Julia Anna Schranz, Ph.D. a candidate at the University of Vienna and our guide, she was dressed in Converse, jeans and a long red wool coat. She pointed to four shadowy ceramic figures mounted above the arches, explaining that they were personifications of enlightenment, freedom, well-being, and physical culture. Commissioned to increase employment during the period between the world wars, these ornaments were also seen as an investment in the Gemeindebauten aesthetic and a tribute to its tenants.
Schranz pushed open the thick, spiny iron gates that spanned an arch, and we stepped into a grassy courtyard the size of nearly two football fields. Painted an off-white that shimmered in the morning sun, the interior contrasted strikingly with the more formidable exterior.
“These it’s the projects,” said India Walton, a Buffalo community organizer, wryly. There was a rose garden. Children (black, brown, white) were running and squealing on a playground attached to an on-site kindergarten. Walton, now 40, had twins when she was just 19 and raised them while she worked as a nurse. Decades later, she became politically active and in 2021 she won the Democratic nomination for mayor of Buffalo, only to be defeated by a campaign write-in from the Democratic incumbent. Where would she be now if she had the choice to live in a place like this? She would have left her marriage sooner, Walton told me. “She may not have been a nurse, but a doctor.” A boy in kindergarten greeted her and she waved back.
When the Karl-Marx-Hof opened, it housed 5,000 people in 1,400 apartments. These apartments were coveted. “It had two central laundries, two communal bathrooms with tubs and showers, a dental clinic, a maternity clinic, a health insurance office, a library, a youth shelter, a post office, and a pharmacy, and 25 other stores, including a restaurant and the offices and showroom of BEST, the advice center on decoration and interior design managed by the city”, writes Blau.
Fewer than 3,000 tenants now live in the Karl-Marx-Hof, not because it is undesirable, but because the standard of living has improved, and Vienna has allocated more space to tenants in response. The Vienna housing authority believes that a family of four needs about 1,100 square feet, so it has combined some of the units to create larger ones.
A big head nodded from a balcony with potted plants and burial mounds. An elderly Austrian waved. State Assemblywoman Emily Gallagher, a Democrat who recently ousted the incumbent Democrat in the 50th Assembly District, which includes parts of Greenpoint, Williamsburg and Fort Greene, live-tweeted the tour on her phone. State Sen. Julia Salazar, a Democrat representing the 18th state senate district, which covers Bushwick, jotted down notes with a gold pen on a black paper pad. Renette Bradley, a tenant organizer, wore a Nickelodeon T-shirt, overalls, a black New York beanie, and luxuriously long false eyelashes. “Can you be paroled here?” she asked herself, her voice husky and direct from her. This affected many of Bradley’s friends and family who, upon release from prison, were left homeless because they were not allowed to reunite with family living in public housing.