Karl-Marx-Hof: Austria′s Socialist Heritage

The Karl-Marx-Hof, the fortress of Vienna's socialists

For historic reasons, Austria has an international reputation for being conservative. I hope this website succeeds in giving an image that this is true in some instances, but very ambivalent in some others. In the case of Vienna, there was only one very short period of coalition governments involving the conservative people′s party - otherwise, the Social Democrats have ruled their bastion for many decades with a solid absolute majority.

The nostalgic spirit of Viennese Socialism can be best observed on the first of May, when ten thousands of usually geriatric fans of the Social Democrats gather and dream about of the revolution: The Day of Labour.

In fact, despite of the "almost a" civil war between Socialists and Conservatives in the 1920ies, Austrian socialism was always rather pragmatic and deeply influenced by the doctor, philanthropist and Socialist thinker Victor Adler, who propagated the idea that there is no point in seeking too much of a conflict with conservatives for the time being, since the revolution is inevitable anyway.

Introduction to Vienna′s Socialist Heritage

The heyday of the "Red Vienna" was in the 1920ies, when its policy of public spending was the clear opposite of the province′s pro-economy saving policy. Vast numbers of apartment houses were built, the public transportation system developed, pleasure facilities and all sorts of other infrastructure built from scratch.

Especially the policy of building apartments for underprivileged people became a huge success in winning the hearts of the Viennese. The program lived on and on and is still pursued - new apartment blocks are built by the city of Vienna every year and the city is Austria′s biggest owner of real estate.

On contrast to the apartment blocks of Socialist countries in Eastern Europe, those in Vienna are actually very well-designed. They are sprinkled around the city to avoid the formation of ghettos and urban development researchers from all over the World use them as a model system. When the "Karl-Marx-Hof" was built in the 1920ies, it was the biggest apartment block in Europe - and it became an icon for the Socialists in this crucial time.

The Karl-Marx-Hof as a battle ground

Referred to as a "people′s palace" (which is a bit of a euphemism), the building stretches for over a kilometre along the Danube in the neighbourhood of Heiligenstadt. Its peach and orange coloured arches and towers make it easy to identify it as an expressionist building.

Conservatives didn′t like to see the Karl-Marx-Hof growing into something resembling a fortress. They were already aware of the danger of a civil war and blamed the socialists to work on a building for military rather than civilian use. In fact, socialist fighters fled into the Karl-Marx-Hof during the fights of 1934, but the mighty-looking walls turned out to crumble quite quickly under artillery fire of the conservative army. It took only a few days to crush the resistance of the badly trained labourers and to open the door for the period of Austro-fascism, which lasted until the Anschluss in 1938.

Today, the Karl-Marx-Hof is still a residential building and probably the most famous one in Vienna. It is by far not the biggest one anymore, though - much larger ones can be found in districts like Donaustadt or Favoriten. No reason to see these, though, unless you study urban development. Otherwise, the Karl-Marx-Hof is the only "Gemeindebau" ("Community Building") really worth visiting.

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Vienna by District

District Overview - 1st (Innere Stadt) - 2nd (Leopoldstadt) - 3rd (Landstraße) - 4th (Wieden) - 5th (Margareten)- 6th (Mariahilf) - 7th (Neubau) - 8th (Josefstadt) - 9th (Alsergrund) - 10th (Favoriten) - 11th (Simmering) - 12th (Meidling) - 13th (Hietzing) - 14th (Penzing) - 15th (Fünfhaus) - 16th (Ottakring) - 17th (Hernals) - 18th (Währing) - 19th (Döbling) - 20th (Brigittenau) - 21st (Floridsdorf) - 22nd (Donaustadt) - 23rd (Liesing) -  Ringstraße - Surroundings

Further Reading

Wikipedia on the Karl-Marx-Hof

Wikipedia on Viktor Adler