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The Rothschild Gardens, Hohe Warte, Vienna, Austria

In 1781, an ancient mineral spring (the Heiligenstadt bad) was discovered in Vienna. A spa and gardens were developed, the Kuglerbad and the Kugler Park opening in 1845 under the direction of Joseph and Leopoldine Kugler. The spa offered cold and hot baths, swimming lessons and other amusements. By 1875, the Danube had been redirected for flood control, leading to changes in the groundwater. The spring retreated underground, and the spa was closed, and the property abandoned.

The Rothschild Gardens

In 1882, Nathaniel Mayer Rothschild (1836-1905), grandson of Salomon von Rothschild (1774-1855) who had established the Viennese bank, acquired plots including the former spa in order to build a villa, and create what became known as The Rothschild Gardens. Nathaniel purchased further large plots on the Hohe Warte of approximately 81,600 square metres and established a botanical garden, under the guidance of the city Garden Inspector Anton Joli. A Japanese garden was created, and an array of summer houses, imitation antiquities and other garden constructions in fashionable at the time.

Nathaniel brought gardeners from England to develop his gardens. The gardens consisted of a park to the north with acacias, lilacs, red beeches and white birch, elm, blue spruce, cedars and pine-trees, and, in the south a large nursery operation. In the nursery, fruits, exotic flowers and palm trees were planted, the total area of glasshouses amounting to 12,000 square metres. The gardens charged the public an entrance fee, and the proceeds of the ticket sales were used to fund a voluntary fire and ambulance service in the city.

In 1900, the city purchased the Kugler Park adjacent, opened to the public free of charge in 1905 as Heiligenstädter Park.  After Nathaniel’s death in 1905, rumours were abroad that the villa would be bought as a summer residence by Emperor Franz Josef, reported in the New York Times, “The Villa is a commodious and handsome building, but the great glory of the place is its gardens, which rank among the first three or four in Europe… It is in the Italian style, and laid out with charming terraces and cunningly devised archways, through which one obtains most picturesque glimpses of the great City of Vienna and the distant Danube.”

The twentieth century

After the First World War, Alphonse Mayer von Rothschild (1878-1942) who had inherited the gardens from his uncle, built a tea-house in part of the park, but this was never occupied. In 1906 it was reported that the botanical garden contained an “array of conservatories and hothouses, which furnish strawberries and the choicest fruits in profusion almost throughout the year. The greatest treasure under the glass is a giant Bougainvillea, possibly the finest specimen in the world.”

The gardens were confiscated by the Nazi regime in 1938, and in June 1942, the German Reich of Vienna sold the gardens for approximately 400,000 Reichsmarks. The Rothschild Villa, many of the remaining buildings and many of the exotic trees and plants did not survive the war; it was claimed that the building was deliberately bombed. After the war parts of the gardens were used for the cultivation of vegetables to meet acute food shortages in Vienna.

In 1949, Clarice von Rothschild (1894-1967) began proceedings for restitution claims regarding the Rothschild Gardens. In 1950, the former Heiligenstädter Park was restored, while the former Rothschild Gardens were returned to the family, who in turn gifted the land  permanently to the city. In 1977 the northern part of the former Rothschild gardens was reunited with the southern part, the whole being known today as Vienna’s Heiligenstädter Park. 

The First Vienna Football Club

Nathaniel von Rothschild is credited with having introduced football into Austria. One of the gardeners' sons at Hohe Warte, returning from England where he had learnt the game, gained his support for a team as a means of providing recreation for the estate staff - many of them English. With land and finance from Nathaniel, a club was formed in 1894 in the guest-house 'Zur schonen Aussicht' which still stands today. The First Vienna Football Club, the first football club in Austria was established on 22 August 1894. Nathaniel set aside a pasture near to the Hohe Warte Gardens upon which to play and also said to have granted the team its blue and-yellow kits, former jockey's shirts from his riding stables. The Manx player William Beale designed the triskelion logo, also in the Rothschild colours blue and yellow, which Vienna still uses today. The team played its first match on 15 November 1894 against the Vienna Cricket and Football-Club losing by 0 goals to 4, and creating a rivalry which lasted until the dissolution of the Cricketers' football team in 1936. The city of Vienna quickly became the centre of Austrian football and by the end of 1896 there were seven clubs playing there, several of which also fielded reserve sides.

In 1897, the chairman of the Cricketers' donated the Challenge Cup establishing a competition open to all football clubs in what was then Austria-Hungary, drawing teams from Vienna, Budapest, and Prague. The Cricketers' won the first cup competition in 1897, but First Vienna followed with consecutive cup titles in 1899 and 1900. The club also made a losing appearance in the 1907 final of the Wiener Cup. By 1915 the First Vienna Football Club had fallen out of first division play and did not return to the top flight until after the war in 1919. The Hohe Warte Stadium, which remains the club's home today was built in 1921. The club consistently finished in the top half of the league table through the 1920s, winning Austrian Cup titles in 1929 and 1930 before finally claiming the national championship in 1931. That same year the team also won the Mitropa Cup, one of Europe's first international club competitions. Vienna captured a second national title in 1933 with a third Austrian Cup following in 1937. Re-established after the war, Vienna remained competitive, but the club faded through the 1960s playing second division football in the 1970s and 1980s.

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