What is the relationship between the constitution of memories and practices of commoning? This question played a crucial role in yet another iteration of walking. However, this time we shifted our walks from the streets of the former settlements in Vienna to meandering through a series of photos and quotes extracted from documentation of the movement. We hoped to embark upon a ‘speculative walk’, including reflections, associations, imaginings and affective memories, in order to study the potential of remembering radical histories. Trying to conjure a relationship between practices of commoning and the settlers’ movement, the conversation revolved around the questions of who the settlers were, and what their motivations and aspirations were.
In historiographies of the settlers’ movement, a few protagonists are repeatedly mentioned: Hans Kampffmeyer, Otto Neurath, Max Ermers, Adolf Loos or Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky. Accounts about male settlers are rare, and there are fewer still about female settlers. How did they organise their everyday lives? What division of labor took place? What was the relationship to the land they were occupying?
The following excerpts stem from audio recordings of a Bildkritik, or critical image reading, recorded during the speculative walk. Questions were posed in relation to archive images. Interlocutors included Kofler and Gautsch, Maria Mesner (a historian and docent at the Institute for Contemporary History, University of Vienna), Gerhard Rauscher (an activist in the Right to the City movement), and members of the Spaces of Commoning research group.
VM: Who are these people? Why are there so many in the woods?
Gerhard Rauscher:They are actually cutting trees, not only branches, but whole trees.
AB: Are these settlers collecting wood for the settlements? So if the camera would shift a little; would there be a construction site next to it?
AG: Or are they people from the city who are looking for firewood? Or are they professionals, engaging in an informal economy of selling wood. [...]
MV: Didn’t you just say that, since 1918, Vienna’s forests have been protected? Is what they are doing against the law?
Maria Mesner: At that time, the authorities were [more] afraid of a socialist revolution. They were not afraid of the woods being cut down. They didn’t really mind about the trees in the forest.
AK: And they did not see the cutting down of the trees as a part of the revolution?
MM: No, I don’t think so!
Julia Wieger: But maybe it is not only about finding wood as building material or heating, but cutting down the forest to settle there? Land-grabbing, so to say. And that’s illegal. At least it sounds very daring!
MM: Yes, indeed. But I don’t think we can compare our understanding of ownership and taking land to that following First World War. Ownership was then a much more undefined question.
HKW: Who are these women? Why was this photo taken? And where?
JW: I think this is a staged photo for educational purposes on how to organise the building site for one of the settlements.
VM: In the background, there are the last remains of the wild settlements. Do you see the sheds?
Elisabeth Kofler: The women have been doing this for weeks. They know how to do it. [...]
AB: Do you think the women were slightly pissed that their working hours were counted less than the hours of men?
MM: No, actually I think at that time, it was a gift. An improvement from no payment to a little payment.
AK: Phew ... depressing. [...]
MH: Do you think all settlers were workers?
AG: As far as I know it was a very heterogeneous movement. Civil servants, the unemployed, organised workers, especially railway men.
MM: We shouldn’t forget that, after the First World War, poor people started to claim the right to have a family. Having a family was a class issue.
GR: Thus there is a clear link. Leaving the city, grabbing land, and building this very typical single-family settler’s house. Is this what we see here?
MV: Claiming rights sounds good. But weren’t the authorities trying to tame the crowd by making them focus on the family?
MH: And how about supporting alternative forms of living?