Austria Post AG

Who says visiting a post office can't be fun? Part of my visit to Oesterreichische Post (Austria Post) turns into an Indiana Jones-Raiders of the Lost Ark-type adventure.

First, some interesting history on the post office's six-story building two blocks from Vienna's Stephanplatz, the city center plaza that is home to the city's magnificent cathedral. Main parts of the building were once the Barbara seminary of the Society of Jesus for which St. Barbara's Church, integrated in the building, was erected in 1672. In 1775, after abolition of the Society of Jesus, Empress Maria Theresia dedicated St. Barbara's Church, and the building, to the Uniate (Catholic) Greek Church. Emperor Joseph II then had the ancient seminary building seized to lodge state offices. Later it was dedicated to the Imperial Postal Administration. In 1861 the Ministry of Commerce and National Economy moved in. In 1923 finally, once the state offices for Commerce and Public Works had left, Austria Post took over the whole ancient seminary building. So, what you see when standing out front of the building entrance is a block-long building wrapped more than half-way around an over 300-year old, still in use church.

With 30,000 employees and 1.6 billion Euros in revenues, Austria Post is 100% owned by the Austrian government. This bureaucratic upbringing hasn't curtailed the good folks from introducing some important innovations in history. Did you know Austrian postmaster Johann Georg Khumer introduced the first modern postmark in 1787? Or that the postcard was an Austrian innovation in 1869?

Johannes Angerer from the Press Department is my contact person and tour guide as we go from top to bottom. About 500 people work here. Smoking is allowed in offices, senior management gets reserved parking spots, it's 30 minutes to Vienna Airport, there's no formal dress code, there's a fitness center (including Ping-Pong) with showers and, ceremonial rooms on the first floor that are named after their décor--such as the Mahogany and Baroque Rooms.

Director General Anton Wais (CEO) occupies a corner office on the fourth floor. I note the fresh lilies, desktop computer and the five-framed stamps hanging on the walls.

Go back several hundred years and Vienna was a maze of underground tunnels and catacombs. These tunnels ran for several miles and served several purposes. Goods could be delivered in all kinds of bad weather AND Austria's Emperors had emergency escape routes from the Imperial Palace. So, Angerer calls up one of his colleagues in the know and it's off we go. With one flashlight amongst the three of us we scale down ladders and crawl on all fours through spiderweb-laden dirt pathways. Man, it is REALLY spooky and if you're claustrophobic-forget it. Imagine having to do this sans flashlight and only candles. Several pathways take us to dead ends that have been bricked-up. I actually expected to encounter the remains of some poor soul who had mistakenly taken a wrong turn and ended up hopelessly lost.

Heading to the basement of the building we check out Austria Post's archive. There's a spiffy collection of antique mailboxes, horns and stamps. It's too bad they don't have the space to open a museum and properly display these items.

Angerer doesn't let me leave empty-handed as I'm given a bright yellow official rain jacket worn by postal employees. Hey, I wonder if wearing it while biking in the rain people will confuse me with Lance Armstrong?