Austria’s national stadium named after revered coach

The field of dreams – and the stands around it

Host of the Euro 2008 Final that saw Spain on their way to world domination, Austria’s national stadium was built from 1928 to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the post-Habsburg Austrian republic.

Before then, the national stadium was Hohe Warte, today the 5,500-capacity, grass-terraced home of First Vienna, and modest even by Austrian third-tier standards. But in 1923, it accommodated 85,000, four times more than the crowd gathered for the international with Hungary at the WAC Platz in the Prater Park three years before.

The Prater is a large green recreational space east of town by the narrow Danube. Its most famous features are the Riesenrad big wheel and funfair. The WAC, Rustenschacherallee 9, was where Austria and Hungary played Europe’s first football international, on a Sunday afternoon in 1902, before 500 people.

Further along Hauptallee, near Vienna’s racecourse, the Praterstadion took two years to complete. Designed by same architect Professor Otto Ernst Schweizer who built the Frankenstadion in Nuremberg, the Prater (or Wienerstadion) was commissioned by the city’s Socialist administration. 

This two-tiered, 60,000-capacity amphitheatrical arena first staged a match between two local workers’ teams, then a Workers’ Olympiad. After the Anschluss with Nazi Germany, the stadium was used as a staging post for Jews being sent to concentration camps, and as a military base. Heavily bombed in the war, the Prater was quickly renovated and expanded.

With a capacity of 91,000, it was a favoured host for European finals, six in all, but fewer than 10,000 saw Manchester City beat Górnik Zabrze to win the Cup-Winners’ Cup in the rain in 1970.

Equipped with a running track and then a roof in 1985, the reduced-capacity Prater was named after legendary coach Ernst Happel after his death in 1992. A tribute friendly was played between Austria and Germany, with Happel’s cap placed on the bench.

For Euro 2008, €40 million of improvements included building a new U-Bahn station and extending the U2 line. Capacity was reduced to 53,000, an exact 51,428 for the tournament itself. 

The stadium comes in handy for European runs by main local clubs Rapid and Austria, whose rare Champions League fixtures usually take place here, and this became the de facto home ground for Austria Vienna while their Franz-Horr-Stadion was being rebuilt.

Three-tiered seating is arranged in six colour-coded sections, labelled A-F. Sectors B and E are along the touchlines, A/F and C/D behind each goal. The home end is C/D nearest Stadion U-Bahn station, away A/F.

getting there

Going to the stadium – tips and timings

The stadium now has its own stop, Stadion, on the U2 line, three from the transport hub of Praterstern. Exiting to the right, you arrive at sector B and the home end to the left, the away end round the other side to the right.

If you’re here between mid March and mid October, the Liliputbahn miniature railway runs through Prater Park from the main entrance, via the funfair, to the Messe – about half the journey from Praterstern to the stadium. Tickets are €6, €3.50 for 2-14s.

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

For internationals, the Austrian FA sell tickets online through its website. The FAs of visiting teams will distribute tickets through their own websites.

For a typical qualifying match, prices are set at €25 behind the goals, €50 for the best seats on the sidelines and €36 in the upper tier. Individual FAs may levy an administration fee on top of this.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

The classic pre-match spot is the Schweizerhaus, a large beer terrace by the green Praterturm in the Prater funfair. Themed after districts of Vienna, the Schweizerhaus can trace its history back to 1766 but owes its current guise to Karl Kolarik, who took over the business in 1920. Proffering big mugs of Budvar beer and hearty meat dishes, the Schweizerhaus is still run by the Kolarik family. The stadium is a good 15min walk through the park.

Sadly, the other traditional hostelries nearer the stadium, the Krieauer Beisl and the Gasthaus Mehler, haven’t stayed the course but remain long in the memory.

Back on Meiereistraße by the stadium, the Würstelstand Stadion has been in the same Teibtner family since Nat Lofthouse earned the nickname ‘The Lion of Vienna’ at an international here in 1952. Classic Balkan grilled meat dishes complement the standard sausage snacks and Ottakringer beer.

On the other side of the arena, behind sector E and by the Rapid Vienna training pitch, the Kantine Stadion is a modest hut with outdoor seating, where draught Ottakringer and bottled Stiegl beers can help wash down a debreziner sausage or caciocavallo cheese roll. The nearby Stiegl hut offers similar on match nights.