TikTok made me want to study abroad in Vienna, Austria. During Covid, I was stuck on the travel side of TikTok, scrolling and scrolling, dreaming of all of the amazing international travel I would do when the pandemic was over. One day, I came upon a video posted by a girl who’d studied abroad in Vienna prior to covid, and how she and her friends were able to attend a ball together! I was in shock that balls like you would see in Bridgerton or other regency-era shows still existed, in all of their grandeur.
Upon doing some more research, I found out that the city of Vienna hosts more than 400 balls every year from November until February. Each has its own theme based on the guild or association that is hosting it. For example, the Opera Ball is one of the most famous, it happens every January and the State Opera creates a ballroom in place of its typical stage. Countless celebrities have attended magical occasions such as this over the years.
I was sold. Vienna was going to be my study-abroad destination! And, as we began to get further into the semester, I started doing a lot of research on which balls I could possibly attend, as the majority of them don’t happen until after the New Year. After asking around and doing my own research, I came upon two that I could attend with my friends: the Rauchfangkehrer Ball and the Rotskreuz Ball. A Rauchfangkehrer is the Austrian German word for a chimney sweeper, and just as four-leaf clovers are a symbol of luck to Americans and Irish people, a chimney sweeper is a symbol of luck to the Austrians, so I felt very lucky to be attending this ball as my first one.
The Rauchfangkehrer ball was the one that officially opened the ball season on November 11th, 2022, and it was hosted in Palais Ferstel, a beautiful 19th-century event space built originally to house the Austrian National bank. Now, it serves as an event space with a gorgeous ballroom and decadent wood paneling on the roof. The ball opened at 9:00 pm with the waltzing of the debutantes, men and women who have trained at a Tanzschule in Vienna for several years and are well-versed in the art of waltzing, something that I am not very well-versed in.
In order to buy tickets, the process varies for each ball. We submitted a form via email to the Rauchfangkehrer Association to register for the ball and reserve a table. The admission fee came with a place at a table, so it was sixty euros per person. The Rotskreuz Ball had a slightly different process, as their booking platform was completely digitized. We bought our forty-five euro entrance tickets online. We did not have a seat at a table at the Rotskreuz ball, since the tickets with seating were ninety euros, and we figured there would be stairs to sit on, which there were, in case our feet got too sore.
We all got dressed up to the nines, going out a few days before to find long dresses, gloves, and accessories. The Rauchfangkehrer Ball was a little less formal than some of the ones that happen later in the season, people were wearing cocktail attire rather than the strict black and white tie attire that some of the other balls often require. There were a few different bands who performed throughout the night, and at midnight, instead of the typical quadrille that will be danced, they brought out a 70s-cover band who played hits from Abba and other famous artists. It was so much fun!
Balls typically last until about 4 am or 5 am in the morning, but both times we were so tired and our feet hurt so badly, we ended up back in our beds before 3 am. Pro-tip: bring an extra pair of sneakers and check them at the Garderobe so that as you’re walking home, your feet can breathe. We made the mistake of forgetting extra shoes for after the Rauchfangkehrer ball, so we walked home barefoot, and then spent an extra thirty minutes scrubbing the grime off of our feet before going to bed! Even a city as clean and well-cared-for as Vienna will have dirty sidewalks!
The Red Cross Ball was just as fun, but it definitely had more of an air of formality to it. The venue was the Rathaus Festsaal, which is a beautiful space about two times the size of the ballroom in Palais Ferstel. There were so many people there! We tried dancing the waltz several times, only to end up stepping on each other’s feet, but the MCs at the ball did instruct everyone how to dance the quadrille and some of the other popular group dances.
I can now say that I have been to a ball. Wow. It’s amazing to think back on both nights, and it feels as if they were a part of a dream. This is something that I have been waiting so eagerly to check off my bucket list, and the experience did not disappoint. I cannot wait to come back to Vienna another time and hopefully attend more balls. I’m hooked!
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Hi! My name is Grace Heaton and I am thrilled to be studying abroad in Vienna during the Fall 2022 semester. I am an incoming Sophomore at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA studying Marketing, French, and German. In my free time I enjoy traveling, learning languages, listening to music, going to coffee shops, and adventuring with friends! I am excited to immerse myself in Austrian culture this fall, and can't wait to see where this journey takes me!