Red Vienna book cover

The Key to Red Vienna: Book review

The year 2019 saw the centenary of the creation of Red Vienna, in other words, the period of majority municipal government of the Austrian capital by the Social Democratic Party. The term ‘Red Vienna,’ which was in fact coined by a Christian Socialist opponent, has long functioned as a placeholder for Vienna’s progressive city administration as well as, more generally, the left of centre cultural and intellectual life that flourished in the 15 years between 1919 and 1934, when the newly installed dictatorship of Engelbert Dollfuss (1892–1934) brought it to a halt.

However, beyond this general summary, how might we characterise Red Vienna and what does it mean for us in the present? Undoubtedly, its most visible monuments are the communal housing blocks that were constructed around the city: the so-called Ringstrasse of the proletariat. These have been the subject of intense interest and study, especially the Gargantuan Karl-Marx-Hof (1927–33) designed by Karl Ehn (1884–1957), and, as one of the main locations of the brief civil war fought in February 1923, a highly important lieu de mémoire.[1] Another example, the Winarsky Hof, has been mentioned on this blog in an article discussing the monument to Ferdinand Lassalle erected there. Yet ‘Red Vienna’ was a much more complex phenomenon, and it is this complexity that the anthology edited by Rob Macfarland, Georg Spitaler and Ingo Zechner, Das Rote Wien / The Red Vienna Sourcebook, attempts to convey.

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Artwork of the Month, January 2021: Japan – The Land of Contrasts by Alice Schalek (1925)

‘How much does the Austrian President Masaryk receive as his salary?’[1] Alice Schalek (1874–1956) was asked this question by a Japanese reporter in Tokyo during her journey there in 1923–24. Perceptions changed a lot after the First World War. The enterprising and renowned traveller Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (1850–1937) had evidently been more successful with his countless diplomatic trips and obtained more publicity than the actual leaders of the first Austrian Republic, such as Karl Renner (1870–1950) or, later, Ignaz Seipel (1876–1932). And this might as well describe Schalek’s mission and the purpose of her trips: venturing into political affairs and social events in foreign countries and utilising them to promote herself (and, to a lesser extent, the interests of Austria). For this, the journalist and photographer Schalek literally had to explore new ways of entrepreneurship, especially as a woman travelling the world on her own.

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Eternal and Blissfully Unaware: Unser Land mit Unsern Augen (1949) and Austrian Cultural Amnesia after 1945

Our Artwork of the Month in April 2020 was Columbus in der Slovakei (1936), a cultural travel guide by Leopold Wolfgang Rochowanski (1888–1961) that introduced Slovak modern art, architecture and, mainly, folk culture to the unaware German-speaking reader. This post is a follow-up: though Columbus was a financial disaster, and almost drove its publisher EOS-Verlag into ruin, Rochowanski pursued the idea of publishing more travel guides of the same sort. Writing to various institutions and government agencies across Europe, he proposed travel guides to the Czech Lands, the Sudetenland, Austria, and the Netherlands in the late 1930s, all of which were rejected amid growing political tensions and a dire economic situation. However, the author eventually succeeded after the Second World War, publishing a cultural travel guide to Austria with the Österreichische Buchgemeinschaft (Austrian book club) in 1949. At this point Austria, whose population had eagerly supported National Socialism, yearned to reinvent itself in an effort to overcome the past, and officials such as Chancellor Karl Renner focused on promoting an Austrian identity that was separate from that of Germany. Against this background, Rochowanski’s second travel guide, Unser Land mit unsern Augen (Our Land with our Eyes), shows that the theme of continuity and rupture, which the CRAACE project focuses on around 1918, recurred around the historical break of 1938–1945. Given that the book had already been written in 1938 but was only published later, as its epilogue reveals, it raises some important questions about new beginnings and a lingering past, which bring to light striking continuities in Austria before and after 1945.

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