- Vienna is one of Europe’s classical music capitals, having been home to Mozart, Schubert, Brahms, Mahler, Strauss, and Beethoven.
- Cultural participation is the top policy driver for the city, which is committed to providing ‘low-threshold access’ for all its residents
- It aims to foster a ‘culture of remembrance,’ particularly around World War II and the Holocaust
City data: Key facts
- Geographical area: 415 sq. km
- Total population: 1,766,746
- Percentage of total national population living in the city: 20.6%
- Education level – percentage with degree level or higher: 23.00%
- GDP (PPP) million: $92,358
Vienna was founded as a Roman military camp. In the fifteenth century it became the seat of the Habsburg dynasty and capital of the Holy Roman Empire, and in the nineteenth century it became the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It has long been one of Europe’s cultural and intellectual centres: looking at classical music alone, it was home to Mozart, Schubert, Brahms, Mahler, Strauss, and Beethoven.
The twentieth century was less kind to Vienna. It was under Nazi rule from 1938 to the end of World War II. As a result it lost almost all of its Jewish residents, who had been 10% of the population before the war, and an important part of its cultural life.
Today Vienna is a city of 1.8 million people. Its population has grown by 11% in ten years, and is continuing to grow rapidly: it is projected to reach 2 million by 2029. Of its residents, 700,000 are non-citizens or were born abroad. Serbia, Turkey, Germany and Poland provide the largest numbers of immigrants, and the city is now taking in a large number of asylum seekers, many from the Middle East.
While accommodating this rapid growth will be a challenge, affordability of housing is less of an issue in Vienna than some other world cities. The city has maintained the large number of public housing units built during the interwar period. Most new private housing developments are built on land sold to developers by the city, which imposes conditions on the quality of the development and the number of affordable units available. Nearly 50% of the housing available in Vienna fits into one of these two categories, while private renters also benefit from controls on rent.
It will be important to create cultural infrastructure to meet the needs of new residents. The city will establish a ‘low-threshold’ (accessible and non-elitist) cultural institution in each of its new urban development areas. In some of the larger districts outside the city centre, there is still a shortage of cultural offers. The city is responding to this by subsidising initiatives by private cultural associations.
While many European cities are proud to be named a Capital of Culture, Vienna has never submitted an application to the programme. This is because it already considers itself one of the centres of European culture. Two-thirds of tourists choose Vienna because of its arts and culture, and a survey in 2014 found that 99% of residents were satisfied with the city’s cultural offer. For the Viennese, culture and heritage is what makes their city unique.
A strong belief in public funding for culture also helps to set Vienna apart. The City of Vienna sees culture are a public good which should not be subject to market forces. Although there have been some funding decreases, overall the city’s cultural budget has increased by 47% since 2001. There is a tradition of robust public funding to major cultural institutions, including the Staatsoper, Burgtheater, and Volkstheater. In particular Vienna is known for its strength in opera, theatre and classical music.
Yet despite – or perhaps because of – its rich cultural inheritance, Vienna is now facing new questions about encouraging participation and creating a balance between high culture and popular culture. Vienna’s cultural tradition has been described as ‘bourgeois, prestigious and expensive,’ centred around large and traditional institutions which are less able to innovate. High levels of migration to Vienna have raised the question of how to create a cultural offer that is relevant and welcoming to all the city’s residents.
Cultural participation is now the main driver for the City of Vienna’s cultural policy, prioritised above heritage and city marketing. The city aims to provide ‘low-threshold access’ for all residents. Its programmes include free events and activities, free admission for children and teenagers to Vienna’s museums, and a Cultural Pass that gives low-income people free admission to over 200 cultural institutions. This seems to be having an impact – Vienna’s cultural institutions welcome a total of 20 million visitors every year, forty times the attendance at the city’s football stadiums.
A new home for the Vienna Museum is being built on its former site on Karlsplatz, a central city square. The new Vienna Museum will open in 2020 as part of a wider urban renewal project. The city is creating a ‘Vienna Art Walk’ to connect the square with the MuseumsQuartier cultural complex, bringing together some twenty museums.
Yet these efforts to modernise Vienna’s cultural offer do not mean that it has forgotten the past. The city aims to create a ‘culture of remembrance,’ particularly around World War II and the Holocaust. To this end it has renamed streets, including one which commemorated an antisemitic former mayor, and constructed a memorial to Wehrmacht deserters. A major renovation of the Jewish Museum was finished in 2011 and a new permanent exhibition focuses on ‘Our City! Jewish Vienna – Then to Now.’ Since 2013 the city has also run a yearly ‘Festival of Joy’ celebrating the liberation of Vienna from the Nazis. The theme for 2016 was solidarity with present-day refugees.
Eighty festivals a year take place in Vienna. Wiener Festwochen (Vienna Festival) is the major city festival, taking place over six weeks and focusing on the performing arts. The festival was founded in 1951, intended to bring together a city which had been divided between four Allied occupying powers since the end of World War II. Although the festival is an important part of the cultural calendar for Vienna residents, it unusually does not draw many tourists to Vienna. Changing this is one of the aims of the festival’s new artistic director.
Vienna is one of Europe’s cultural capitals, with a strong belief in the importance of publicly funded culture. Historically known for its classical music and theatre, Vienna is now working to widen its cultural offer and to maintain its high levels of participation as new residents move to the city.