Karl Lueger was an extremely popular Vienna mayor from 1897 to 1910. Yet, over a hundred years later, he remains a widely discussed figure in Austrian history due to his antisemitic views and politics. Now, an expert committee has proposed tilting his statue as a nod to his controversial legacy.
His time in office came during a Viennese golden age. Karl Lueger brought both fresh running water and gas to the Austrian capital for the first time. While he was mayor, the city saw the heyday of Austrian historical heavyweights like Gustav Mahler, Gustav Klimt, and Sigmund Freund. Under Lueger, the city built the public transport foundations Vienna is still known for today.
But he was also one of the most notorious antisemites in Austrian history. Historians widely agree that his rhetoric against Jewish people was a key inspiration for Adolf Hitler in the decades that followed. In Mein Kampf, Hitler described Lueger as “the most terrific German mayor of all time.”
Lueger is noted to have employed common antisemitic rhetoric to mobilise Vienna’s middle classes into blaming Jews for social problems. He called Jews “specialists in vile profits” and accused them of “expropriation of the indigenous population.”
In recent years, Vienna has struggled to deal with his controversial legacy. In 2012, the city renamed the “Karl Lueger Ring” road to “University Ring,” something the far-right Freedom Party called a “scandal” at the time. In 2021, at a time when crowds in Bristol toppled the statue of British slave trader Edward Colston, Vienna chose to leave Lueger’s four-metre-high bronze statue standing. He also still has a bridge and a square named in his honour.
Rather than tear it down, or leave it untouched, a city expert panel has recommended tilting Lueger’s statue 3.5 degrees to the right, as a way to “contextualize” his legacy.
Das Konzept zur Kontextualisierung des Karl Lueger Denkmals ist laut eigens dafür eingesetzter Jury beschlossen: Die Figur des früheren Wiener Bürgermeisters wird sich künftig um 3,5 Grad nach rechts neigen. Pläne für das Projekt stammen vom Wiener Künstler Klemens Wihlidal. 1/7 pic.twitter.com/fvlYBMdvoc
— Stadt Wien (@Stadt_Wien) May 31, 2023
“With racist rhetoric and populism, Karl Lueger made antisemitism a political program,” a tweet from the City of Vienna noted.
After convening an expert panel of artists and political experts, Vienna went with the tilting proposal from artist Klemens Wihlidal, noting that it would show how Austrian society was breaking away from uncritical praise of the former mayor.
City officials have so far not said precisely when the statue will be changed.