Long before Orson Welles (as Harry Lime) was chased thru Vienna’s subterranean sewers in The Third Man, the city’s labyrinth of tunnels, waterways and culverts offered a secret refuge to many of the homeless poor.
The story of those who lived amid the squalor and effluence may have been long lost had it not been for the work of journalist Emil Kläger and amateur photographer Hermann Drawe, who in 1904 started documenting this secret world. With a local criminal as their guide, Kläger and Drawe descended into the city’s lower depths. In case of attack, they carried knuckledusters and guns—police could offer no protection here.
Drawe photographed these men huddled together under staircases, piled like stones in culverts, or wandering across the dark waters of the River Wien—lost men who lived, slept, smoked, ate, fought each other and shared dreams of a better future. Sometimes with their help Drawe would reconstruct certain scenes—a robbery, a fight—based on testimonies collected by Kläger. They also visited and documented the lives of the homeless men, women and children who lived in the Christian hostels above ground.
Between 1905 and 1908, Kläger and Drawe presented their work in a series of lectures—the photographs shown as slides to Kläger’s commentary. The authorities tried to stop them. This was not how the they wanted Vienna to be seen—this jewel of the Hapsburg Empire, the city of Mozart, Beethoven, Strauss, of waltzes, Art Nouveau, Kings, Queens, and Sachertorte.
The public disagreed. The men gave over 300 lectures. It led to the publication of a book of their work, Durch die Wiener Quartiere des Elends und Verbrechens (Journey through the Viennese quarters of crime and despair) in 1908.
Residents of ‘The Fortress.’
Men sleep on piles of rubble.
Sleeping under a spiral staircase.
More of Drawe’s photographs, after the jump…