Vienna: Artists Exposing a Hidden City

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It’s no secret that a massive majority of Austrian citizens voted to join the Third Reich, shortly after the beginning of WW2. Less known, however, is the fate of the houses which used to belong to Jewish residents of Vienna. Jewish repatriation of stolen property has been a tragic and controversial issue of the post war world. For many, it is better to forget the original occupants of seized houses- after all, these houses were legitimately purchased by the new owners, at discount prices, and are now in the hands of children and grandchildren.

These houses (of which more than five hundred are documented solely in Vienna) form a hidden city within the city, a network of buildings connected by their forgotten families and the dirty exchanges which led to their forced change in ownership. Here are two contemporary art projects where artists have attempted to expose the stolen city of Vienna.


Christian Phillip Muller’s film work, Fiat 522, 2008, depicts a 1931 Fiat 522 c as it is dragged, driver less, along the streets of Vienna. The car itself was stolen from Jewish owners Rosa Gluckselig, who owned the Zur Raxbahn delicatessen with her husband, and after ending up in a museum was finally returned to the grandchild of the original owner in 2008.

The nocturnal city, seen through the windows, becomes a dark theatre for the car’s melancholy journey. The journey is funureal and laden with quiet darkness, the city inaudible, the car shrouded initially under a tarpaulin.


Recently, Australian artist  Josh Harle completed his latest project, as part of his tenure as artist-in-residence with the RIAT (Research Institute for Arts &Technology) in MuseumsQuartier. The work uses digital mapping technology combined with pirate WiFi distribution to inform the public about stolen Jewish houses, listing both former owners and current owners under each property.

The work has been made in cooperation with and based on the research of Stephan Templ – a Jewish/Austrian journalist, who’s book Our Vienna – Aryanisation Austrian style (Aufbau-Verlag, 2001) which details these stolen properties has been removed from circulation. Templ is currently serving a prison sentence connected with his own attempt to repatriate his grandmother’s house via law suit. The book covers the systematic dispossession of Jews in Vienna from 1938 and lists the expropriations, district by district. 

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The work cleverly invades the smartphones of the public, using free wifi as bait before redirecting their browser to the interactive map, pictured above. The visualisation of Templ’s research in a map form profoundly brings home the scale of unacknowledged looting. These properties are a significant living part of a city. They are houses and stores which appear like the others, but which are in pergatory, floating between histories and generations.

See the work online here, http://maps.tacticalspace.org/unserwien
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Learn more about Stephan Templ’s incarceration here, http://stephantempl.com

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