The plague pit

Time Travel takes you right back in time to Vienna's last major plague epidemic in 1679. How does a plague doctor look like and how does it feel to be in the middle a plague pit? At Time Travel you can experience how life in Vienna was at the time of the great plague and why the plague can be survived with humor, wine and songs.

The street musician Augustin became famous during the great plague of 1679. One day he falls down heavily drunk and is taken to a plague pit outside the city. It is not until the next morning that they hear him singing in the pit and help him out of it. Since then he is wellknown by the famous song "Oh dear Augustine".

Skyline Wien

Background information

The plague is still considered the worst disease in history. The plague was originally the name of any illness which had a plague-like and death-giving character. Already the Roman emperor Marc Aurel is said to have died in Vienna from the Pest.

The plague plagued the city of Vienna at regular intervals since the Middle Ages and was a fixed component in the life of the Viennese. Vienna suffered particularly from the great plague of 1679, which, like so many, was brought in from the east.

It was the time of the Baroque and the whole life seemed to be a theater. The Spanish etiquette at the court, the fashion with the gigantic rip-rounds and huge baroque wigs, the laced vests and the high-heeled shoes, to the differences of the individual social classes.

But in the streets and squares nothing had been changed since the Middle Ages. The alleys and lanes were still dark and narrow, partly unpaved and full of pits and marshes. There was an order to throw dirt or dead animals not in the streets, but to carry them outside of the city.

While in the Middle Ages, the cleansing of the bodies in bath houses, was a fixed part of the Viennese, they now feared the infection with syphilis there. The result was that powder, perfume and wigs were preferred. Fleas and lice increased enormously. The distinguished ladies wore honey-coated tubes under their skirts, in which the annoying parasites were to be caught. Physical hygiene was at a catastrophic low back then.

The physicians and bathers were perplexed by the situation.They had pest doctors looking after the people, the so-called “Schnabeldoctors”. They wore a long, waxed garment, and their face was protected by a mask with a beak shaped, like a duck’s beak. In this beak they put herbs and fluids, called Theriak, which served to protect the doctors of the "exhalations" of the patients.

They had gloves on their hands and they gave instructions with a pointing stick to avoid being too close to the patients. They tried to cure with bloodletting, sweat- and theriak treatments, but all of this could not prevent around 100,000 Viennese to die.

The last plague epidemic took place in Vienna in 1713. Due to better hygiene and eradication attempts of the rats they succeeded to keep down the plague around 1740.

It was not until 1894 that the Swiss Alexandre Yersin discovered the plague bacteria and the early introduction of antibiotics put an end to the constant threat in Vienna. However, the plague is not erradicated yet. In Madagascar, Congo, USA and Peru contamination is still possible and people still die of the plague.

The "Dear Augustin" (actually Markus Augustin) did exist and lived from 1643-1685 in St. Ulrich, today’s 7th district of Vienna. Due to his indestructible humor, the bagpipe player Augustin was important to the Viennese during the plague period.

He was officially known as the "dear Augustin" and so he stayed in our memory. He was a well-known singer and bagpipe player and preferred to entertain in inns such as the "Roter Hahn", the "Gelber Adler" or the beer house "Zum roten Dachl" at Fleischmarkt, today's restaurant “Griechenbeisl”.

In 1679, when the plague raged repeatedly in Vienna, the dear Augustin sits solitary in the Griechenbeisl, as most people stay at home, mourn about the bereaved and are afraid of further infections and thus do not leave the house.

So he drinks alone and then sways heavily drunk through the streets of Vienna, falls, stays lying down and immediately falls asleep deeply and firmly. So he does not notice when the plague servants with the cart full of carcasses put him on the same cart.

They tilt the dead into the plague pit near St. Ulrich, where today the Augustin Fountain stands. When morning dawns, Augustin awakens from his deep sleep and is dazed. He recognizes that he is sitting on a dead body, and it is already dawning to him what has happened.

Apart from fear and terror, he cries desperately for help, but no one can hear him. He takes his bagpipe and starts playing. Following the sound, the morning worshipper find Augustin in the plague pit.

They immediately help him out of the pit. It is a miracle that he spent the night with the dead without infecting himself. Augustin continues living for a long time and delights the Viennese with his music.

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