“Das Rote Wien” – The Architecture of Red Vienna (Between Two Wars)

“Das Rote Wien” – The Architecture of Red Vienna (Between Two Wars)

Das-Rote-Wien-2This walk was crafted to help visitors encounter an era of Vienna that is truly off the beaten trail, one which travellers seldom manage to discover on their own even though it is well worth the excursion. The end of World War I brought about the collapse of the Austro­ Hungarian Empire and with it the disappearance overnight of six hundreds of years of Hapsburg rule. In this moment of shocking transition, Austria was changed forever from the capital of a powerful empire to the major city of a small republican country. Marking this seismic transformation, the elections held in 1919 saw the socialists win the absolute majority in Vienna’s city government, a position of power they kept hold of until 1934, a fifteen year window which is now known as “Red Vienna”.

Das-Rote-Wien-3Unsurprisingly, the new socialist city government was full of ideals and ambitions for how they could lead Vienna out of the rubble of Austria’s defeat and into a new era. Many of the political leaders that rose to prominence in this moment of startling change had earnest aspirations to create a more equal society with better conditions for Vienna’s teeming lower class population. To that end, they introduced numerous legislative initiatives in the areas of labors rights and public housing. While tourists understandably flock to view Vienna’s imperial palaces, legendary coffee houses, and regal museums, very few travelers ever experience the fascinating and gargantuan art deco public housing estates that were built in the 1920s and 30s on the outskirts of the city. But 60,000 such new apartments were constructed between 1925 and 1934, apartments that came to house a full ten percent of the post­war Viennese population. An exploration of these complexes reveals the reformist and utopian ideologies that dominated Vienna for this short­lived, ephemeral 15 year window “between the wars.” These estates are striking to wander through and discuss because they were built to be ideal worlds with small but practical housing units, common baths, public squares and communal green areas, with spaces allotted for shops, libraries, theaters, kindergartens, medical clinics, laundromats and political clubs.

During this walk, you visit two such “council” estates, first the most famous and largest, “The Karl Marx Hof” (1927-19­30) dubbed the “Ringstrasse of the Proletariot” and built by urban planner Karl Ehn, a follower of the city’s famous Art Nouveau architect, Otto Wagner. A short metro ride away, we visit the Reumannhof (1924) . In the company of a historian, you will learn about the political vision behind the civic functions incorporated into these housing complexes as well as the sophisticated modern aesthetic philosophies that were boldly introduced into the buildings’ designs in the hopes of creating humble but charming and beautiful details in an Art Deco vernacular to provide lower middle class and working class Viennese with a new sense of community, sociability and social uplift.

Das-Rote-Wien-4While our walk unabashedly celebrates the little known populism that flourished in Vienna during this period (a populism which provides a striking contrast to the imperial splendor which tourists are routinely served as the “end all and be all” of Viennese history), we also frankly discuss the clumsy propaganda of the socialist politicians and the naïve failings of their attempts to produce a utopian solution the massive post­war social problems of the city. The years of “Rote Wien” were by no means life on the bright side. In the end, insurmountable economic devastation led both to the defeat of Vienna’s socialist minute and to the Nazi’s takeover of Austria in 1938. Nevertheless, we cannot say that Vienna’s socialists failed to predict their own fragility. It is also no coincidence that even while these estates were designed to promote a new ethos of public health, sociability and communal identity, they resemble fortresses. They were equally intended to be easy to defend in case of attack. In fact, we could say that, Red Vienna’s socialist politicians and their architects were prophets in this regard. in 1934, thousands of the residents of the Karl Marx Hof complex barricaded themselves inside against the rise of the fascist to power and held off the estate, in a three day revolt that was only crushed by the use of heavy artillery against the buildings (buildings still occupied by women and children).

FelicitasKonecnyFelicitas Konecny

Felicitas Konecny studied architecture in Graz, Naples and Vienna. As a student she organized conferences, co-founded a research group, wrote articles, held seminars and worked freelance at architectural firms. This wide-ranging experience led her to a position as the secretary of the Austrian Society for Architecture (1997-2003). Five times she was a co-curator of the biennial Architecture Days in Vienna, from 2005–2010 she edited a program on architecture for Vienna‘s Community-TV-Channel „Okto“. In 2012, she became a licensed Austrian tour guide. Her tours are mainly focused on the urban development of Vienna from the origins to the present day and architecture in its respective socioeconomic, political, cultural, and aesthetic context. What makes Viennese architecture special to her: the multifaceted interplay of buildings from all ages in this historic city and the prominent role of social/affordable housing as a motor for innovation and a challenge for the best architects. Although an enthusiastic native Viennese, she despises cliches and is happy about visitors with a critical eye.

Reinhard Travnicek

Reinhard Travnicek studied literature, cultural science and pedagogy at the Universities of Salzburg, Graz and Vienna. He earned his PhD with a thesis about Henri Michaux and French post-surrealistic literature and art.  His published articles focus on literary criticism and cultural history. Since 1986, Reinhard began to work cultural tourism and cultural pedagogy. As a lecturer at the University of Graz, his main research topics are Italian and European Renaissance, Baroque and the Fin-de-siècle. At present, Reinhard is working on a study about late Italian Renaissance and the Counter Reformation. His research activities have always been very stimulating for his professional work as a cultural guide opening up the great city of Vienna and its history to travelers.


Starting Location:
Anker Bakery, Heiligenstadt Bahnhof
1190 Vienna, Austria

Not included: You will need to use public transport a few times, since the distances between some key sites would be too far to walk.  If you will not have a few days visitor's transit pass to Vienna already, we suggest that you purchase the day metro pass.  If you cannot purchase it in advance, your guide will help you  purchase it at the first metro station on the tour


Groups of over 10 should contact us at [email protected] in order to get a special rate for their party.

Cancellation and Tipping

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