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Augarten

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When approaching the Augarten, a 52 hectare public park in Leopoldstadt, the first thing you will see are three relatively ugly, concrete flak towers towering over the surrounding area. Yet visitors should not be deterred by the site of these tall military structures, first erected in 1944 to protect Vienna from Allied air-raids, as behind the walls of this peaceful public space stand some of the city's best and most secluded gardens.

The Augarten dates back to 1712, when Emperor Joseph I instructed the same landscape architect behind the impressive Belvedere and Schloss Schonbrunn gardens to construct a third garden in the city. The result was a fine French Baroque layout featuring elaborate flower beds, shaded avenues and copses of maple, ash and lime, along with expanses of well-tended, manicured lawn. Access to the grounds is strictly during day-time, and gates close at sundown each day, so arrive well before to dark to ensure you have time to explore the park.

The gardens front the old Palais Augarten, one of the best preserved, and most magnificent, of all Vienna's palaces. A royal palace belonging to the Habsburg dynasty, the property was primarily used in the 19th century to host grand balls and concerts, with many of the richest and most powerful people of the time visiting the estate at one point or another. Falling into disuse after the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the palace took on a brief new role in the 1930s, serving as the official residence of the Austrian Chancellor. The building is also home to the renowned Vienna Boys' Choir, an organisation dating back to 1498 that has worked with composers such as Mozart, Schubert and Salieri down the years. More than 100 boys aged between ten and fourteen live at the school, learning the fine art of choral and opera singing, and even hosting the occasional concert. The Palace's old servant's quarters house yet another cultural attraction, the Austrian Film Archives, which holds over 100,000 films, 2 million photographs and over 65,000 archival documents, all relating to the history of Austrian and world cinema.

On the opposite side of the park stands the well regarded Augarten porcelain manufactory, Europe's second-oldest producer of hard-paste porcelain. The mustard-coloured classical building is open to the public, with an impressive, but expensive store offering the public a chance to own their own Augarten porcelain, and a museum covering the history of both the site and the development of porcelain down the years.

If you feel peckish on a visit to the Augarten then make a trip to the two restaurants that operate here; one making novel use of one of the park's 180 feet high flak towers. Another of these intimidating, grey flak towers has been re-used as a venue for late-night al-fresco cinema screenings during the summer, the flickering images projected onto the blank concrete walls. An imaginative re-use of an obsolete structure in a park with a solid track record in adapting old buildings for modern day uses.
 

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