The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

Intimacy in a Splendid Metropolis: Versatile Encounters between Jews and Non-Jews in Vienna around 1900

Dr. Susanne Korbel

In the last decades of the 19th century, the Habsburg Empire saw a mass migration movement in which altogether more than three million people, among them Jews and non-Jews alike, emigrated either towards Central European metropolises or headed further to the United States. Vienna became a metropolis of more than one million inhabitants, and the administration and inhabitants of the city had to deal with a harsh shortage in housing. The situation made people share housing or even beds with their fellow citizens – twenty percent of Vienna’s population lived as so-called bed lodgers. What is more, the phenomenon of Heimarbeit made private homes working places for the production of trading goods. Those who could afford more comfortable living conditions lived in their private apartments also not only with their family members. The upper class but also the average middle class employed domestic workers who lived with the families they worked for and had rooms within the family apartments. Hence, Vienna around 1900 offered multifarious opportunities for encounters between Jews and non-Jews.
In this paper, I introduce homes as spaces in which Jewish and non-Jewish relations thrived. My paper aims to analyze practices that were established at homes and ask how they influenced the making of relationships. What kinds of Jewish and non-Jewish encounters took place in private spaces in Vienna? Through close examinations of memoirs, novels, court records, photographs that mention, recount, or explore the embeddedness of Jewish and non-Jewish relations in private living spaces, among bed lodgers, or even between sex-workers and their clients, I argue that the range of Jewish and non-Jewish relations was much broader than historiography has suggested hitherto due to shared experiences triggered by the urban making of the Habsburg capital.