Red Vienna

To an observant visitor of the less touristy parts of Vienna, letterings like the above become a regular sight. What these inscriptions have in common are the words ‘Gemeinde Wien’, which translates as ‘municipality of Vienna’, plus a year range, in this case ‘from 1929 to 1930’.

Behind these inscriptions hides the fascinating story of radical politics carried out a hundred years ago. The programme included large scale building of housing, creation of green spaces, exemplary welfare programmes for children and the elderly, rethinking the role of women, that of leisure activities and health, as well as culture.

All this was undertaken in the decades after the end of the First World War. And its results last into the present day. I would argue these measures a century ago play a key role in the regular high ranking of Vienna in international comparisons for quality of life.

In May 1919, Viennese men and women had the full vote for the first time. The background was terrible poverty of huge numbers of inhabitants following the lost war. The number of Viennese had swollen to 2.2 million by 1914, significantly more than today’s 1.9 million.

An example of an early infographic – the number of inhabitants of Vienna 1849 to 1923

With an absolute majority behind him, Jacob Reumann was elected as the first social democratic mayor. He and his party proceeded to introduce reforms under the headline ‘Light, Air and Sun’. A recent exhibition, ‘Red Vienna 1919-1934′, illustrated this period in all its facets.

In a short time, some 400 buildings with 64,000 modern, high-quality, affordable flats were built, financed by an earmarked tax for housebuilding. After 1945, the programme of housebuilding continued, albeit at a slower rate. It is these blocks of flats that proudly carry the inscriptions that you see above.

Today, a council department called ‘Wiener Wohnen’, is responsible for the housing of 500,000 Viennese. Wiener Wohnen is the largest property manager in Europe, with 220,000 flats under management, representing 31% of the total number of households in Vienna.

Karl Marx Hof, the best known of Vienna’s municipal buildings, has been modernised and flats enlarged from their original 1930s size