The two decades between 1885 and 1918 were a turbulent time of social and cultural paradigm shifts for Vienna, capital of a multi-ethnic empire on the verge of losing the pomp and glory of the 19th century. However, the creation of The Viennese Secession and the Wiener Werkstätte (Viennese Workshops) marked a leap into the modern age, at least culturally.
In 1861, the local artists had already joined the Genossenenschaft der bildenden Künstler Wiens (Association of Fine Artists in Vienna) and found a home in the Künstlerhaus, a renaissance-style building designed by August Weber, that was situated directly at the main boulevard in Vienna. However, the building soon outgrew its initial conception and several additions had to be made: two wings in 1882 and a roof for the atrium in 1888. Nowadays the building houses several cultural venues, a cinema and theatre in the wings, as well as a modern Internet café. In the course of the 20th century it was on the verge of being demolished several times, but, nevertheless, survived and thrived and is today, thanks to a multitude of varying exhibitions, livelier than ever.
In the 19th century, the construction of the Künstlerhaus was just one of the many construction projects that were simultaneously commissioned and led to an economic upsurge in the city.
Due to the high influx of unemployed workers and farmers from Bohemia and Moravia, another urban expansion (the first one was initiated in 1850) became necessary. This made Vienna the fourth-largest city in Europe with 800.000 inhabitants after London, Paris and Berlin. In the course of ten years the number of inhabitants doubled until it reached 2.000.000 in 1910, making Vienna the fourth-largest city in the world after New York, London, and Paris. For that reason, the urban expansion in the 1890s not only incorporated smaller boroughs surrounding but also included the construction of new districts and the subterranean diversion of the Vienna River. Already in 1897, the first electrical tram line was made operational, a belated successor to the Viennese horse-powered tram which was ferrying people from between 1840 and 1841 – long before Germany or Switzerland would establish a similar transportation system.
All these construction projects required an additional workforce. This led to a huge influx of workers from the eastern realms of the Austro-Hungarian Empire who were given work in the brickworks as unskilled labourers or construction workers. Not all of the immigrants, of whom great percentages were Jews from Eastern-European countries, were able to find work in the city. Together with sweeping industrialisation, the situation of the working class worsened as more and more craftspeople sank into poverty and thus into a lower social stratum. In turn, the conditions and the rising pressure to compete over jobs led to social tensions between the local population and the newly arrived groups from the same country, as well as to problems within these groups.
Some of the immigrant women could find much sought-after work as cooks or as maidservants in the employ of upper-class households. Naturally, those women who were working as cooks brought the culinary influences from their home countries with them, which gave the Viennese cuisine a distinct Czech nuance – surely not to the detriment of the local cuisine, which was already excellent.
In sum, Vienna became a cosmopolitan city and attracted a multitude of artists from all genres. However, the era of the great Viennese classical music that had seen geniuses like Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Franz Schubert, was drawing to an end. Especially the typically Viennese passion for the Waltz and the Opera, which was shaped by artists like Joseph Lanner, Johann Strauss I, Johann Strauss II, Oscar Strauss – not a relative of the famous Strauss family and almost but forgotten today – Karl Millöcker, Franz Lehar, Emmerich Kálmán, or Robert Stolz, was slowly fading.
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