What is the nature of of the cultural armature in Vienna that influences decision making, institutions, cultural, economical, and political developments as well as the population, its demography, migration, and self-imagination?
Contrary to cities in the United States, nearly all cities in Europe have histories going back well over a thousand years. This makes it difficult to refer to something like “founding fathers” or documents that would give the city a meaning or a responsibility in the development of the society as a whole.
Vienna, for example, was a place of continuous habitation since 500 BC, fortified by the Romans in 15 BC, with a clear rise in importance beginning in 976 with the Babenberg dynasty, which, in 1440 was replaced by the Habsburg family. Being the de facto capital of the Holy Roman Empire, Vienna quickly became the center of arts, science, music, as well as fine cuisine. Two of the great stories this city has to offer are the two battles against the armies of the Ottoman empire in 1529 and in 1683. During the Napoleonic Wars, Vienna became the capital of one of the big players in European history, the Austrian (later Austro-Hungarian) Empire. During these years and up until the end of the monarchy in Austria, the city was a centre for classical music, and intellectual exchange of great (and less great) thinkers and practitioners. After World War II the city was divided into four occupation zones controlled by British, American, French and USSR troops; espionage included. Communal housing as well as a collaboration between differently-oriented parties not only led to a type of social housing assets that you can find until now, scattered over the whole terrain of the city, but it laid the basis for a consent-oriented type of politics that is known as “Sozialpartnerschaft,” including economic as well as political actors.
Carrying these historical shifts from city to capital, from top of an Empire to being divided into occupational zones, there is not much that I would call Vienna’s cultural armature. However, there is something you can find in all of Austria, but in my opinion, its quality and meaning is different in Vienna: being fed up with, but relying heavily on administrative bureaucracy.
If you live here and get to feel the pulse of a very old heart beating, you notice that there is not much of an active civil society in Vienna. Of course there are various movements and there is one or the other campaign that arises out of what we would call a civil society, but all in all, everything comes back to the authorities. There is no problem-handling capacity; and even if there was, people would ask the authorities, whether they were allowed to do that. (This, by the way, is even mentioned in world famous literature dealing with the inhabitants of this city. Read Stefan Zweig, for example.) By redirecting issues that in other cities are dealt with outside bureaucracy, people here rely on its involvement. As this very administration can, however, only act on the basis of laws, a shift in problem-solving capacities can be seen.
Think about a Chinese community in Vienna wanting to decorate “their” street. They could not just do it. They would have to get a permit to do that, and they would have to fulfill certain requirements - some of them even influencing they way things look. In the end, this community is never able to build up what in other cities is known as Chinatown. Wouldn’t they have to resort to the authorities, they would not have to follow specific rules and regulations, hence they would be in power to change things. - And change is exactly the aspect, a healthy bureaucracy is made for to avoid. Instated by the Habsburgs to ensure their rule over a mixture of ethnicities and peoples, this system proofs effective until today.
Is bureaucracy the cultural armature of Vienna? I do not know, but it is the one typical thing that goes through all generations and is—strangely enough—more or less accepted by most of the people.