I live in the Brunnenviertel in Ottakring in the 16th district of Vienna, which in the Western part of the city extends to the hills of the forest Wienerwald. There is a Brunnengasse and a Brunnenmarkt.
Until recently I never thought of fountains or wells (German "Brunnen") even though the word is contained in all these names.
If in the middle of the Brunnenmarkt there was a fountain with jets, basins and water splashing, I am sure that I would have always connected this place with a fountain. But there is no fountain like that. Neither in the Brunnengasse will you find a fountain.
To be honest I also didn't care why the Brunnenmarkt is called Brunnenmarkt. Not knowing about it didn't affect my life in the slightest. But I find it quite enriching to know about it now. I owe it to my neighbour who I never paid much attention to until our conversation on the staircase last week.
He told me that the name "Brunnenmarkt" goes back to a fountain that was built around 1780 near our house – a monumental fountain with a huge basin. At the time Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was a little over 30 years old and Ludwig van Beethoven was only 10.
This fountain, my neighbour told me, was a so-called waterspout fountain.
When I heard waterspout fountain, my first thought was that every fountain is a waterspout fountain because every fountain is spouting and releasing water. So I asked my neighbour.
"Waterspout fountain in contrast to drawing well", my neighbour answered.
"I don't understand", I said. Under drawing well I imagined a big basin into which water is released and this water, I thought, would be drawn out of the basin with buckets.
I explained this to my neighbour. He waved aside my ideas and said "No, no, that's totally wrong, you misunderstand something", he repeated.
As I was confident that he was mistaken and not me, I went on to try and convince him of my point of view. He wouldn't let himself be swayed, though, and kept talking to me "Listen, no water is flowing out of a drawing well! You misunderstand something. No water is flowing out of a drawing well. Just listen!"
Me "Yes, I do listen. But in my opinion water is not flowing out of a drawing well but into it. And that you can scoop the water out of the basin. To be specific it is a fountain that is spouting water and – I very much stressed the "and" – a drawing well.
My neighbour "No, there is no water flowing into the drawing well. In a drawing well water is standing. It is standing. From a drawing well groundwater can be drawn."
Neighbour "A drawing well has a shaft and from this shaft water is drawn with a bucket."
Finally my conception of a drawing well vanished into thin air and I could understand what my neighbour meant: "Ah, you mean a well with a deep shaft in which you can send down a bucket on a rope… I didn't think about that at all, I'm sorry, I think I have never seen such a well in Vienna. Wells like this I only know from knight's castles."
"Today there are practically no drawing wells in Vienna anymore, you are right", my neighbour said, "but in the past they were the foundation for the water supply in Vienna. At the beginning of the 19th century there were 10.000 drawing wells in Vienna."
"10.000!" I shouted, "that's really incredible!" My big astonishment was a small compensation for him for my previous stubbornness.
"But what I still wanted to tell you about the fountain that gave the Brunnenmarkt its name…" my neighbour continued, "the special thing about this fountain was that it was fed by the water conduit of the imperial court, with fresh drinking water from the forest Wienerwald. At the time only around 400 houses in Vienna were provided with water of this quality."
"Only 400?!" I exclaimed in astonishment and with enthusiasm for this topic, still trying to make up for my previous ignorance.
When I tried to imagine the happiness people might have felt when a fountain with imperial water was built in their neighbourhood, a burdensome idea occurred to me, "Assuming I was thirsty before going to bed and had forgotten to bring water during the day, I would have to walk all the way to the fountain and back on foot. And on the way back I would have to carry a heavy bucket. And all that right before bedtime."
My neighbour laughed. "I don't think you would have forgotten to bring water. But even if you had – for cases like this there were people who made their living by bringing water to others. For example so-called water men who would roam the streets with water barrels or water women who would bring water into the houses.
"But were they still out and about at 11 o'clock the night?"
"I assume they were but I can't tell you for sure. I will try to find out and let you know."
My neighbour obviously didn't lack a sense of mission, which he also demonstrated with the suggestion he made afterwards.
"Do you feel like doing something crazy with me?"
"What is it that you want to do?"
"I want to bring my water from the fountain like 200 years ago. I already got a zinc tub. I have another one for you as well if you want to. In this heat there is nothing more refreshing!"
"As much as I love zinc tubs and time travels – I have to think about that first."
"Think about it… maybe over a cup of coffee on Brunnenmarkt? I would like to invite you… on the way I could show you the drinking fountain which I want to get the water from."
We set out, inspected the fountain and drank coffee in one of the wonderful cafés on Brunnenmarkt. In the evening we changed to beer and when the night was falling, we drank a toast to my approval to participate in his experiment. Before midnight we filled our first buckets at the fountain and carried the precious commodity home to our flats.
The Brunnenmarkt on the Vienna city map: Location of the Brunnenmarkt
Drawing: Sandra Biskup
Text: Simon Kovacic