All those who meet German for the first time enjoy the thought of government offices being called rat houses. For the record, Rat means “advice,” “counsel” or indeed “council,” while the German for rat is Ratte.
Vienna’s Rathaus is indeed the seat of the provincial and city government (Vienna is both a city and a state), housing hundreds of hard-working — and possibly some not-so-hard-working — officials.
More important to the visitor, though, is the Rathausplatz, the square in front of the building, which hosts various important events throughout the year.
The building itself opened in 1883, based on a neo-gothic design by Friedrich Schmidt, who was also a resident architect at St.Stephen’s Cathedral.
The story goes that Schmidt wasn’t allowed to build the tower higher than the Votivkirche (a church erected a couple of years earlier in thanks for the failed assassination attempt on Emperor Franz Josef in 1853). To get round the restriction, he built the tower lower by about one meter, but topped it with a 5.4m statue. Sneaky.
The building has over 1500 rooms and 2000 windows, some of which are traditionally put to excellent use in the period leading up to Christmas. A charity project puts valuable works of modern art up in the windows facing the Rathausplatz, sponsored by large companies and with appropriate lighting. The result is a large and tasteful, real-life advent calendar.
Opposite the Rathaus, on the other side of the Ring, is the famous Burgtheater. To see the view from the theater, take a peek at this webcam. Assuming there’s enough light, you’ll see the Rathausplatz in the foreground with the Rathaus behind.