Location is Everything: Rough Trade at the New WU
Students and street-walkers begin to cross paths as the economics university moves to the Stuwerviertel in the 2nd District
The neon lights of the Prater amusement park glowed in the descending darkness on Perspektivstraße.
Two women sat on the curb amid the stench of greasy sausage from the "Hans Wurst" Würstelstand.
They wore black tank tops, jean shorts cut high over bare buttocks, and platform heels.
Looking further down the road, a third, then a fourth, in all perhaps 20 other women leaned lethargically in the shadows or strutted slowly down the lane in tube tops, string thongs, and nude fishnet stockings.
My friend had been giving me a tour of the new campus of the Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien (WU, Vienna University of Economics and Business) just moved to the 2nd District, where she will be studying when it opens its doors in October.
She considered moving to the neighborhood, called Stuwerviertel, but she said that seeing the prostitutes outside her front door would be "depressing".
Facing Perspektivstraße, the campus buildings scream modernity, designed by top international architects. Still fenced in, the Executive Academy – where MBA students pay up to €60,000 for a year of school – looks sturdy and shiny as a black Amex card.
By day, the tree-lined street is quiet and empty. By nightfall, street walkers are everywhere.
Strolling with my friend, I nervously approached one of the women. "Excuse me," I began in German, "could I ask you something?"
Were these women concerned about the influx of 25,000 students and 1,500 staff of the new WU?
"Ja, da ist eine Baustelle, gerade aus," the woman pointed to the construction site.
"Yes, but what is it for? Do you know what is being built?"
"Ich spreche nicht gut Deutsch (I don’t speak German well)," she said uneasily and then
Dilapidated vans slowly cruised down the road, driven by dodgy men perusing the flesh on offer. Walking home from a night class, one would need a hoodie and baggy jeans to avoid the greedy eyes that seemed to undress me as I crossed the street.
Back on the sidewalk, a young man on a mountain bike kindly let me pass in front of him. He looked about 25 and wore a backpack. Maybe a student.
Across the street, two other street women I talked with were just as clueless. Perhaps they really didn’t understand me. Or maybe they had been told to ignore non-business inquiries.
The two worlds seemed far apart. The night crawlers were ignoring the university, the students were planning to avoid the problem.
At an information session about the new campus, a woman student complained that she would never go to campus after dark without her boyfriend.
I approached one more of the prostitutes. Looking about 18, she was thin and pretty with long bleached-blonde hair. Wide-eyed, she looked concerned.
"No German, only English," she said with a thick eastern-European accent.
I asked her about the construction and her eyes flashed to something behind me – the guy on the mountain bike.
"That’s the University of Economics," he said in accented but fluent English. "To your right is the Prater – it’s an amusement Park – and on the left is the Wien Messe parking lot." His tone was increasingly harsh. "Anything else you want to know?" This was not a student. "The girl doesn’t know anything. What do you want here?" Unnerved, I rode away, looking over my shoulder the whole way home.
The WU is moving into one of the only zones left in Vienna for legal street-walking, and some, like Mr. Mountain Bike, know the rules perfectly. Will he have to move his sales operation elsewhere?
It’s an awkward predicament, and students are wary. My friend, a night owl at the campus library, will "definitely not be using Perspektivstraße to go home." But she also sees this change as further gentrifying the 2nd District, eventually driving the prostitutes out. Good for the neighbourhood, but potentially dangerous for the women.
"Pushing them out of the inner-city takes them away from safety infrastructure," she noted, "like police security, public toilettes, and well-lit streets."
From the looks of it, moving the WU is what you might call a "new business model" for the Stuwerviertel, as MBAs move in on the world’s oldest profession. My friend shrugged: Everyone’s first day of school has some awkward moments.