Since Vienna has never sold its municipal buildings, the city is considered an island of the blessed. But subcultural places have no place.

Tall buildings and an old building with graffiti.

Anyone building residential towers near the stadium must take noise into account. Photo: Gilbert Novy/Picture Alliance

VIENNA taz | Two girls dressed as princesses run across the tiles in office chairs, a wiry man hands out tuna tramezzini. “Very good,” says Eva, a young woman with short hair, and does the same. She takes a breath and watches the man with the ragged forehand, holding the table tennis bat between his thumb and forefinger. “Like chopsticks,” she explained earlier.

Every Sunday they meet with a handful of people to play table tennis in the old university building, which the Viennese association “4lthangrund” makes available to around 30 groups. The interim use will end at the end of next year, then the building will be torn down and an educational campus will be built. The existence of the Viennese punk bar “Venster99” is currently under threat.

Why do subcultural places have a hard time in so-called Red Vienna, which has supposedly done everything right in terms of urban development?

In the 1980s, the university building landed like a spaceship in a parking lot in Vienna's ninth district, near the Spittelau waste incinerator plant. The cube-shaped sections of the building stretch across tens of thousands of square meters.

Criticism complemented with utopia

Once you walk through the door, the smooth surface disappears. There are stickers everywhere. The gold foil that says “Luxury for all” is wrinkled. There are old sofas lying around. _willi Hejda walks through a door in a hoodie and says hello. _willi (she doesn't use pronouns and that's why she puts an underscore in front of her name) is a member of the collective “4lthangrund” and, as always, her appointment book is full.

However, _willi calms down, sinks into a corner of the sofa and begins to reconstruct in detail the history of Vienna's urban politics. _willi was part of the board of directors of the interest group for cultural associations for nine years, which brings such knowledge. But _willi adds a utopia to each critical diagnosis.

The “4lthangrund” association is a small utopia on a large piece of land, specifically 1,500 square meters. Eleven years ago, the Business University moved here due to lack of space, and some institutes of the main university moved here, and since then large areas have been left empty.

But now things are happening in the former café, where among other things “4lthangrund” was located. Here you grow (gardening day), cut (solidarity cooking), debate (“Fortress Europe”) and play ping-pong (ping pong); almost every day there is a program. People get together and you get used to a place like that. At some point it no longer has an expiration date, even if the rental contract does.

Fight for every space

Around a thousand people are already registered as members, the association would also like to have a place in the new educational campus and requests a cultural center. Not finding a solution is not an option.

“There are few places that offer space for countercultures and things that don't make money,” _willi says. “I would like to see politicians stand up and say: this is important, we are fighting for all spaces.”

Getting space somewhere else that has so much to offer is probably impossible. In the relatively cheap municipal housing, where a quarter of the city lives, only commercial premises and homes are rented. Nonprofits have to look to the rest of the city. Rents are rising sharply due to inflation, up 8 percent last year.

Illegal business?

In the last two decades, some subcultural spaces have had to close due to problems with the authorities or owners: in 2007 the left-wing alternative bar “Movimento”, in 2014 the dance bar “Aparat”, in 2016 the cultural association “moë ” , where performances, readings and concerts took place. This could also happen to “Venster99”.

According to authorities, in early February the restaurant was inspected and then closed due to noise complaints, accused of running an “illegal business.” The club refuses to register one. For 19 years, students, punks and other people with little money and a great love for pogo dancing were regular guests. The restaurant is also famous in the international punk scene. Bands came from all over to play and sometimes up to 20 concerts a month were organized.

Like many other alternative venues, “Venster99” has until now operated in a gray area. Nonprofits have advantages: They do not need a commercial facility permit, which can be costly if structural adjustments such as installing a ventilation system are required. They also have to pay less taxes and can apply for subsidies.

Viennese clubs are in debt

Actually a good base for a cultural offer that costs little or nothing. But there are also requirements for nonprofits, such as they are not allowed to hold events for more than 72 hours a year. Because that would be unfair competition, its defenders argue, and they cannot sell drinks under commercial law either.

It is common practice for clubs to organize events more frequently and try to cover running costs by selling drinks. They are unlikely to make a profit since, according to a 2012 study, a quarter of Vienna's independent cultural associations were in debt. In 2016, IG Kultur, the representative body for Viennese cultural associations, presented a legislative proposal proposing a revenue limit of €30,000 for food and drink, which would protect associations from accusations of commercial activity. It was never implemented.

Until now there has always been some tolerance from the city, but left-wing clubs have always been a political issue. The far-right FPÖ is already mobilizing against them with press releases. And if there are complaints from the neighborhood, the image of the troublemaker is also spread through the media. A look at the local reports file shows how quickly tolerance can run out.

“Terror on Grillgasse”, says the FPÖ

In 2006, residents complained about the “Movimento” alternative event and club in the working-class neighborhood of Simmering, alleging that guests had caused property damage along the way. At the same time, the district FPÖ mobilized with leaflets and it was not long before the district SPÖ also invited people to a debate on “Terror on Grillgasse”. In early 2007, the owner court ordered the eviction of the restaurant.

Since a club has approximately as much money as its fans, in most cases it does not have the resources for litigation. The “Venster99” was at least able to get the following rentals thanks to donations.

Vienna's third district, between the bus station and the motorway. In the shadow of three tall towers, graffiti flames flicker on the walls, bomber jackets pass through the front door, and the hum of a bass drum penetrates the soft afternoon air.

It's a money thing.

Georg and Ida, two twenty-somethings in baggy jeans who only give their first names, are sitting in front of the red brick building of the “Arena.” They smoke homemade cigarettes in silence. They say they used to go to the punk bar “Venster99” every week. They are optimistic that it will reopen soon. Maybe they have to, because there is no permanent alternative for them in the city. “It's also a question of money,” says Georg, putting out his cigarette.

In the concert hall they walk past the arms and stand in front of the stage, where London's bad boys take off their camouflage jackets. “Louda” the guitarist shouts and growls before suddenly interrupting the concert. “No urinating on stage!” he shouts angrily, then someone throws tissues on the stage to dry them. Although the guitarist has just established the first rule of the evening, it now appears that there will be none at this concert.

For a long time this applied to the field as a whole. “We were a Gallic people, they left us alone and we had our freedom,” says Petra Ruckendorfer, president of the Forum Wien Arena association. Thousands of Viennese occupied this place in the 80s. Before, pigs were slaughtered here and today groups like Die Ärzte perform.

Noise complaints, curfew

Other than that, it's not as punk as it used to be. The organizers rent the rooms. Normally you have to pay an entrance fee and, as the authorities monitor the place, the stadium has to respect the outdoor curfew for the first time this summer. Of the around 40 planned, they can last from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., the rest only until 10 p.m.

Since last year, the noise has also stopped. Five minutes away, four developers completed “The Marks” skyscraper neighborhood, three slender residential towers with names like “the One” and “Helio Tower.” A condominium on the upper floors can cost 700,000 euros.

After the neighbors moved out, there were some noise complaints. Finally, a new sound-focused sound system worth one million euros was needed for the outdoor stage, which the city co-financed with 595,000 euros. Outside the area, outdoor concerts can now be heard at half the volume.

Nothing with anarchy

The next construction project is already being planned right across the street: a hotel complex with apartments. The arena is still counting on the city to prevent it this time. The fact that it has been welcomed so far is probably due to the fact that many Viennese know the stadium and are attached to it; After all, it is a monument to the time when half of Vienna was anarchist.

Venster99, Arena and 4lthangrund are now turning to diplomatic means and seeking talks with the city. It remains to be seen where this leads.

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