The Third Man Ferris Wheel vs. The Crazy Weird Vienna Pony Carousel


“You know what the fellow said – in Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had 500 years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

–  Harry Lime, The Third Man

The truth was goofy; I’d traveled a long way for a Ferris Wheel. But this wasn’t any damn Ferris Wheel, a city’s underwhelming version of the London Eye, which, I hear, is underwhelming itself; this was THE Ferris Wheel, the one Orson Welles made his famous cuckoo clock speech on in the classic film “The Third Man.” Welles ad-libbed the speech during filming, and as it turned out, was completely erroneous – the cuckoo clock was invented in Germany. But ask anyone who has a passion for black and white movies where the cuckoo clock comes from, and I’ll bet you a hundred bucks they say Switzerland.

So when I learned that The Third Man was shot in Vienna, Austria, I decided I had to make a pilgrimage out there. On my last day in Vienna, I went up to The Prater, Vienna’s oddball amusement park, with my heart set on riding the Ferris Wheel, which is called the Risenrad. And I did. I bought a ticket, and I rode it.

And that’s it.

There’s no story here. Nothing. I’m not sure what I expected to think or feel. What were my expectations? Did I think I’d be transported back in time a la Midnight in Paris, so I could go and have schnitzel with Joseph Cotton?

I wasn’t sure and, to be honest, I don’t even like schnitzel or Joseph Cotton all that much. After riding the Risenrad, I felt satisfied. “Okay,” I said to myself. “I can say that I did that.” I had nothing else to do all day, and I lazily walked around, looking around the Prater for nothing in particular.

It was after some time that I stumbled upon something I’d never seen before. Passing numerous amusement park rides, suddenly my nostrils flared with the strong odor of manure. “Jesus!” I thought. “Where is that coming from?” The smell led me to a carousel. A big green sign stood atop the structure. “That carousel smells like shit!” I keenly observed to myself. I walked closer, got a good look, and instantly figured out why.

Instead of wooden horses, the “Wiener Ponny-Caroussel” had real ones. About six horses stood there, harnesses on them, hooked up to a big wheel. I looked at my watch and saw that it was two o’clock, the middle of the day. There weren’t many people at the park. Luckily, a married couple and their son happened to come by while I was standing there. The boy apparently wanted to ride the Pony Carousel, and so they paid and he was put on one of the horses. The corny organ music fired up, the boy looked around confused, his parents watching him with bored looks on their faces. The horses didn’t move. A few seconds passed, and then the man working there took a whip and smacked the boy’s horse right in its ass, hard, and that got the animals to start going around and around. The horses looked miserable, and so did the boy. I left before the ride was over, wondering if the Pony Carousel actually makes any money.

“Business has been slow,” the owner might say to one of the horses. “I’m sorry, but we can’t afford to keep you here. It breaks my heart to do this to you, but we’re going to have to set you free.”

And then the horse runs around joyously, because it’s the happiest day of its life.

I left Vienna the next day. I’ve told some people about how I rode the Ferris Wheel from The Third Man. Truth be told…nobody seems too impressed. I’ve also told people about the horse carousel, and how they had to whack the horse on its butt to start the thing. People typically laugh and seem interested.

For those keeping score, that’s Third Man Story 0, Horse Carousel 1.

That’s cool. The outlying details in a day are typically more interesting than the main activities anyways. Just like how riding a wooden horse, sometimes, can be more magical than riding a real one.