Himmelsleiter in St Stephan’s Vienna extended until September 2021

Since Easter Sunday 2021, Billi Thanner’s Himmelsleiter rises into the Viennese sky illuminated in neon gold on the south tower of St. Stephan’s Cathedral. The Himmelsleiter is the most recent work of the Viennese artist. Now it shines in the Viennese nights as a symbol of hope until September 30, 2021, as its exhibition has been extended.

The Himmelsleiter (ladder to heaven), which was conceived by the Viennese artist for this year´s Easter celebration, consists of a neon ladder starting inside St. Stephan’s Cathedral, at the baptistery, piercing the vault and then leading up to the top of the south tower, starting at a height of 90 meters and reaching a height of 136 meters. The installation consists of two parts – one inside St. Stephan’s Cathedral – 18 meters high with 21 rungs -and another at the southern tip of the south tower – 36 meters high with 33 rungs. Both ladders are made from aluminum and neon and are painted in golden yellow. In order to withstand the elements – wind and rain – to which the ladder installed on the top of the tower will be exposed again and again, Billi Thanner designed the ladder in such a way that both spars taper off progressively towards the top.

„The view from the bottom up, is the first rung, itself only preparation for the preparation, and if you look more closely, it actually begins with the last rung. Humans often go beyond themselves in many ways, and each time they do so, they fill their very lives with meaning. The Jacob’s ladder as a ladder of meaning, as many times as it takes for us to realize that the lowest rung is the same as the highest. To me, it means that we live life on different levels and ranks. But the Jacob’s ladder teaches us also that it doesn’t matter which life we live, but on which level. No one needs to worry, but that may only become clear to us when we are standing on the upper rungs of the Jacob’s ladder“

– explains Billi Thanner the meaning the Jacob’s ladder has for her.

Looking up also means to give free rein to one’s longings, desires and hopes, to grant oneself courage, strength and perseverance, to recharge one’s batteries and confidence, to long for the best for oneself and for all, regardless of gender, age, religion and culture.


The Jacob’s ladder (or celestial ladder) symbolizes the ascent and descent between heaven and earth. This symbol goes back to a biblical story from the Old Testament. During his flight from his twin brother Esau from Be’er Sheva to Harran, Jacob, son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham, sees the Jacob’s ladder in a dream vision. On it the dreamer sees the angels of God ascending and descending. In the Gospel of John in the New Testament, the image of the Jacob’s ladder is typologically transferred to Jesus Christ, who in the Christian religion died for mankind as the Son of God, rose again and ascended into heaven.


In the performance The 33 virtues, which took place as a part of the blessing of the Himmelsleiter by cathedral parish priest Toni Faber in St. Stephan’s Cathedral, Billi Thanner illustrated the concept of the Himmelsleiter. Each of the 33 rungs of the ladder, which sits at the top of the south tower stands for one of the 33 virtues chosen by Billi Thanner and which for her represent the guideline for our human coexistence.

Billi Thanner thematizes human action in terms of our moral and ethical behavior. „What shall I do?““How do I behave properly?” These are questions, which accompany and occupy all humans their whole lives in the most diverse situations and contexts when it comes to human dignity, spirit of liberty and tolerance in human coexistence. Which standards of good and just behavior do we apply when problems and conflicts arise from the different interests of individual people, regardless of gender, age, religion and culture?

Together with 32 dancers, Billi Thanner, under the choreographic direction of Nadja Puttner, illustrated the virtues she has chosen. Each virtue was performed by a dancer. The artist herself embodied the virtue spirit of liberty.

„For me, spirit of liberty is the expression and means of individual self-realization and the only innate right of every human being, from which other basic rights follow at best, without therefore being equal to it. The Performance ‘The 33 virtues’ illustrates what ‘spirit of liberty’ means and how strongly other virtues such as ‘courage’, ‘determination’, ‘bravery’, ‘justice’ and ‘respect’ are connected to it. If we are aware of ‘spirit of liberty’, which also presupposes ‘being able to be oneself’, also towards ‘the other being oneself’, we realize that only with “collective steadfastness” – the collective cohesion – the individual can exist in the community and is supported by it. It is not the individual virtues that arbitrarily lead to something worthy of our concept of morality, but possibly the totality of them all.”

(Billi Thanner)

Billi Thanner’s artistic works are dedicated to beauty. Since the early 1990s she has been working as a visual artist. Her work spans a range of genres like painting, sculpture, sculptural intervention, spatial installation, action and performance, and is dedicated to the relationship between humans, nature, art and society. For her actions and performances, which are designed in an interdisciplinary way, the artist regularly invites creative artists from various disciplines – theater, music, dance, fashion and design – as well as friends to participate. With a self-confident, powerful and impulsive visual language Billi Thanner addresses the imbalance between social, economic and ecological actions: shallowness, excessive consumption and throwaway mentality, exploitation of human labor and nature, environmental pollution and waste of resources. But always at the center is the human being.

HIMMELSLEITER Installation / concept Billi Thanner; Production Franz Böhm GmBH, Vienna, Lichtwerkstatt Knoll, Vienna, KS Ingenieure ZT GmbH, Vienna, Wolfgang Markl | Metalltechnik, Vienna, Elektro Pokorny Wien; Assembly / Project management and project coordination Daniel Müller; Assembly / management Mario Buchwald und Jürgen Kerschner; Assembly / statics Matthäus Groh; Assembly / climber Sebastian Cozzarin, Thomas Horak, Daniel Jaworsky, Paul Lehner, Christian Procháska, David Skidelsky, Harald Strizel; Assembly / electrics Draga Jankovic, Obrand Negić, Srdjan Radivojevic, Alexander Rantz;Wolfgang Zehetner, Cathedral architect and St. Stephan´s Cathedral workshop.

THE 33 VIRTUES Performance / concept Billi Thanner; Choreographic direction Nadja Puttner; Solists Bianca Anne Braunesberger, Mara Kluhs, Nadja Puttner; Makeup, costumes Wolfgang Reichl; Light and sound Bernhard Scholz; Sound design Rebecca Rapp; Audio engineer Martin Fisch; Video production Sam Masghati; Photos Jenni Koller.