Let it Glow, Let it Glow, Let it Glow!
Shining a light on Vienna’s Christmas decorations, a seasonal masquerade of urban magic
Almost overnight, the Kohlmarkt, like many other of the city’s high streets is transformed into a sparkling haven of warmth and light | Photo: APA
Much goes into making the city a magical place during the holidays | Photo: APA(
For many English-speaking expats in Vienna, we remember the return of Christmas decorations to our home cities as an annual prompt for derision and complaints of: “They seem to come earlier every year…” Just one more commercial come-on.
But in this, our adopted home, the transformation of what is already one of the crown jewel cities of Europe into a sea of sparkling lights, brings a very different reaction.
While 2012 figures were unavailable at press time, more than two million bulbs lit more than 20km of 42 of the city’s shopping streets last year. From the Wollzeile’s shimmering, hanging sheets of sparklers, the stars and garlands hanging above Mariahilfer Straße, or the angelic outlines leading strollers along Dr.-Karl-Renner-Ring and Universitätsring past the glowing spectacle of the Rathaus, each street is given its own individual look. Some, like the Graben’s glorious chandeliers fashioned after those in the Musikverein, have earned international icon status.
Dear Vienna, how do you do it?
Funding the splendour
This annual seasonal masquerade of urban magic is directly tied to district-by-district lighting coordination, broken down even further into street-by-street funding organisations. It’s just one – though surely the most wonderful – of a series of initiatives by the merchant associations to inspire clients to come into town, prying them loose from the big malls on the outskirts.
“The costs of the lights are borne by the shop owners themselves, although the City of Vienna and the Vienna Chamber of Commerce fund a part of it as well,” says Anita Bock of the Wirtschaftskammer Wien. “Every street, and respectively every merchant association, has its individual designer. This is why the enchanting city lights of Vienna show such great variety.”
Each participating shop is marked by a sticker in the front window or doorway, so alert shoppers can express their gratitude by patronising them. Each year, these businesses raise €1.2 million on top of municipal funding to keep the lights shining for the five weeks of the Advent period until New Year’s Eve.
The government’s share is substantial. According to Vera Schweder at wien.info, “The Magistrate of the City of Vienna, Einkaufsstraßen-Management, and the Vienna Chamber of Commerce and Industry developed the ‘Light Up’ Project from 2006 to 2010, with an overall investment of €4.5 million, €2.5 million of which was contributed by the Chamber of Commerce and the Magistrate of the City of Vienna.”
With these figures adding up to a large investment on behalf of both the city and its merchants, a move towards environmentally-friendly – not to mention much more cost-effective – LED lighting is underway. While only 70 per cent of 2011’s displays featured LED lighting, Schweder claims, “The overall energy costs could be reduced by some 80 per cent – moreover, LED lamps last an average of seven years while conventional bulbs last for only three. Wherever possible conventional lighting is being replaced by LED – it’s a work in progress well on the way, but not yet finished.”
With continuing transition to LED lighting scheduled for coming years, plans to expand the programme further are keeping organisers busy and hopeful. “The Vienna Tourist Board has a strong wish to increase the lighting on the Ringstraße,” continues Schweder. “So far there is some, but we want to have it much more spectacular – more of it, bigger, and potentially for a longer period.”
Surely Vienna is giving Paris a run for its money as the City of Light.
Sharing the joy
For Brigitte Jank, president of the Vienna Chamber of Commerce, the power of the illumination goes above and beyond merely lighting up the city’s shopping streets for the busy holiday season. “It is amazing how the chandeliers, globes, stars, angels, hearts and many other motifs put people into good moods and lift their spirits,” she says. “The lighted streets and markets are sparkling islands and you really have to experience the atmosphere yourself.”
Driven by the desire to share that experience beyond the city limits, the Vienna Tourism Board has shipped and installed five of the Graben’s beloved chandelier fixtures on Bucharest’s Strada Lipscani, lighting the first four of these on 19 November at an evening ceremony flavoured by Viennese Glühwein.
With an invitation to citizens of both cities to participate in the lighting process, the fifth fixture was to be lit only upon the accumulation of 500 “likes” for the project on Facebook. Exceeding expectations, over 2,000 were quickly gathered before noon on the day of the announcement, and all five chandeliers will remain lit until 3 December.
While the underlying aim of shining over two million tiny lights on the streets of Vienna is to increase both shopping expenditures and tourist visits – the Vienna Tourism Board reports an increase of overnight stays in the months of December from 631,000 to 1,861,000 since the initial introduction of the Rathaus’ Adventzauber Christmas Market in 1986 – the transformative power over the city undeniably reaches deeper.
For Schweder and wien.info, the city’s Christmas lights evoke feelings of festivity, glamour, mirth and, last but not least, security. “We know from studies that the feeling is very important for tourists – after all, they move in unfamiliar surroundings – and Vienna scores extremely highly in that respect,” she says. “Our Christmas decorations light up the darkest season of the year!”