Forget grand architecture – Vienna embraces its ugly side

Forget grand architecture – Vienna embraces its ugly side
The facade of Leopoldsgasse 39, a ‘highlight’ of the Vienna’s Ugly Walking Tour.
© Maddy French

As I wait to meet my guide at the corner of one of Vienna’s market squares, I feel confident that I have already spotted what will be the first stop on our tour of the city’s ugliest buildings. The purple flowery facade of Leopoldsgasse 39 stands out from its beige neighbours, a beacon of individualism that I’m about to find is a common theme on this tour.

“It supposedly represents the artist’s love life,” my guide, Eugene Quinn, explains as we peer at lilac murals of crying women. “From the look of it, I don’t think it was very successful.”

Vienna is generally thought of as a handsome city: all imperial palaces and pretty squares. But a new tour launching – on 2 May, as part of Vienna’s Year of Walking Campaign, which will feature dozens of events to get people out on foot and a global conference, Walk 21, in October – aims to show an alternative to the fairytale cliches.

“The tour is meant to show a more gritty, urban, contemporary and humorous Vienna to outsiders – and perhaps also locals,” says Eugene, who runs the Ugly Walking Tour with co-guide Nina Hochrainer and a culture group called Space and Place. As we set off for a sneak preview, I find I enjoy many buildings for the same reasons others hate them. Dark histories, 1980s aesthetics, and modernism forced on top (literally) of 19th-century architecture, all tell interesting stories. []