In 1942 Adolf Hitler decided to build six flak towers to protect the historic city centre of the so-called Gauhauptstadt Vienna from destruction from Allied airstrikes. The existing towers in Berlin and Hamburg served as models for the architect Friedrich Tamms. All the flak towers are grouped in twos, with a Gefechtsturm (combat tower) and a Leitturm (lead tower) forming one pair. These pairs of towers are arranged in a triangle around the heart of Vienna’s historic centre, the Stephansdom. Originally, the Nazis planned to convert the flak towers into gigantic victory monuments to fallen German soldiers. After the war, the towers were to have been clad in white marble. Fortunately, history turned out differently.
After the defeat of the German Reich in May 1945, the flak towers stood empty for many years. Unlike in Berlin and Hamburg, the Allies did not attempt to destroy these giant grey blocks. One reason might have been Austria’s long-standing claim as a victim of Nazi aggression. As a result, the towers remain as concrete witnesses to the crimes committed by the Nazi dictatorship and as unforgettable reminders and warnings of Austria’s culpability. But until now there has never been an active historical reappraisal. After more than 70 years, the concrete towers are now an essential and integral part of the city of Vienna and its inhabitants.
The Arenbergpark Gefechtsturm is owned by the Republic of Austria and administered by the public sector real estate management company, the Bundesimmobiliengesellschaft (BIG). During the war, the tower was used as an air-raid shelter but also as an aeroplane factory (Wiener Flugzeugmotorenwerk Ostmark), the Gau propaganda headquarters (Gaupropagandaleitung), the district administration (Kreisleitung), a radio station and by the company Siemens & Halske. Shortly after the war, the Gefechtsturm was used by a pharmacy company, and the Austrian military, as a storage facility for medical equipment.
The military ran the tower until 1990 when it was handed over first to the Bundesgebäudeverwaltung and then the Bundesimmobiliengesellschaft. The Austrian Museum of Applied Arts (MAK) has had a depot inside the tower since 1995. Since 2002 the Gefechtsturm has been used for art projects such as the light installation by American artist Jenny Holzer presented in May 2006. In 1999 the former director of the Museum of Applied Arts (MAK), Peter Noever, launched a project entitled CAT: Contemporary Art Tower. But the proposed repurposing as a public museum was never implemented and the tower remains a depot to this day.
The square Arenbergpark Gefechtsturm is 47 meters long. It is 42 meters high, has a basement and 9 storeys plus an added level for cannons. The outer walls are 2 meters thick and the walls on the last two floors are up to 7 meters thick. The uppermost ceiling is around 4 meters thick. Like every flak tower, this one also has an integrated natural climate system, which has remained almost intact. The whole of the technical infrastructure (electricity, water, gas, lift) has either been demolished or has not been preserved.
TEXT BY JOSHUA KOEB
1944Infrastructure: flak tower and air raid shelter
2018 Infrastructure: depot of the museum for applied art – MAK (since 1995)
1944 Deutsches Reich
2018 Republik Österreich
2018 Bundesimmobiliengesellschaft (BIG)
Form of government
2018 Parliamentary Republic
Spatial Planning Agency
1944 Organisation Todt and Wiener Stadtbauamt
Type of heritage and protection
2018 National Monument (BDA 5.4.2000 GZ 39.086/2/2000)
Interview with Eva P.
Interview with Gerhard R.
Interview with Silvia E.