A Ball for All: The Rhythm of Vienna

A Ball for All: The Rhythm of Vienna

An active series of more than 450 events, and an insitution of Viennese culture, the ball season has been labelled by UNESCO as a part of the intangible cultural heritage of Vienna. White tie, floor length gowns and the enjoyment of classical music create an atmosphere of luxury, elegance and tradition at balls promoting different professions, industries and cultural prestige, such as The Doctor’s Ball, The Lawyer’s Ball and The Viennese Coffee House Owner’s Ball.

The events are ceremonialized with precise timing for the introduction and closing as well as different dances, such as quadrilles at midnight and at 3AM. Some traditions are less formal, guests of the Opernball often take away the decorative flowers as souvenirs, even if it’s not officially permitted. But as the events are targeted for the elite they are also highly politicized, gathering together people in society with power and wealth. In this sense they are an interesting window into the assets, interests and intrigue of Viennese society.

The beginning of the Opernball was also political as it began in 1814/1815 at the time of the Viennese Congress. The artists of the court opera subsequently staged additional events. The first ball at the current site was held at the Hofopern-Soirée on December 11th 1877 to raise money for pension funds; the reason that motivated the organizers of most of the balls at that era. After the end of the Donau monarchy the ball tradition began to flourish, as early as in the 1920s.

Theoretically the Opernball is accessible to anyone, with only the tea room reserved completely for artists of the Vienna State Opera and the official guests of the ball. This does not stop some people from rallying against its presumed elitism and profligate luxury. Between 1998 and 2004 on the day of the Opernball a simultaneous event called Opferball (a play on words meaning ‘victim’s ball’) was staged by the street newspaper Augustin. They gave free admission to homeless people, musicians were not paid, and any revenue collected was donated to charity. The Opernballdemo also takes place annually, a protest event mostly staged by students who use the visibility of the ball to obtain publicity for various causes.

The ball season is not simply a matter of the elite against everyone else. There are many types of ball events held by the different industries, associations and even nightclubs of the city, who are encouraged to uphold the cultural tradition and to contribute to the social life. The more colourful balls include the Zuckerbaeckerball (Sweet backers ball), the Blumenball (flower ball) – which turns the City Hall into a sea of flowers – and the Rudolfina masked ball. If this sounds exciting you may even try one, the Fête Impériale will be held on June 28th at the Spanish Riding School of Vienna, the Vienna International Spring Ball is on the 16th March at the Hofburg Palace, and at the Journalists’ Summer Ball held by the Presseclub Concordia on the June 7th you can hear unique press-themed waltzes like the Morgenblätter Walzer (Morning Paper’s Waltz) or the Feuilleton Waltz.

Philippa Nicole Barr