Kultur- und Themenführungen - Wien Fremdenführer - Wien

Cultural walking tours - Vienna

Guided tours - Vienna



Jewish Vienna



The first Jew to be mentioned in the history of Vienna was a certain Shlom who lived around 1190 during the reign of the dukes of Babenberg. Since then Jews have played a prominent role in the political, economical and cultural life of the city. The first community settled in the area of today’s Judenplatz. In 1421/22 at the time of the war against the Bohemian Hussites, the community was cruelly wiped out and the synagogue was destroyed; its remains were excavated some years ago. In the 17th century a second settlement developed in the Leopoldstadt across the Danube Canal. In 1670 this community was also dissolved and their members banished. Only a couple of individuals providing economic and financial services to the Emperors (so-called “court agents”) were henceforth allowed to live within the city walls.

The Patent of Tolerance of  Emperor Joseph II led to a remarkable improvement of the political and social condition of the Jewish population. Many of the better-off citizens embraced the way of assimilation and adopted the life style of the educated high class bourgeoisie. Jewish houses, such as the famous salon of Fanny Arnstein, became vivid foyers of cultural and social exchange during the Congress of Vienna and the period of Restoration. The most significant era of Jewish Vienna is the epoch of Emperor Franz-Joseph I (1848-1916). Jewish population grew steadily in the second half of the 19th century due to a constant influx of immigrants from the eastern provinces of the Habsburg Empire (Bohemia, Moravia, Hungary, Galicia, Bucovina). Around 1900 10% of the Viennese population were Jewish. 

During the liberal era of the Gründerzeit Jewish bankers, manufacturers and wholesalers contributed to the economic development and modernization of the monarchy and had representative houses built on the Ringstrasse (Palais Epstein, Schey, Lieben, Todesco). The constitution of 1867 finally brought social equality. As a consequence many Jews turned to intellectual professions and played a dominating role during the period of Viennese Fin de siècle. At the end of the 19th century the terrifying anti-Semitic propaganda of the new mass parties of the German Nationalists (Schönerer) and the Christian Socials (Lueger) empoisoned the public opinion thereby endangering Jewish assimilation. Many Jews then were in quest for an alternative to 19th century liberalism and found it in Theodor Herzl’s Zionism or the Social democratic movement. The breakdown of the Habsburg monarchy represented a harsh turning point for the Austrian Jews, insofar as the majority had developed a certain affinity to the former imperial state. There were great Jewish writers such as Stefan Zweig, Joseph Roth, Franz Werfel and Friedrich Torberg who immortalized the Austro-Hungarian history in their works.

In Austria, the Nazi-regime almost completely destroyed Jewish life and culture. 65,000 people were killed in concentration camps. Thus, a main chapter of Austrian culture and identity was annihilated. Modern Austria therefore has a moral obligation to bear in remembrance this horrid era in Austrian history, particularly in order to preserve this memory for future generations. Hope may be seen in the signs of newly developing Jewish life in today’s Vienna.





The tour starts in the former “ghetto” in the Leopoldstadt district at the place where the synagogue had been until 1670. Passing through the “Große Sperlgasse”, once the main street of the quarter, we come to the site of the ancient “Turkish Temple” (Zirkusgasse), back then the place of worship of the Viennese Sephardic community.

The Praterstrasse leads us into a completely different world; numerous coffeehouses, theatres and ballrooms gave rise to the term “Viennese Broadway” for this area. The former Carl-Theater, the most important stage of Viennese popular theatre where Nestroy had performed, was unfortunately destroyed during World War II. The Carl-Theater certainly inspired young Arthur Schnitzler whose birth house can be seen nearby.

After crossing the Danube Canal we will reach the historical town centre (1stdistrict). Many Jewish salesmen had their shops around today’s Ruprechtsplatz; the street name “Judengasse” still recalls this past.

A few steps further we will see the historical synagogue in the Seitenstättengasse, built by the Biedermeier architect Joseph Kornhäusel in 1824. It is the only temple which survived the horror of November 1938. Our walk then continues to the medieval market square “Hoher Markt” where Fanny Arnstein ran her famous salon. Not far away, we find the house of Samuel Oppenheimer, renowned court agent at the end of the 17th century.

Via Graben, Dorotheergasse and Stallburggasse we will come into the fascinating world of the Viennese coffeehouses and their sometimes odd and bizarre customers, such as Peter Altenberg. In the Dorotheergasse, near the famous café Hawelka, is the Jewish Museum. After a charming walk through one of the best preserved districts of historic Vienna (Tuchlauben, Kleeblattgasse, Kurrentgasse) we will get into the heart of the medieval Jewish settlement on Judenplatz. The memorial by Rachel Whiteread for the victims of the Shoa was built exactly above the remains of the medieval synagogue. In this place of remembrance our tour will end. You may now visit the museum (Museum am Judenplatz) with its fascinating presentation of medieval Jewish life and the excavations of the synagogue.



Practical information


MEETING POINT: Underground Station U2 Taborstrasse (exit: Taborstrasse).

DURATION: 2,5 hours.

END OF THE WALK: Judenplatz (1st district)

FURTHER READING: Steven Beller, Vienna and the Jews, Cambridge 1990.

Michaela Feurstein-Prasser, Gerhard Milchram, Jewish Vienna (mandelbaum city guide), Vienna 2011.

Jacques Le Rider, Modernity and Crises of Identity. Culture and Society in Fin-de-Siecle Vienna, Cambridge 2007.