Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Vienna Museum: Kampf um die Stadt

The Wien Museum (Vienna city history museum) has a great exhibition on right now called "Kampf um die Stadt - Politik, Kunst und Alltag um 1930" which I would loosely translate as: "Battle for the city - politics, art and everyday life in 1930". The exhibition runs until March 28, 2010, and I recommend it highly.

The exhibition is about the years following World War I until about 1934. One of the main themes is the 'practical' socialism that was introduced in the city of Vienna during this period. After WW I the Social Democrats came to power in Vienna, a city of almost 2 million people. Vienna did not fit very well with the rest of Austria which was mostly agricultural and quite conservative. Vienna, in contrast, was a modern industrial city with a huge number of workers. There was great fear in Austria that Vienna's workers would lead a Communist revolution, but the Social Democrats focused instead on "practical improvements" that would lead in the long run to socialism.

The Social Democrats' practical improvements included a huge public housing program (the city still owns over 200,000 apartments and continues to build new public housing), kindergartens and health clinics, schools, and one of my favorites: a box of diapers, baby blankets and clothes which was given to new mothers (this was quite important because many people were poor). The exhibition has a great film of children in one of the public housing project's parks being taught how to brush their teeth.

One interesting fact is that Vienna was able to pay for these programs because it was made a separate Austrian state in the early 1920s. This gave the city a relatively large budget and the leaders chose to spend the money on social programs. A key problem in many US cities is the lack of funding created by inner cities being separated from the more prosperous suburbs that depend on the city; Vienna was (and still is) a very large city in terms of area and it includes many 'suburban' areas with high income. This helps explain how Vienna has been able to maintain and improve its impressive quality of life.

I have been on two tours organized by the museum in conjunction with the exhibition. On the first tour we visited several public housing projects (I hate using the word 'project' here because it brings to mind the idea of US public housing projects and the ones in Vienna are completely different) in the Margaretenguertel area of Vienna - the so-called Ringstrasse of the Proletariat. One of the public housing complexes is shown in the top photo.

On the second exhibition we visited some of the sites where there were actual battles between the Social Democrats and the conservative parties which controlled the national government. The first site we visited, Karl Marx Hof, is one of the public housing complexes built in the 1920s and is really an impressive site (see photo). The Austrian Army actually had to bring out the artillery to battle the residents.

My photos of both tours are available on my flickr site Wien Museum set.

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