A Tour into the Vienna Sewer System

Written by Arminé Maksudyan
Artwork by Studio Fantastico

Week 30

A travel in time and space while you find yourself right in the heart of Vienna can be provided by Third Man Tour, a walk through the city’s subterranean sewer system. The tour offers a visitor to dig into the unseen world of vast underground tunnel network which dates back to 100 AD when the Romans constructed a sewer system in their military camp Vindobona. Throughout the centuries the sewer system got refurbished meeting the demands of a contemporary city and expanded on both sides of the Danube Canal along with the partially enclosure of the Wien River into the massive vaults. During the Cold War, when Vienna was divided into four zones of occupation, the sewer turned to be a platform for international espionage which in 1948 was skillfully depicted in “The Third Man”, a spy thriller by Caroll Reed.

Orson Welles as Harry Lime

The Third Man Tour invites the visitor to experiense the route that Harry Lime, starring Orson Welles, fled through during the famous chase scene. The protagonist of the film is a British penicillin smuggler in Vienna’s Soviet-controlled zone who faked his death in order to continue the black market trade, whereas his best friend comes to Vienna to investigate his death. While the inquest was on the agenda the city’s subterranean tunnel system let Harry move freely and absolutely unnoticed throughout the metropolis.

A part of the sewer with a spiral stairway entrance starting from Girardipark near Karlsplatz and guiding to Vienna’s underground world became one of the most remarkable locations set for the motion picture. Today the original staircase brings the visitor to the oldest areas of Vienna’s sewer system lit with dimmed light where the Wien River flows through a spacious tunnel constructed below the Naschmarkt, a beloved area for foods and drinks of tourist and city dwellers.

© Third Man Tour

Even almost sixty years after the story portrayed in “The Third Man” Vienna firmly possesses the reputation of a city of espionage and is marked as one of the favorite spots of spies. Is this due to the extensive sewer system as a perfect base for discreet mobility of agents, a high concentration of international institutions like the UN, IAEA, OECD and OPEC and diplomatic missions, Austia’s neutrality or just the atmosphere that vibrates the city that till now has a lot of recondite and obscure concealed underneath the sunlit surface – needs to be still investigated.

The Third Man placed 57th on the American Film Institute’s list of top American films in 1998.