Is Grinzing Doomed?

Locals feel that the village’s character is being destroyed by developers, for whom tradition and charm are for sale

News | Franziska Nebehay | October 2008

A sign welcoming visitors to the touristy area of Grinzing (Photo: F. Nebehay)

Tour buses from around the world choke the narrow lanes of Grinzing, pouring out visitors heading for the carriage ways, where small pine branches hang above doorways, signaling that the inns are open for business. In the village of Grinzing, on the edge of the Woods in Vienna’s 19th District, the Heurigen-season appears to be in full swing. Round the narrow lanes and paths the "Buschenschänken" string together, in a village of "Heurige"- special Austrian wine taverns whose name derives from the German adjective "this year’s" and refers to the wine they sell.

But might this idyllic scene be endangered?

"In Grinzing, cultural artifacts are being destroyed, and nobody ever asks the residents their opinion," says Michael Lenzenhofer of the initiative Weltkulturerbe Grinzing (World Cultural Heritage Grinzing). He is contesting a trend towards, what he considers, thoughtless urban renewal in Grinzing, and is fighting for the village’s nomination to become a UNESCO-world cultural heritage site.

Recently, this Heurigen-village on the edge of the city has increasingly received negative headlines, as journalists have reported the continuous suffocation of the historic neighborhood by the twin pressures of tourism and development. While designated a historic site, the area still suffers inadequate protection from development. The magistrate of the 19th district has applied for nomination as a UNESCO-world cultural heritage site, however the application has not yet received the necessary confirmations by the City of Vienna and the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Culture.

Locals fear  that the Heurigen tradition might eventually be lost, as more and more Heurige are being bought up and rebuilt as luxury apartments. Although a so-called "protected zone" exists, the Vienna magistrate cannot prohibit certain remodeling options to which applicants are entitled under current zoning regulation plans. For example, a developer can buy an inoperative vineyard and wait until the soil has deteriorated – a circumstance that qualifies for rezoning.

"It is a catastrophe – I notice new encroachments in Grinzing every day," says leading architect Gustav Peichl, in a recent interview with Die Presse.

Activist Lenzenhofer holds the city responsible for the condition: a 2005 renewal-plan reduced the village’s protected zone by roughly 30 per cent. According to Lenzenhofer, renewal-possibilities have considerably increased; ancient, one-story houses can now be razed and two-story loft-enlargements built in their place.

In a related loss to Grinzing tradition, more and more Heurige have been converted to so-called "Heurigen-restaurants" that don’t serve their own wines and sell qualitatively poorer white wine than the authentic Grinzinger Heurigen. The real "Heurigen" operate under the "Wiener Buschenschankgesetz" of 1975, based on an earlier law established by "People’s Emperor" Joseph II in 1784: It allows anybody to dispense wine and fruit juice as well as selected cold and warm dishes, all year round and at any price, provided all goods are home-made.

The "Buschenschankgesetz" however, does not specify any necessary provisions to be met in order to call a tavern a "Heuriger", as the term is not registered by law.  As a consequence, "The so-called ‘Heurigen-restaurants’ are going to put the originals out of business," Lenzenhofer is convinced.

Because of repeated complaints of Grinzing’s residents, Rudolf Schicker of Vienna’s City Planning Board launched the initiative Leitbild Grinzing  ("A Plan For Grinzing").

In this plan, basic approaches for the development of the townscape’s overall appearance will be established and compared. Lenzenhofer is not convinced.

The project is a "piece of impudence," he says. He was apparently not informed personally, but heard of the initiative purely by chance: "After the first inspection of the village they decided on the construction of a traffic circle – based solely on one study, some   EUR 220,000 have been spent. For me, it’s clear: demolition-procedures are progressing."

Despite these negative voices, there are also other, more positive ones:

Christian Schuhböck, secretary general of the non-governmental organization "Alliance For Nature," who is compiling a documentation on Grinzing’s cultural assets, says that a chance for the village being named as UNESCO-world cultural heritage site definitely exists – "assuming the goodwill of the politicians".

Andreas Wiegel, works manager of the small and family-run Heurigen "Wiegel" would prefer to set the subject aside: "All of these actions and rebellions over Grinzing are just bad publicity for our village. In my opinion, we are doing fine." Lenzenhofer’s actions and the initiative "Leitbild Grinzing," he says, are unnecessary.

"And," Wiegel continues, "nobody from City Hall has ever shown up at my place anyway."

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