaged carpet shark.
The rest of the tower is filled with tropical, Mediterranean and local fish, sea anemones, urchins, lobsters, starfish and other non-fish denizens of the water.
Address: Haus des Meeres, Esterhazypark, Fritz-Grünbaumplatz 1, 1060 Vienna