Construction work came to a complete standstill when war broke out. In spite of the calamitous housing situation, it was not so much the housing shortage as the acute food shortages that led to the spread of allotments. The spontaneous activities that arose during the war were aimed above all at producing food.
As a reaction to the calamitous shortages, some members of the population took matters into their own hands. On fallow land, building sites and other open spaces they planted vegetable gardens and other crops without the owners’ permission, but generally tolerated by the authorities. The municipality also reacted, however. In Vienna the city council decided on 25 February 1915 that potatoes and vegetables should be planted on municipal property including parks. The cultivation of land in the Lobau, Leopoldstadt and also school fields in the 10th to 21st districts was subsidized. From 1916, however, the drastic shortages were becoming more and more evident. In autumn 1915 some of the municipal land was rented to allotment gardeners, and the cultivation of private property was also allowed. Schoolchildren were also provided with land as part of a school war garden campaign. Allotments had an important (survival) function. In spite of the municipal efforts, a generally illegal allotment movement developed in the last years of the war throughout the entire city. The number of allotments rose sharply, and in 1918 some 10,000 families were involved in the cultivation of 2.8 million square metres of land.
The system of private-public urban development was thus jeopardized by the First World War and its aftermath. The allotments disrupted the agricultural market mechanisms. The activity – turning into a movement with the taking of municipal land after the collapse of the Monarchy – presented a serious problem for the Vienna city council after 1918. It was forced into concessions, no doubt as well because of the strength of demonstrations, with 200,000 participants being claimed. The occupied land was rezoned as allotments, and the allotment movement supported through the provision of loans.
‘Ährenklauben’, or collecting from the fields surrounding Vienna, gathering forbidden wood, using small allotments for growing vegetables within the city or keeping small animals were all methods of surviving at a time of dire shortage.
Apart from attacks on Hungary, the anger of the Viennese was often directed against the farmers of neighbouring Lower Austria, who sold their products on the markets at excessively high prices or profited from the shortages with extortionate barter deals. The shortages had turned the areas surrounding Vienna into a strategic factor. When bread rations were cut in half in summer 1918, visits to the surrounding land, ‘hoarding trips’, increased markedly. On 29 June alone the number of hoarders was estimated at 30,000. There was talk of a ‘potato war’, and there were clashes between farmers and landowners, plundering and devastation. The authorities had to deal with the controversial ‘rucksack trade’, but the attempt to ban the carrying of rucksacks did not make the Viennese politicians any more popular.
The end of the war brought no end to the shortages. In the cold winter of 1918, thousands of Viennese travelled to the woods surrounding Vienna and cleared whole sections of the land, disregarding the ownership rights. In the city itself practically everything transportable and capable of being used as fuel disappeared.
Translation: Nick Somers
Altfahrt, Margit et al.: Die Zukunft liegt in der Vergangenheit. Studien zum Siedlungswesen der Zwischenkriegszeit, Wien 1983
Banik-Schweitzer, Renate: Anlage und Siedlungsentwicklung ab 1683, in: Csendes, Peter/Opll, Ferdinand (Hrsg.): Die Stadt Wien (Österreichisches Städtebuch 7), Wien 1999, 22-37
Healy, Maureen: Vienna and the Fall of the Habsburg Empire. Total War and Everyday Life in World War I, Cambridge 2006
Healy, Maureen: Vom Ende des Durchhaltens, in: Pfoser, Alfred/Weigl, Andreas (Hrsg.): Im Epizentrum des Zusammenbruchs. Wien im Ersten Weltkrieg, Wien 2013, 132-139
Langthaler, Ernst: Die Großstadt und ihr Hinterland, in: Pfoser, Alfred/Weigl, Andreas (Hrsg.): Im Epizentrum des Zusammenbruchs. Wien im Ersten Weltkrieg, Wien 2013, 232-239
- The growing city: Vienna on the eve of the First World Wa
- The war takes over the city
- Rebuilding for war: barracks and hospitals in Vienna
- Vienna as a refugee camp
- Vienna as a centre of the war economy
- Goodbye to the world of yesterday
- Self-help: unofficial allotments and deforesting the Vienna Woods
- Overthrow of the old values: post-war Vienna