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Stories from Vienna: 6 key figures

Updated Tuesday, 15th November 2016

Read the stories of some of Vienna’s people who are commemorated in place names around the city.

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In Vienna: Empire, Dynasty and Dream we saw the story of Vienna up to the mid-1950s.

The history of Vienna continues after the signing of the State Treaty in 1955. Even long after the Austrian empire has ceased to exist, Vienna remains a hub of international encounters and a meeting place for cultures.

Here are the stories of some of Vienna’s people who are commemorated in places around the city. The short descriptions just sketch their lives and contributions. You can find out more by following the links to external websites. Some of these extended stories might be in German.

By the way: in Vienna many more men have streets named after them than women. Take a look at the Gender atlas of street names, or this description of the project. It shows that women don’t just have fewer, they also have much smaller streets named in their honour. 

1. Friedrich Zawrel (1929-2015)

Friedrich Zawrel never completed formal education. He was picked out during the Nazi regime as one of the “socially undesirable children” and entered into the Nazi euthanasia programme. He was confined to a psychiatric institution in Vienna where Nazi doctors conducted cruel experiments with the children.

He managed to survive the atrocities but the horror did not end there for him. When he later recognised one of his torturers, this psychiatrist had become famous in his profession and a forensic expert in high demand. The doctor took preventive measures and due to his spiteful “expert” testimony, Zawrel was sent to prison. He spent long years in prison and psychiatric institutions, and only with the help of a journalist could he eventually name and shame psychiatrists who contributed to Nazi atrocities, and gain his own freedom.

When he was finally rehabilitated, Zawrel talked about his experience during Nazi times at many schools, bringing history to life for those who were born long after the events. Recognition for his efforts came late: in 2013 he received the Austrian medal of honour, and in 2016, a year after his death, his former school in Vienna was named after him. This recognises Zawrel’s contribution to education despite his lack of formal schooling.

A play, illustrated below, made his contribution to education visible:

Photo of a play about Friedrich Zawrel Creative commons image Icon By Haeferl (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 at], via Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0 license

If you understand German, there is more information about Friedrich Zawrel available in this long interview with subtitles and a transcript (in German). You can also read a biography and obituary.

2. Amalie Pölzer (1871-1924)

Amalie Pölzer grew up in “interesting times”. When she trained as a seamstress, she was one of many female workers in Vienna who had to work long hours under harsh conditions and for little reward. She became interested in workers’ education, and ran the library for a club providing members with access to learning. Together with a co-worker she then founded the reading and debating club, Libertas, and later a club for social-democrat girls and women (“Verein sozialdemokratischer Frauen und Mädchen”).

She was the first woman to be elected councillor for Favoriten, a traditional workers’ area of Vienna, and remained on the Council of Vienna until her death in 1924. The Amalienbad, which you can find on our interactive map, is named after her.

3. Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928-2000)

Hundertwasserhaus in Austria Copyright free  image Icon Copyright free: By Lucian Ilica, [1]. (Originally uploaded to english Wikipedia (log)) [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons Friedensreich Hundertwasser translated his originally Czech surname (Stowasser) into German.

He is best known for his architectural designs, for example, the “Hundertwasserhaus” (Kegelgasse 36-38, Löwengasse 41-43), but he also designed book illustrations and even the number plates for Austrian cars.

His style is organic, imitating nature, and colourful. In his architecture, he used ecological principles and tried to maximise contact with nature in a city. He was also actively engaged in environmental campaigns.

A square and a promenade are named after him. You can see Friedensreich-Hundertwasser-Platz and Hundertwasser promenade on a map.

4. WaLuLiSo (1914-1996)

In the 1970s and 1980s, WaLuLiSo was a recognisable figure in the Viennese streets. He was a poet, a thinker, an advocate for peace and critic of a life of consumerism and envy.

He wore a toga-like garment and created his name from the first letters of the German words for Water (Wasser), Air (Luft), Light (Licht) and Sunshine (Sonne): WaLuLiSo. That is, what he believed was necessary for a good life.

He used to recite poems, and pin poems on places around Vienna. His critical stance towards mindless progress and a life determined by technology led, amongst other things, to a change of plans for a commercial use of the Donauinsel. A footbridge to this small island in the Danube is now named after him.

Waluliso, Viennese poet Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: TARS631 [Attribution or Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons

You can see Walulisobrücke on a map.

You can read his entry in the Vienna City wiki (in German), listed under his birth name of Ludwig Weinberger. On the occasion of his 100th birthday, an Austrian newspaper printed a short story about WaLuLiSo (in German with many images).

5. Johanna Dohnal (1939-2010)

A small square in Vienna is named after this socialist politician and women’s rights activist. She became the first Secretary of State for Women under a socialist government in the 1970s and then the first Austrian Minister for Women’s issues in 1990. She was born in Vienna and lived there throughout her life.

This image shows the Johanna-Dohnal square in the 6th precinct:

Johanna Dohnal Platz Creative commons image Icon von GuentherZ (Eigenes Werk) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons BY 4.0 license

The plaque reads:

Johanna Dohnal (1939 -2010)

A fighter for women’s rights

From 1979 to 1990 Secretary of State for Women’s issues

From 1990 to 1995 Minister for Women.

You can read more about her life and ideas (in German) on the Vienna City wiki and on her personal website. See Johanna-Dohnal-Platz on a map.

6. Ceija Stojka (1933-2013)

Ceija Stojka Creative commons image Icon By Manfred Werner - Tsui (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0 license Ceija Stojka was a traveller, painter and writer.

As a girl she survived the Nazi concentration camps where her family was incarcerated as ethnic Roma.

She wrote books about her experience and about the fate of Roma during the Nazi regime and was awarded the Bruno-Kreisky medal for political writing.

A square in Vienna is named after her.

Ceija Stojka Platz Creative commons image Icon By Haeferl (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0 license




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