Vienna’s Gemeindebau (community housing) fascinates me. More than 60% of Viennese residents live in municipally-supported housing, and my structured wandering through the city’s districts in search of colorful mosaics or housing named for interesting people has so far been an enjoyable endeavor, but lacking the historical context and social nuances that a longtime resident could offer. A commenter on my blog offered to tour his favorite district with me, and recently I took him up on the offer. This may not have been a good idea, for I was spoiled by his hospitality and well-informed narrative as he navigated me through the district.
Erdberg is one of Vienna’s oldest settlements, and where Richard the Lionheart was captured after the unsuccessful Third Crusade. It was a sawmill village and important supplier to Vienna, and together with the former meat-packing warehouses in the surrounds formed a working-class core still in evidence today. My personal tour began at Hanusch Hof, one of the oldest Gemeindebau in Landstraße, Vienna’s third district that incorporates Erdberg and other villages. To be more accurate, my tour really began with coffee at the cafe in the building, a more proper Viennese start to the day, and a CliffNotes history of the city from the early 19th century on to put it all into perspective.
Hanusch Hof is named for a politician and founder of modern Austrian labor law. In the courtyard resides a bronze statute of an athlete placed in honor of Ferdinand Hanusch. According to my guide, the sculpture was removed in 1941, not because it did not fit the Nazi ideal of the “perfect male,” but rather, the metal was needed for the war effort. After the war the sculpture was recreated.
Austria’s oldest political party, the Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs maintains offices in the larger housing structures to keep residents current on relevant events.
In its time Hanusch Hof was considered modern with its shared indoor plumbing. Just our good fortune that a door to one of the buildings was open…
The shared bathrooms are no longer in use; and this section of the building appeared to be undergoing further modernization, as well.
As politicos are wont to do, the social democratic ruling class derived a bit of pleasure from constructing housing (the structures adjacent to the brownstone on both sides) amidst what they considered the petit bourgeoisie. “Your champagne tax is money better spent on others,” or something like that.
Of the Gemeindebau visited, Rabenhof was my favorite. A poetic name (Raven’s Court) that perfectly described this potpourri of building styles containing 1.000 flats; the community is practically a small city in and of itself. There are hidden gardens and shaded arcades, and romantic design elements among the green setting. A library, cafes, and other village-like amenities completed the lovely frame.
At the time of the construction (mid 1920’s) the elegant balconies were considered a bit petit bourgeoisie by the ruling social democrats. I think the curves compliment the neighborhood nicely.
Any guesses as to what this may be? It is not an exercise device, as I guessed, but a bar upon which to hang a carpet for brushing, and there is one is almost every Gemeindebau courtyard. My guide reported these are not much in use anymore, alas.
Later in the tour I was introduced to the next iteration of social housing in Vienna, GEWOG, Gemeinnützige Wohnbaugesellschaften. The closest contemporary in the U.S. would be a co-operative, with intercultural housing with shared responsibilities. More modern and ecologically friendly in design than traditional Gemeindebau, and now another research project for me during my tenure here, as these buildings too have Kunst am Bau.
Because much of the social housing in Erdberg was constructed post-WWI, the Kunst am Bau was fewer though not any less delightful to discover. This mosaic is of the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna, Franz Nagl, and a counselor to the Emperor.
Sometimes, the most artistic reminder of what was is often the mosaic that adorns the what is.
There were many other fascinating moments and memorable snaps and enjoyable conversation that I will treasure, along with my gift of a historical pictorial guide of Landstraße; and, indeed, as my guide suggested, lunch at one of the best British pubs in the area. Altogether, a tour of a part of this beautiful city was like none I shall likely have again. Mit meinen aufrichtigen Dank, reo.