De­ter­gent, Knack­wurst and So­cial­ism

The Waschsa­lon in the his­toric Karl Marx-hof shows how the So­cial Democrats shaped Vienna

METROPOLE - Vienna in English - - CONTENTS - By An­dreas Rainer

The mu­seum Das Rote Wien im Waschsa­lon li­on­izes Vienna's left-wing le­gacy in a fit­tingly pro­le­tar­ian set­ting.

The mu­seum Das Rote Wien im Waschsa­lon (Red Vienna at the Laun­dry Room) is cer­tainly un­usual: True to its name, the first thing you no­tice is the dis­tinc­tive smell of laun­dry de­ter­gent. And in­deed, there is a row of wash­ing machines on the ground floor, which two el­derly ladies are qui­etly feed­ing with linens as a group of flab­ber­gasted vis­i­tors make their way past them to the up­per floor and the ex­hi­bi­tion proper. Lo­cated in­side the for­mer pub­lic shower room of Laun­dry Room No. 2 of the Karl­marx-hof – the largest con­nected res­i­den­tial build­ing in the world, stretch­ing over four tram stops – these no-non­sense work­ing-class premises are a per­fect fit to chron­i­cle Vienna’s So­cial­ist le­gacy. As much as the iconic art deco build­ing host­ing it, the ex­hi­bi­tion is a dream come true for ev­ery la­bor leader or stu­dent ac­tivist. Heroes like found­ing fa­ther Vik­tor Adler are hon­ored, dis­play cases are filled with po­lit­i­cal news­pa­pers and satir­i­cal mag­a­zines. Pam­phlets and books from rev­o­lu­tion­ary thinkers are in­ter­spersed with videos of the con­struc­tion of Vi­en­nese land­marks such as the Ernst-hap­pel Sta­dium or the Amalien­bad. Pro­vid­ing book­lets and guided tours in English upon re­quest, brace your­self for a lot of read­ing – count­less signs take vis­i­tors through the decades, from the abysmal liv­ing con­di­tions in Vienna around 1850 that gave rise to the party in 1874 to the present day.

Glo­ri­ous past

But Red Vienna’s hey­day was the 1920s, when the city be­came the first me­trop­o­lis in the world un­der a so­cial demo­cratic mayor

– backed by fe­male vot­ers who got the vote for the first time in 1918. The new ad­min­is­tra­tion quickly pro­ceeded with mas­sive pub­lic projects to counter post-wwi hard­ships, most no­tably Ge­mein­de­bauten like the Karl­marx-hof – mu­nic­i­pal hous­ing that made an un­prece­dented stan­dard of liv­ing af­ford­able to the masses for the very first time. Hope filled the air, as il­lus­trated by lit­tle anec­dotes the cu­ra­tors use to lighten the mood: When work­ers learned in 1919 that they would get paid va­ca­tion, they cel­e­brated by pur­chas­ing a col­lar of knack­wurst and hang­ing it over the neck of the new (fe­male) district coun­cil­woman. Of course, things didn’t stay bright for long – by 1934, all left­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions were banned af­ter los­ing the Aus­trian civil war to the Aus­tro-fas­cist Vater­ländis­che Front (Father­land Front), and then Anschluss to Hitler’s Ger­many fol­low­ing in 1938. It wasn’t un­til af­ter WWII that the So­cial Democrats re­turned to Vienna, start­ing an un­in­ter­rupted streak run­ning city hall that con­tin­ues to this day. Some say that to­day’s So­cial Democrats are hav­ing such a hard time win­ning hearts be­cause their pre­de­ces­sors al­ready fin­ished the job decades ago. Fall­ing vic­tim to their own suc­cess, af­ter grant­ing af­ford­able hous­ing and ed­u­ca­tion, 40-hour work­weeks, so­cial se­cu­rity, uni­ver­sal health care, paid va­ca­tions and de­cent pub­lic trans­port, there isn’t much left to rally the faith­ful. We’ll set­tle this ques­tion Vi­en­nese style by let­ting oth­ers worry about it and dwelling in the glory of the past.

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