On Vienna’s Streets, Grim Signs Of the Times

Forward Magazine - - Travel - By Liam Hoare

The name of Vienna’s for­mer mayor Karl Lueger was fi­nally ex­punged from a sec­tion of the city’s main boule­vard, the Ringstrasse, in July 2012. Lueger was a mod­ern­izer who, at the end of the 19th cen­tury, es­tab­lished Vienna’s street­car sys­tem and brought the city’s gas and elec­tric­ity net­works into pub­lic own­er­ship. He was also a no­to­ri­ous anti-Semite whose xeno­pho­bic, il­lib­eral pol­i­tics were the cat­a­lyst for Theodor Herzl to write “The Jewish State.” Dr.-Karl-Lueger-Ring had, by 2012, be­come a source of in­ter­na­tional em­bar­rass­ment. The street sign bear­ing Lueger’s name now hangs in Vienna’s Jewish Mu­seum. Far bet­ter it be there than on the street

out­side the city hall and the univer­sity, as it was for nearly 80 years. This cleans­ing of the Ring was both nec­es­sary and im­por­tant, but Vienna is far more than just one street. Though the Ringstrasse shapes the ur­ban space, Vienna is de­fined by small streets and nar­row al­ley­ways — al­most 7,000 in to­tal, all of which have to be named af­ter some­thing or, as is the case for 4,250 of those streets, some­one. Around the time Dr.-Kar­lLueger-Ring was re­branded, four aca­demics were in the midst of com­pil­ing a report on be­half of Vienna’s city govern­ment. By July 2013, when it was pub­lished, they had found hun­dreds of prob­lem­atic street names, in­clud­ing 159 that had to be dealt with im­me­di­ately. They amounted to a lit­tle less than 4% of Vienna’s streets named af­ter a no­table per­son and in­cluded, as well as 19th cen­tury Catholic anti-Semites and those com­plicit in the crimes of the Hab­s­burg monar­chy, a num­ber of Nazis: mem­bers of the Na­tional So­cial­ist Ger­man Work­ers’ Party (NSDAP) or sup­port­ers of the Nazi regime.

ever hap­pened. This makes the street names dif­fer­ent from Amer­ica’s Con­fed­er­ate stat­ues, which were at once a very assertive at­tempt to re­mem­ber those who fought to pre­serve slav­ery and pro­mote the ide­ol­ogy of racial separatism and white supremacy. Rather than an act of neg­li­gence, as in post­war Vienna, they were a de­lib­er­ate provo­ca­tion.

To­day there is a far greater aware­ness of Aus­tria’s role in Nazi crimes, and the His­to­ri­ans’ Com­mis­sion placed the is­sue front and cen­ter once more. How­ever, af­ter the pub­li­ca­tion of the report on street names, the Vienna city govern­ment de­cided against re­nam­ing any of the streets high­lighted as prob­lem­atic. Rather, as a spokesper­son for An­dreas Mailath-Poko­rny, who over­sees cul­ture, sci­ence and sports pol­icy in Vienna, told the For­ward, the city de­cided that a “sen­si­ble and ef­fec­tive way of han­dling con­tro­ver­sial street names con­sists in adding plaques with ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion, tak­ing ac­count of their am­biva­lent bi­og­ra­phy or role.”

“We have to live with our city’s his­tory, in­clud­ing all of its pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive as­pects,” Mailath-Poko­rny’s spokesper­son said. “Street names are an im­por­tant part of this his­tory as they con­trib­ute to the city’s iden­tity and bear wit­ness to both the bright and the dark sides of its past.” On this point, it hardly needs to be said that Vienna is woe­fully in­con­sis­tent. The be­lief that “a city’s his­tory can­not be erased, white­washed or cov­ered up” did not stop Mailath-Poko­rny’s depart­ment from re­nam­ing Dr.-Karl-Lueger-Ring while the His­to­ri­ans’ Com­mis­sion was work­ing on its report.

It is also not the case that all th­ese prob­lem­atic street names have been con­tex­tu­al­ized by way of

Th­ese col­lab­o­ra­tors were authors and painters, opera singers and Olympic ath­letes. The writer and artist Maria Grengg was a mem­ber of the NSDAP — a con­firmed fas­cist who con­fessed her rai­son d’être was “to ex­press the ba­sic ideas of Hitler’s love, mar­riage, church, and racial re­newal in pop­u­lar nov­els.” Opera singer Josef von Manowarda was an NSDAP mem­ber with close ties to both Adolf Hitler and Her­mann Göring un­til his death in 1942. Franz Dusika com­peted for Aus­tria in the 1936 Olympic Games, was a mem­ber of the NSDAP and SA (Sturmabteilung, or Storm Troop­ers) and, in 1939, ben­e­fited from the mass ex­pro­pri­a­tion of Jewish-owned prop­er­ties by tak­ing over an “Aryanized” bicycle deal­er­ship.

In ad­di­tion to aca­demics such as Franz Häußler, who in 1934 founded the Jung-Ura­nia, which acted as a pre­cur­sor to the Hitler Youth in Aus­tria, there are also streets named for sci­en­tists who were com­plicit in Nazi crimes. Chemist Richard Kuhn not only de­nounced Jewish col­leagues but his re­search on nerve agents and poi­son gas was used by the Nazi regime in con­cen­tra­tion camps. Phar­ma­cist Ernst Boehringer be­came a mem­ber of the SA in 1933, ris­ing to the rank of Ober­sturm­ban­n­führer, or Lieu­tenant Colonel, by 1943.

Per­haps as shock­ing as the bi­ogra­phies of this rogue’s gallery is the dis­cov­ery, found in the report, that some of the streets were named decades af­ter World War II. Manowarda­gasse: 1960. Maria-Grengg-Strasse: 1967. RichardKuhn-Weg: 1973. Dr.-Boehringer-Gasse: 1975. Dusik­a­gasse, per­haps most as­ton­ish­ingly of all: 1993. In those cases, long af­ter Aus­tria had been through some­thing of a de­naz­i­fi­ca­tion process (al­beit a tepid one) and in­cor­po­rated a ban on “re­ac­ti­va­tion” of Nazism into its con­sti­tu­tion, both city and district ad­min­is­tra­tions in Vienna were still nam­ing streets af­ter con­firmed Nazis.

It was the Aus­trian pol­icy “not to re­ally deal in­ten­sively with the Nazi past of per­son­al­i­ties af­ter 1945” that gave rise to th­ese street names, Oliver Rathkolb, pro­fes­sor of con­tem­po­rary his­tory at the Univer­sity of Vienna and chair of the His­to­ri­ans’ Com­mis­sion on Vi­en­nese Street Names, told the For­ward. They are a “re­flec­tion of po­lit­i­cal ig­no­rance” and of “the vic­tims-only doc­trine that Aus­tri­ans had noth­ing to do with the Sec­ond World War and the Holo­caust,” Rathkolb said. How­ever, as the process of nam­ing streets be­gins at the district level, small, enthusiastic lob­bies also had an un­due in­flu­ence as ad­mir­ers of par­tic­u­lar artists or his­to­ri­ans, for ex­am­ple, were able to foist names upon neg­li­gent local ad­min­is­tra­tions.

In both re­spects, Vienna’s prob­lem­atic street names are there­fore a prod­uct of a kind of mu­tu­ally agreed-upon am­ne­sia, a pe­riod in his­tory af­ter World War II when it suited just about ev­ery­one in Aus­tria to for­get that the past had


PLATZ TO PLOTZ: Dr.-Karl-LuegerPlatz in Vienna will no longer be named for the no­to­ri­ous anti-Semite (be­low).

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