Stock im Eisen: Vienna’s Nail Tree

Jul 25, 2017 1 comments

At the corner of the extravagant 19th century mansion, Palais Equitable, in the city of Vienna, Austria, is a glass case behind which is the midsection of an ancient tree. Its trunk is studded with hundreds of nails pounded over the centuries for good luck. Back in medieval Europe, hammering iron nails into living trees, wooden crosses and even rocks was a common practice, just as throwing coins into wishing wells or fountains is today. Sometimes, sick people would rub a nail on the afflicted part of their body and then hammer it into a tree hoping that the healthy wood would absorb their pain. The custom disappeared sometime around the late 19th centuries, and so did many of these so-called “nail trees”. The nail tree in Vienna is the oldest one still preserved.


Photo credit: Magdalena Niemirowicz/Wikimedia

The tree in Vienna is a spruce, estimated to be over 600 years old, and the first nails were driven into it while it was still alive. The practice went on for approximately forty years before the tree was felled, possibly in the year 1440. Nobody’s sure what happened to the felled tree for the next ninety-or-so years, until its name crept up in a written document in 1533. By then, it was already known by its current name Stock im Eisen or “staff in iron”, in German. In 1548, it stood at the corner of a small house that eventually gave way to Palais Equitable, which was built on the site in 1891.

There are significant gaps in the tree’s history, but written accounts indicate that in the 18th century people were still hammering nails into the trunk, especially by travelling locksmiths and their apprentices.

Theodore Nielsen, a Danish Kleinsmith Journeyman mentions the tree in his memoirs published in 1856.

Outside Stefan church was a place called "Stock im Eisen" and a boutique in which was a large portrait of a Danish King Frederik VI. The park gets its name from a large tree trunk that stands in one corner with an iron fence around it. The trunk is covered with iron nails so tight from the root up that one could not get room for even a needle between. It is a peculiar sight and this is the legend: Once upon a time there was a castle nearby with a gatelock that was so intricate that even another kleinsmith could not take it apart or unlock it. In the honor of the lock and in his memory every journeyman kleinsmith who found work in Vienna had to hammer a nail into the trunk. It had been there for many a year and was still worth seeing being protected as it is by local pride.

The legend that Nielsen describes is just one of many that surrounds Stock im Eisen. The most pervasive of these is that the Stock im Eisen is the last remaining tree of an ancient forest which once surrounded the medieval city of Vienna.

Related: The Strange Money Trees of England


Photo credit: Gnosos/Wikimedia


Photo credit: Gnosos/Wikimedia


Nail with tag from 1892. Photo credit:

Source: Wikipedia /


  1. Looks like that was a ritual for locksmiths! This is awesome!


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