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Karl Marx-Hof, Wien

August 18, 2014

Karl Marx-Hof (and for a brief time called  Heiligenstädter Hof) is impressive; it spans over 1km in length and is known for being the longest single residence in the world. It was built by city planner Karl Ehn between 1927 and 1930 and has become a symbol of the ‘Red Vienna’ which then existed. The aim of this vast housing construction was to tackle the poverty and distress caused between the two world wars. Rent was adjusted to being between 5-8% of wages, gas and electricity prices were kept low and essentials such as water were provided free of charge. (Sounds ideal right?!) In addition,  a whole community was built around this block – baths, shops, nursery schools and most notably; vast areas of green space.

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As soon as I read about this ‘welfare palace’ I knew it was worth a visit. So with trainers and a map I went to find it. From near the Radthaus the walk should take approximately an hour however there is a S-Bahn which will take you straight there. I obviously ended up getting lost so getting there took me quite a bit longer…so please google and find your own way there, my advice on directions should not be taken…

According to my Baedeker guide book there are now 1,252 flats and the building was refurbished between 1989 and 1992. The building also undergone repairs in 1950 to compensate for the heavy fire it came under in 1934. One thing is for sure – this building is impressive. But what is symbolizes is plain beautiful.

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Today, the Karl Marx-Hof is different. Rent is no longer dirt cheap and basic amenities have to be paid for at normal council rates. The space itself however has not changed. The idyllic and peaceful park is occupied by people from every walk of life; living alongside each other enjoying the sun. From what I could see I was the only tourist there. On one hand this is surprising but on the other not so much – the building isn’t mentioned in that many guide books and isn’t in the centre of Vienna.

This ‘welfare palace’ shows that the ideas of philosophers can be translated in to practical solutions but more importantly, that we, as a society have a duty to one another to create spaces where people can live and come together as a community.  Karl Marx-Hof may be just a symbol but what is symbolizes is so powerful that it will forever exist and be lived out politically by people across the world – if we have the power to change and influence something for the better – we should.

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