The social and economic period of the “long 1950s” started around 1947 and finished in the middle of the 1960s. The historian Eric Hobsbawn called it one of the most revolutionary periods in European history despite its general image of boring conservatism. He explained his surprising analysis with the unprecedented economic growth rates, the unrestrained adulation of technology and productivity and the breakthrough of Americanised industrialised mass culture. In Austria this period started with the currency reform of 1947 and the establishment of the post-war “Social Partnership” between employers and employees with the first wage and price control agreement. American aid via the Marshall plan (1948-1952) triggered the Austrian economic “miracle years” and in 1948/49 the former Nazis were again integrated into Austrian society with the virtual end of the denazification process. The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union characterised the whole period with Austria positioned in the middle; geographically the most eastern point of the Western World, situated directly at the Iron Curtain. Culturally the aftershocks of the Nazi era and the Second World War were felt during the whole period, but gradually abated. The consequences of the lost war, the Allied liberation and occupation and the excessive veneration of virility by the Nazis gave way to a revival of the traditional conservative roles of men and women. The early 1960s were the years of marriage and childbearing, the “baby-boomer years” in Austria. After a very short period of cultural awakening right after the war, in the 1950s Austrian art and culture experienced a kind of “counter-enlightenment”, a return to very conservative art concepts. The student movement of 1968 ended this period and hailed a new era of sexual and artistic revolution which ended the post-war conservative Austrian concept of “the unity of the good, the true and the beautiful”.

If the Austrian standard of living was measured against the Western European standard at the beginning of this period, Austria was 40% below that, but the gap shrank to 20% in 1961. The gross national product of Austria grew from 49.6 billion AS (Austrian shillings) in 1950 to 134.6 billion AS in 1959. The economic structure developed towards the “American model” via increasing productivity, growing real incomes, an expansion of the labour force, a rising supply of goods and linked to that a dynamic consumerism. The introduction of the “American ideal of beauty” led to a dramatic increase in spending on cosmetics products in the same way as the craving for a motorised vehicle, a modern technical “American-style” kitchen and modern easy-clean furniture resulted in a dramatic increase in purchases in these sectors. Yet an average Austrian family could not afford a car or a fridge; the solution was presented in the form of hire purchase agreements. The new needs and wants of consumerism could be satisfied in this way. The higher living standard in Austria was paid for dearly with the health of the workers via piece work and overtime work. Despite the fact that the workers experienced pay rises to compensate the high inflation rates, the wealth gap between working class and middle class incomes was still widening and the new wealth was distributed unevenly. Even if a Viennese worker’s family had acquired a fridge via hire-purchase, they probably did not have a bathroom in their flat. This fact was covered up by the ruling “Social Partnership” of ÖVP (People’s Party) and SPÖ (Social Democrats), of trade associations and trade unions. The battle for a share of the new wealth was fought on the negotiating table between the government and representatives of employers and employees. Yet Austrian young workers tended to acquire the tastes of the middle class during this period. They bought the same clothes, saw the same films, bought the same technical gadgets, enjoyed the same leisure time activities and went on holiday to the same destinations, which in the long run diminished the differences in class consciousness in Austria.

All in all, every politically relevant group profited in the 1950s from the economic boom and the household expenses for food and clothing decreased, while the expenses for furniture, transport and leisure increased. Between 1950 and 1960 net private consumption rose by 71%. Expenses for education, training and entertainment increased by 81% during this period, for transport by 169% and expenses for furniture and household wares even by amazing 228%. Immediately after the war the prices for non-rationed goods skyrocketed and that’s why their share of expenses was extremely high, but 1950/51 was the first post-war year with free choice of consumer goods and no more rationing and by 1953 the ration coupons had completely vanished in Austria. Gradually the population bought more expensive, low-calorie and qualitatively higher food products and more ready-made products and that is partly the reason why the consumers spent 52% more on food stuffs in 1960/61 than in 1950/51. Many enterprises now offered canteen lunches, which phased out the Austrian habit of taking lunch boxes to work. Smoking and drinking was socially acceptable and much appreciated in those years, which can be seen in the photos of the time below. Alcohol consumption rose 88% per capita from 1950 to 1963, which meant an increase of 5.4% per annum. Cigarettes were a means of payment after the war and a status symbol. US cigarettes represented the new American way of life. In the 1920s and 1930s the light oriental tobacco dominated the Austrian market; it constituted 70% in 1937, but sank to below 10% after World War II. US Virginia tobacco was introduced in Austria during the years of the black market with US cigarette brands such as Camel, Lucky Strike and Chesterfield. Immediately after the war the cigarettes produced in Austria were the notorious “extra mixtures” (“Mischung A & B” and “Austria 1, 2 & 3”), but from 1948 on also more expensive brands with Virginia tobacco were produced such as “Jonny” and “Austria D”. Apart from the black market the Soviet USIA (Soviet property in Austria) cigarettes undercut the Austrian tobacco monopoly until 1955, when the Soviet army withdrew from Austria. In 1950 the Russian army administration established around 80 so-called USIA shops in the Soviet zones which offered a wide range of Soviet products from cigarettes and alcohol to food, textiles, sweets and even typewriters. The quality of these products did not necessarily meet the consumers’ standards, but the products were offered at dumping prices. The Communists advertised these shops as the Soviet form of aid for Austria, the Soviet “Marshall Plan”. But for some Viennese purchasing in USIA shops was considered a “betrayal of public morals”, others saved around 200 AS per month when shopping there. The demand for new clothing also underwent big changes as the Austrians moved towards ready-made clothing, which had a huge impact on the dressmaking sector, in which Herta worked; more and more dressmakers and tailors were dismissed facing long periods of unemployment and the small and medium-sized workshops had to close down.

A burning problem was the lack of housing. Vienna was short of at least 200,000 flats in 1951 and of those that existed only 14% had their own bathroom, 56% had no running water in the flat and 60% no toilet inside. Toni and Lola’s flat at Lerchenfeldergürtel 45/35 in Ottakring (16th district) was a “luxury” flat by those standards because it was large (four large and one small room) and had running water and a toilet inside, but no bathroom. Before they had a shower installed in the kitchen, the whole family had to go to a public bath house. In 1950 the Viennese public bath houses still counted 5 million visitors annually and the city of Vienna ran around 20 such bath houses. Herta’s family frequented the one in Ottakring, Friedrich-Kaisergasse 11.

The public bath house in Ottakring, Friedrich-Kaisergasse 11, is probably the last remaining “Tröpferlbad” (Viennese term meaning a trickle of water because the water flow was sometimes less than abundant)

This explains how proud the young couple Herta and Werner were, when they could pay the deposit for their newly built cooperative flat in Ottakring, Friedrich-Kaisergasse 26/28 on the fourth floor: 48 square metres with bathroom, toilet, kitchen, hall, two rooms and a balcony, in 1954. The deposit was 20,000 AS and the rent was 450 AS per month. Werner had earned well when working at the hydroelectric power plant Kaprun until 1955 (see article “Workers at the construction of the hydro-electric storage power plant Kaprun”) and they had both saved further 45,000 AS, which they used to furnish the new flat, when they moved in in 1956. When I was born in 1957, Herta stayed at home and Werner started to work at the Vienna Electricity Works, where he earned 1,300 AS per month, which meant that after paying the rent of 450 AS, gas, electricity and heating, not much was left for food, clothing or leisure activities. At that time Werner stopped smoking and Toni and Lola, my grandparents, paid for holidays together or outings.

After the war the pent-up demand for consumer goods resulted in a spending spree in three surges in the 1950s: first the “food surge” 1947/48, then the “clothing and furniture surge” 1949-51 and since 1953/54 the “fridge and car surge”. In 1964 the amount spent on furniture and household wares had doubled as compared to 1954. Social housing and tenant protection in Vienna prepared the ground for higher standards of home décor: American-style kitchens, fitted wardrobes, fridges, hoovers, washing machines turned out to be status symbols of middle-class lifestyle, most of it bought via hire-purchase. In 1956/57 the last surge started, the “travel and TV surge”. Only since then TV sets could be bought in Austria: in 1957 12,500 sets were registered and in 1958 33,000. In Vienna most inns and coffee houses had a TV set for public viewing. Werner and Herta did not buy a TV set, they preferred listening to classical music records, but when ice-skating competitions were broadcast I sometimes went with my grandmother Lola to the “Café Hummel” in Josefstädterstrasse to watch TV or when the children’s programme “Kasperl” was on all the children of the house met in front of the TV-set of my friend Sissy’s parents. During the whole period of the “long 1950s” cinemas, theatres and concerts experienced a boom in Vienna, but from 1960 on the cinemas started to feel the impact of television and the number of cinema goers slumped.


On 14 March 1872 the “Wiener Cottage Verein” (Viennese Cottage Association) was founded, initiated by the famous “Ringstrassen” architect Heinrich von Ferstl, whose aim was to counter the pressing need for housing in the overcrowded city of Vienna and to plan a “garden city” following the English model. In the houses and villas which were erected there several writers, artists, actors, scientists, entrepreneurs, many of them of Jewish descent, lived in this “garden city” at least for some time. The first tenants had to walk there from the city, but from 1889 a horse-drawn tramway ran to the “Cottage Quarter” and from 1907 the tram number 40 left the city at the stop “Stock Exchange” and ran to Sternwartestrasse and Gymnasiumstrasse and along “Währinger Park”, which had been the cemetery of the suburb Währing until 1923, where the writers Franz Grillparzer and Johann Nestroy were buried. From there the tram 40 reached the “Türkenschanzpark”. The name is derived from the place where the Turkish army, which besieged Vienna in 1683, had entrenched itself. In 1872 Edmund Kral and Heinrich von Ferstl founded the “Cottage Association”, which bought the gravel and sand pits below the former trenches and initiated a housing project which was supposed to realise their idea of modern and healthy living in one- and two-family houses. Ferstl’s dream of a different form of housing was modelled on the concept of “idyllic English garden cities”. Between 1873 and 1930 houses and villas were built imitating historical styles, others were modern houses designed by innovative architects like Josef Hoffmann. All of them were free standing town houses with a front and a back garden in an idyllic green oasis for the well-to-do.

A “Cottage Quarter” similar to the one in the suburbs of Währing and Döbling was established in the suburb Hietzing between the imperial castle Schönbrunn and the imperial hunting ground, the Lainzer Tiergarten, the “Hietzinger Cottage”. There a start was made in 1883, when the entertainment park of Carl Schwender called “Neue Welt” (“New World”), went bankrupt. This ground was divided up into plots of land for the construction of another “garden city”, which was called “Neue Welt”, too. Many of the proprietors and tenants of the “Viennese Cottage Quarters” were forced into exile after the takeover of the Nazis, the “Anschluß”, in March 1938 and several did not only lose their fortunes, but also their lives in the Nazi terror.

Nearly 50 years after the foundation of the first “Cottage Association” the dream of modern and healthy living in Vienna was to be realised for the working class as well. When in 1919 the Social Democratic Party took over the running of the city of Vienna, the party devised an ambitious plan of creating at the start terraced houses in settlements and then blocks of flats with modern amenities to alleviate the drastic housing shortage. Between 1923 and 1933 63,934 affordable, light and healthy flats were built for workers and their families in a world-wide unique social housing project of the time. In the housing concept of “Red Vienna” several modern architects, like Josef Frank, intellectuals, health experts, pedagogues, like Friedl Dicker and Franz Singer, and sociologists like Otto Glöckel, Siegfried Bernfeld or Max Adler were involved; many of them with Jewish backgrounds. Unfortunately all the Jewish tenants could enjoy the benefits of the new flats only briefly because they were the first to be evicted from the social housing projects after the “Anschluß” (the takeover of the Nazis) in March 1938, among them my great-uncle Karl Elzholz and his wife Mitzi, who were chased out of their flat in the “Reumannhof” at Margaretengürtel 102/15/17. They both managed to flee to Bolivia. After the war Karl returned to Vienna and moved into a newly built social housing complex nearby.

The only member of my large family who was well-off enough to move intone of the high-end housing projects of the “Hietzinger Cottage” was Henny Singer, who was a niece of my other great-uncle Norbert Katz. She had survived the holocaust in Israel and returned to Vienna after the war with her wealthy husband Josef Singer, who was a textile trader in the “Viennese Textile Quarter”. They moved into a villa in Hietzing in Alban-Berg-Weg 2/24.

“Cottage Quarter” in Währing & Döbling (most interesting villas in the roads marked in yellow)

The first “Cottage Quarter” was planned in the suburbs of Währing and Döbling in the west of Vienna between Gymnasiumstrasse, Haizingergasse, Sternwartestrasse and Cottagegasse. On 9 April 1873 the “Viennese Cottage Association” was turned into a cooperative with unlimited liability. The members signed a commitment that forbid the building of houses which would in any way block the view of the other members, or restrict their access to light and fresh air. Additionally no trade was to be run on these premises which would disturb the other proprietors by polluting the air or producing noise or causing the danger of fires. Further regulations stipulated that every house was to have two floors only and a minimum distance to the next house was to be kept. All houses of one block had to form a square block with the gardens in the middle so that a garden complex was to be formed at the centre of a block. The building contractor was free to choose the architectural style, but the house had to fit into the character of the “Cottage Quarter” and by that help form a harmonious unity. This voluntary commitment of the members of the association was known as the “Cottage Servitut” and this was cited in the land register. It is still valid today and has helped to create a leafy suburban residential neighbourhood with interesting villas in historical and art nouveau styles. The architect and founder Ferstl was the first chairman of the “Cottage Association”, Archduke Karl Ludwig took over the “Protectorate” and the architect Carl von Borowski was in charge of the site management. He also developed the basic architectural concept of the first villas. The terrain was an open space at 388m altitude with rich water reserves and a fertile ground for gardening. The price at the time of the foundation of the association was affordable at 14.50-18.50 crowns per square fathom. The first 50 lots found many buyers and the architectural concept for the houses was modelled on English one- family houses, which meant, just one floor, which was cheaper and a floor plan then common in England: namely a basement with kitchen and store rooms; a ground floor with dining room, smoking room and lounge and finally on the first floor living room and bed rooms. Many of the clients opposed this architectural concept because they were used to the Viennese housing design of having all the rooms on one floor. The association had to convince the clients of the benefits of the new floor plans because otherwise they would violate their ideal of a garden city. To make the houses affordable a flat to rent was included in the attic, so that in the end four floors were erected on a rather small building plot and enough space for the garden was saved. Every house had to have a small front garden and the larger back garden of a block had to be directed towards the other back gardens to form a large green space in the middle, which was considered essential because it created a bigger “air reservoir”. This type of urban housing was until that point of time completely unknown in Vienna and the leading architect was Carl von Bokowski together with Anton Zöchmann and Julius Deininger.

After the first building phase approximately ten new houses were built per year according to the guidelines of the association under the leadership of the architect Karl Haas, a student of Ferstl. At that time a plot of 220 square fathoms cost 3,200 crowns and the cheapest house with four rooms plus ancillary rooms cost 10,000-12,000 crowns including the price of the building plot. The first houses were simple and cost-efficient with two to maximum four rooms, the staircases were steep and narrow, toilet and bathroom positioned in inconvenient corners of the house. When all the ground the association had bought in 1973 was used up, more land was acquired in the adjoining suburb of Döbling by the association in 1884. In this second building phase new types of family houses were planned and constructed with a greater variety of floor plans and richer decorations imitating Renaissance and Baroque styles. The rising property prices attracted a richer clientele, which had an effect on the architectural planning. The rooms were now larger, the staircases grander, the antechambers more representative and the furnishings much more luxurious. By 1906 a model house had been designed by Gustav Tschermak which tried to incorporate all the experiences of the “Cottage Association” of the last thirty years. It has to be noted that by this time the largest part of the first 260 family houses had been planned and built by the site management of the “Cottage Association” according to designs of different architects. Furthermore the association planted 1,900 trees in all streets of the “Cottage Quarter” and the adjoining “Türkenschanzpark” was opened to the public in 1888. In 1905 the quarter comprised 640,000 square metres with 387 family houses in 16 alleys.  The area boasted primary and higher schools, an ice rink, tennis courts, a casino association, a police station and a post office, but no shops or restaurants and cafés.

This innovative urban planning model was so successful that it was copied elsewhere and in 1910 the City of Vienna took up this concept and incorporated it in its building regulations and area zoning plan. Today the voluntary commitment of the “Viennese Cottage Association” represents public law and the aim of the association is to conserve the special character of this neighbourhood.

One of the targets of the founders was to convince the Viennese bourgeoisie of the advantages of a family town house with garden and to compensate the lack of green space in the inner city areas. In a way it was the counter-concept to the expensive inner city blocks of flats. The architect Heinrich von Ferstel and the art historian Rudolf Eitelberger opposed the building speculation in those huge blocks of flats and wanted to improve the quality of housing in Vienna by constructing smaller units. Their ideal was the “English philosophy of housing”. The first fifty family houses were planned in detached and semi-detached form by Carl Ritter von Bokowski and the plots were rather small. Later on some rich owners wanted to show off their wealth, so their houses were built in more opulent styles and the plots were larger. Originally the villas were built in the “English style”, but when Hermann Müller took over the site management of the “Cottage Association”, French- and Italian-style villas were erected as well. In 1961 the “Cottage Quarter” in Währing and Döbling comprised 84.27 ha net building land and 6,644 inhabitants. In the wake of the “Viennese Cottage Association” in other suburbs of Vienna similar “Cottage Quarters” for the well-to-do were established, for example in Hietzing, in Gersthof, Hütteldorf, the Prater and Lainz.

“Cottage Quarter” in Hietzing (most interesting villas in the roads marked in yellow)