A historical walk around the city and around the new Bene location in Vienna.
With the move to the Neutorgasse 4-8, Bene has opened its largest location in the middle of one of the most traditional districts of Vienna. It has also been one of the most interesting areas in terms of urban development for centuries. After a tranquil period in the 80’s and 90’s, there is a renewed sense of urban vitality in the once famous textile district and its immediate surrounding area. New businesses and architecture and design studios are setting up shop, OPEC has constructed a new building, and a thriving young local scene flourishes. Join us on this exciting city history tour of Vienna, between a historic riverboat tour, bourgeois commercial centre and new architectural beacons led by architectural historian and city researcher Christa Veigl.
A Roman military camp, centre of the salt trade, the stock exchange and business district of the Ringstrasse era, the Anschluss in 1938, wholesale and retail textiles into the 70‘s – those are the important stages found in the not quite triangular Franz Josefs Kai – Schottenring – Börse – Concordiaplatz – Salzgries triangle.
The triangle, which is easily spotted in the streetmap, actually arose during a flood in the year 300 B.C.: A corner of the Roman military camp, then called Vindobona, slid towards the Danube. Vienna based its city limits on this rectangle with its missing north-eastern corner from the Middle Ages to the city expansion of the 19th century.
The reason was that for hundreds of years the modern Neutorgasse 4-8 / Werdertorgasse corner was located in front of the city gates until it became part of the city’s fortifications. In the 16th century the city walls were pushed out and the gate at Werdertor moved to the Neutor, which immediately explains two of the modern street names.
In the year 1547, up to two-thirds of Bene’s new building would have sat in the moats. This moat was part of the trench system upstream of the city fortifications and was used in many different ways.
While trade, industry and urban life was yet to come north of the Bene’s current location, the wood, fish and salt trade flourished in the immediate area heading into town and in the direction of the Danube River. The wooden rafts landed at the level of the Maria am Gestade church, which was then situated at the bank cliff of the Salzgries arm. Salt ships were found closer to St. Ruprecht’s church. Incidentally, from the beginning of the 13th century, the Salzgries ran as a kind of quay along the city walls and between the city wall and the branch of the Danube.
The houses of the salt merchants (Salzer), who held an imperial patent to trade the white gold, lined the Gries. The word Gries comes from the Middle High German word griez, which means, among other things, a coarsely ground grain, sand, but can also mean sandy shore. You cannot miss Bishop Ruprecht with his salt barrel when you climb the Ruprechtsstiege (stairs) today. The church dedicated to him was protected by the Salzer. The distributors and producers protected the Salzkammer [the salt chamber], and later the Salzamt [the salt office], whose memory is kept alive by the restaurant of the same name.
In addition to the salt trade, the sale of fish is also reflected in Vienna’s cartography. Take, for example, the Fischerstiege [Fishermens’ Stairs] or the Fischhof, which was once a fish market and was moved to the Hohen Markt (High Market) in the late 13th century.
Other former neighbourhoods around today’s Neutorgasse 4-8 were the Salzgries barracks and the Untere [lower] arsenal. The latter wasn’t abandoned until the 18th century and continued to be used for military purposes until its demolition in the 1870's. The barracks were torn down roughly ten years later. Both buildings made room for the largest preserved Wilhelminian construction today.
Textile district as a political legacy googlemap gonzagagasse/rudolfsplatz
The fall of the city fortifications in 1858 and the simultaneous start of the construction of the Ringstrasse, an enormous municipal expansion project, brought great transformations to the urban landscape.
The textile industry settled around the Gonzagagasse and Rudolfsplatz areas and played a dominant role here from the start. Even National Socialism could not destroy the continuous use of this area. And that despite the fact that the textile district, with a large density of Jewish companies, reports one of the saddest balance sheets in Vienna‘s city history.
Textiles of all types were traded here until the 1970's: lingerie, athletic gear, women’s and men’s formal attire, bed and table linens, wholesale and retail.
In 1976, the very short summer of anarchy (Hans Magnus Enzensberger) came over Vienna: the occupation of the Auslandsschlachthof (a slaughterhouse for livestock of foreign origin) in St. Marx, and ultimately this was torn down in order to make room for a wholesale centre for textiles. This contributed to a dramatic decrease in vitality in the textile quarter in the First District. Shops stood empty as evidence.
But cities often heal themselves after such a forced rest, and the somewhat tired-looking district has become quite vibrant again. Many restaurants and bars have opened. The internationally renowned designer team EOOS has been doing business from its studio in Zelinkagasse since 2005. Lighting manufacturer Artemide has set up shop on the Salzgries.
On the northwest corner of the triangle, Theophil Hansen‘s stock exchange building (1877) has received a new neighbour. OPEC, the Haus der Europäischen Union (the House of the European Union), luxury flats and a large legal firm have moved into the former ÖGB-Block Schottenring 14 - Wipplingerstraße – Helfersdorferstraße – Hohenstaufengasse. OPEC did not want to settle for the unique Schottenring Link between history and modern (Ute Georgeacopol) on the Helfersdorferstrasse: The residential and commercial building was constructed from 1915 to 1917 by Viktor Karplus, who later also built for Red Vienna. It was torn down in 2007, while Schottenring 14, built in the 1870’s, was allowed to remain because it was the birthplace of Stephan Zweig; it also received a new office interior.
Between the massive new OPEC construction (Atelier Hayde) and Schottenring 14, there is another new building made of glass by Tillner & Willinger and Steffel. The former Kai palace at Franz-Josefs-Kai 47 had already been torn down in 2001; the architecture firm of Henke & Schreieck created new offices with modern working conditions.
Improvements without demolishing world cultural heritage are scheduled at Schottenring 20 to 26. The huge eight-lot building was built around 1870 as an apartment building modelled after the Heinrichshof (damaged in the war and later torn down) across from the Opera. Schottenring 20 to 26, as well as Heinrichshof, the stock exchange, parliament and so many other buildings designed by Theophil Hansen on the Ringstrasse, served until recently as the municipal administrative offices of Vienna's Health Authority. After renovations and reconstruction, Kempinski is planning to move into Vienna; luxury apartments are planned for the very top.
Bene is located at Neutorgasse 4-8 and so is in the middle of all of these new and future projects.