A Red-Letter Day in Vienna

First of all, we accidentally wandered into Vienna’s May Day celebrations this morning while out walking, and I am so mad I didn’t have my camera! Next year, I am definitely going out to take pictures. Here’s a photo from the newspaper, though.

SPO Rally at Rathausplatz

International Worker’s Day is a big deal here in “Red Vienna.” The Social Democratic Party holds a huge rally downtown. Party-organized groups from all over the area march in for the rally; many of them wear traditional clothing and are accompanied by brass oompah bands. Everyone waves Socialist red flags. Glenn Beck would probably drop dead of shock seeing all these old white people that look just like his fans waving their little red flags!

It is essentially a family event, though trouble has been known to crop up on occasion, and there were (as always) plenty of well-armed cops around. We ran across a noisy group of Turks yelling about something or other with flags depicting Che and other luminaries. Their music was better, though 🙂

What I didn’t know before is that this parade represents more than just support for a political party. Back in the bad old days, when the Austrofascists (Nazis) took over, they banned the socialist party, and May Day celebrations. In 1933, the Viennese simply all decided to take a walk on the Ring at the same time on the same day in protest. So, the May Day march and rally commemorate that event as well.

For May Day, the local American women’s’ club arranged a tour of the Waschsalon museum of “Red Vienna.” The museum gets its name from its location in the former communal baths of the enormous socialist housing project known as Karl Mark Hof. After WWI, the housing situation in Vienna was so bad that it basically led to the rise of the socialist party here. Taxes were raised, and dozens of housing complexes were built around the city, with apartments that, though tiny by modern standards, were considered to be a huge improvement at the time, with innovations like indoor plumbing and private kitchens!

Many of these complexes were designed by famous architects, and of course Austrians do not build anything shoddily. So, the Viennese are proud of their rather unattractive apartment buildings, which are generally in good condition to this day, and are gradually being renovated—though some continue to have shared toilets and communal showers.

In some ways, these complexes presaged contemporary New Urbanism. Open space and windows were emphasized because they were considered to be healthy. “Walkability” was a must, since cars were not common among the working classes. And, all the complexes were mixed-use, with small shops, restaurants, launderettes, libraries, and kindergartens located on lower floors. Socialist, or just plain smart?

Karl Marx Hof is the largest of these complexes and was considered a showpiece at the time. It was also the site of a battle during the short-lived Socialist resistance to the Austrofascist takeover in 1934, which eventually led to takeover by the German Nazis in the Anschluss of 1938. The Nazis renamed it Heilegenstädter Hof. In 1945, the Socialists restored the original name.

The museum is about the Hof and other historical aspects of Socialist Vienna: housing, healthcare, childcare, education, sports, and celebrations. I couldn’t understand all of the German information, but I have a weakness for Socialist Realism and enjoyed the posters, books, and other items that were displayed. (Click any photo to view captions.)


  1. Fine post, kelly. Just one tiny remark: the woman with the ( red?) flags was not a socialist
    party member of the 30s, but a female soviet soldier directing traffic at Opernkreuzung.
    The battle for Vienna ended at April 25, 1945, and there was no local police force of any
    kind for months to come. The red army took over. The poster ( which I didn’t know) is a
    photomontage, the main motive coming from a soviet propaganda shot. The wording
    is somewhat strange, because it’s supposed to show an “exercise of memory”, citing awful
    years for Vienna’s working class ( ’33 – dissolution of parliament, ’34 – civil war, ’38 – “Anschluss” )
    all summing up to the catatrophe of ’45. But I don’t really understand why 1918 is figuring
    among these – it was the end of Hapsburg reign and the start of the republic and democracy
    after all – and, with an equal rights voting-system ( women for the first time ), the start of “Red Vienna” too.
    PS. If you’re interested in less “heroic” versions of social housing at this period, I suggest
    a visit to Rabenhof, 3rd disrict, U3 Kardinal-Nagl-Platz.
    Keep posting, you’ve got local readers too!


    • Hey, thanks! I am constantly limited by my sketchy German–and what I can find online in English after I get home from these excursions!


    • You know, I just realized, I have a friend who lives near the Rabenhof, and I have walked past it several times. It is very nice!


      • If you haven’t walk through the courtyards yet, I’d encourage you to do so. The scale, layout, architecture and landscaping make for a most pleasant experience.


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