The Ringstrasse of the Proletariat

Saturday, 28.07.2018

Vienna has a large number of iconic buildings that emphasise different periods in the city’s history. The Karl-Marx-Hof represents the period that is referred to as ‘Rotes Wien’ or Red Vienna.

Karl-Marx-Hof

Karl-Marx-Hof

Der Sämann (The Sower) by Otto Hofner

Der Sämann (The Sower) by Otto Hofner

By 1919 Vienna became the only city in the western world that with a population of over one million inhabitants had a social democratic city council. This city council was faced with an acute housing crisis which prompted them to initiate a communal social experiment. This experiment was characterised by progressive policies on housing, welfare and education culminating in ‘Gemeindebauten’ or large- scale community housing. These were self- contained, densely populated estates that were dispersed throughout the growing metropolis. This was different to similar developments across Europe which took the shape of satellite settlements. The largest and most famous ‘Gemeindebau’ is the Karl-Marx-Hof designed by Karl Ehn and built in 1926-30. The building is 1 km long and has 1,382 apartments for around 5,500 residents. The facility included many amenities such as baths, laundries, kindergartens, hairdressers, doctors surgeries, shops and a library.

the semi-circluar gates

the semi-circluar gates

detail

detail

The strong symmetrical composition of the central part of the building enhances the grandness of the scheme. This symmetry is achieved by the four towers and two corner towers which include balconies and semi- circular gates that are reminiscent of a fortress. The towers are further defined by the salmon red colour set against the lighter yellow for the rest of the building. These towers do seems to echo a majestic picture of heroic industrial workers marching with their muscular arms linked.

The only element of decoration are the sculptures above the semi- circular arches.

These coloured ceramic figures were designed by Josef Franz Riedl and represent ‘Aufklärung’ (Enlightenment), ‘Befreiung’ (Liberation), ‘Kinderfürsorge’ (Child welfare) and ‘Körperkultur’ (Physical culture).

Josef Franz Riedl's 'Körperkultur'

Josef Franz Riedl’s ‘Körperkultur’

The communal living earned the building the name ‘The Ringstrasse of the Proletariat’ and became part of another chapter in Vienna’s history when fascists stormed the building in the 1934 uprising. Until this day the building has full occupancy.

Das Rote Wien im Waschsalon is a museum dedicated to the Karl-Marx-Hof and the new Vienna of the 1920s and 1930s; see http://dasrotewien-waschsalon.at. The museum is in the former Waschsalon or communal bathroom.

Waschsalon housing the museum 'Das Rote Wien- Waschsalon'

Waschsalon housing the museum ‘Das Rote Wien- Waschsalon’