Friday, February 06, 2004

Really existing socialism, my experience.


I haven't ever been to an Eastern Bloc country; the closest that I've come to that is North Eastern Vienna.

North Eastern Vienna is the former Soviet Zone of occupation, which the Soviets controlled for a number of years after World War II. When I was in Vienna this summer I spent an afternoon wandering around it because I read the address of this place I wanted to check out wrong and thought it was in the NE.

North East Vienna is an example of barren, Stalinist, architecture which compares unfavorably with the municipal socialist architecture of the Karl Marx Hof Workers' housing project in the NW of Vienna, which I also saw.

It's hard to describe stalinist architecture;I mean we all have this idea of apartment buildings being oppressive and modern cities being alienating, but at least people in the west tried to mitigate that a little bit, at least for people not in public housing (which is in fact horrible). But in the east the buildings are literally just composed of boxes for families to live in with nothing else.

And that's it. A bloc of houses is just a block of crate boxes with a road or two around it.

There's an apocryphal story that Lenin declared that the amount of space per person which was sufficient was nine square meters, and that was actually the standard used to build apartments in the USSR, but it takes more to make a house, both in terms of size and content.

Karl Marx hof is a different story.....

ah, and there's also that monument to the Soviet soldiers who died liberating Austria and Vienna from the Nazis, which the Soviets had a clause written into their final treaty about saying that the Austrian government was bound to take care of it in perpetuity and not to destroy it....

I had a few mineral waters there while recovering from being lost again, this time in South East Vienna, reflecting on how weird it was, considering that, as I found out, the monument is right in front of the Lichtenstein palace, owned by the family which rules the principality of the same name..


I like the municipal socialism of the SPĂ–, and Vienna was a very pleasant experience.

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