Document Type




Publication Date



While I would not like to saddle the military historian Gordon A. Craig with the content of this book still it would not be complete without saying that encouragement to pursue this line of thought came from him. I showed him some photographs of municipal apartment blocks, known as Gemeindebauten, built by the Social Democrats in Vienna between the wars and he spontaneously labeled the architecture "provocative."

Hans and Rudolph Hautmann had recently compiled a comprehensive book on the apartment projects of Red Vienna, but I wanted to visit the sites myself, being less enthusiastic than they were about the architecture and more suspicious of socialist motives. I had earlier noticed the fortress-like characteristics of many buildings and began to wonder about locations as well as designs and building materials. I visited the 375 sites over the next few years taking pictures from different angles.

I spent a few months paging through the surviving documents from the City Building Office or Stadtbauamt. They give no indication that anyone in city government intended to build fortresses or indeed had any idea that many of the buildings included characteristics that might be suited for use in an armed conflict. Many documents are missing, but the conclusion is inescapable that there is no written evidence to suggest that anyone had military motives connected with the projects. In other words, it is all but impossible to prove from existing written sources that the socialist government was building a sort of urban Maginot Line. Gaps in the documents—the numbers are consecutive--can be explained because staff members could borrow them. When they did not return, admonitions followed, but some remained in private hands or were lost forever. It is certainly possible that documents were destroyed.

A major objective of this study is to expand the definition of the politics connected with the building program. Until now politics has been defined narrowly in relation to the program alone, namely how leaders overcame problems in housing, with financing for example, arising from social motives of a local sort confined to Vienna rather than broadly in terms of the confrontation between Left and Right in Austria involving armed force that eventually led to civil war. This study aims to keep in mind the political and military tensions that grew at the same time the housing program unfolded. The war of 1934 was more than a brief and unpleasant episode with little relation to the building program or the role the projects happened to play. It was more than the “February Days,” as the war is often called euphemistically. Violence in civil society was never far from consideration during the entire period between 1919 and 1934. Both sides were heavily armed from the start, both sides knew it, and the housing projects, heavily populated by socialists, did nothing to alleviate the tensions. On the contrary, the ubiquitous buildings exacerbated the tendency, adding concealed weapons to outwardly threatening bunkers all over the city until the socialists decided that they could rebel successfully in response to fascist provocations by the government to impose their will on the rest of Austria from Vienna. Politics of a more rudimentary sort regarding a monopoly over coercive force within the state influenced the housing program throughout the First Republic.


The Vienna Fortresses, © 2021 Michael J. Zeps, S.J.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Vienna Fortresses_acc.docx (48305 kB)
ADA Accessible Version

Included in

History Commons