About 20 people take part in Eugene Quinn‘s Vienna Ugly Tour on this sunny Saturday. For 10 euro you get an ugly sticker on the hand – “it’s meant to be ugly” – and 2.5 hours of relentless criticism of Vienna by a foreigner. In English, of course. “I hope you understand the subtext,” says Quinn with a wink.
The former BBC journalist Quinn shows in his tour the ugly parts of Vienna. His motivation is to start a discussion about the city with locals and fight against the clichés of Sissi, schnitzel and chocolate. He wants to show that Vienna is much more than that. Because in actual fact, he loves the city and walks an average of 9 kilometres every day to discover architectural sins in the cityscape. I went with him to his personal architectural sins.
We stand in front of the entrance to the Augarten with a view of one of the anti-aircraft towers in Vienna. They are monstrous remnants of the Third Reich and symbolise forced labour. “Altogether there are only 20 of these towers worldwide. Vienna was very prominently placed on the Nazi map with six flak towers,” Quinn joked provocatively.
This is where his Vienna Ugly Tour starts. We are lucky: bright sunshine and heat prevail on this day. But Quinn was actually hoping for rain because “that would give this tour the necessary dramaturgy. It should be ugly and uncomfortable.“ Why? Quinn knows the darker side of life with the separation from his wife and tries to entertain the people in the group with his black humor. He believes that “Vienna is so beautiful, the city just needed an Ugly Tour.”
He got the idea at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015 in Vienna. “The Song Contest stands for bad taste, bad singing and bad presentation of the countries. I wanted to play with Vienna’s perfect image and show the contemporary and abysmal side as the antithesis”, explains Quinn, whose trademarks are orange trousers with the light stripes of the MA 48 (waste disposal). “Only through ugliness can we discover true beauty and the two have an interesting relationship in Vienna. Beauty can be boring – but ugly never is.”
One of the strange destinations of the Tour is the House of Time with its facade covered in pastel color and wild motives at the Carmelite market. The naked women’s bodies on the facade supposedly represented the lovers of the builder, Quinn explains. Skewed mouths, wavy lines and sperm-like tadpoles adorn the building. “The beautiful is somehow banal – it is the ugly that burns itself into the memory”, says Quinn and “it’s like an accident, you just can’t look away.”
Ugliness lies in the eye of the beholder. That’s why Quinn’s walk is democratically voted on after every architectural sins visited, whether it’s ugly or boring. Quinn defines grey buildings without architectural failings as boring. “With ugly buildings, on the other hand, architects and builders have put a lot of effort, creativity and money into it – and that’s funny.”
Between the market stalls we continue our walk across the Carmelite market, where we stop. In recent years, this quarter has developed into a creative quarter. As a result, it is often the focus of gentrification discussions. Quinn points to a golden roof extension, beneath which there is a glass construction that does not exactly make a homely impression. Is the building aesthetically pleasing? We agree: ugly!
A few streets further on we discover the next questionable building. We see a facade that is only half covered by colourful tiles. On the edges of the building we can see half faces staring at us with button eyes. Quinn calls the house “Kandinsky meets kindergarten”. Maybe that’s why a little child in our group is so interested in this building because „it is so colourful, I like it!“ The house accommodates apartments for short-term rental. The residents won’t care about the outside of the building. I think that’s not the ugliest house in Vienna and it has much space for own interpretation what it presentate.
The Vienna Ugly Tour is one of the few city tours in which locals take part. For tourists the walk is interesting but locals know already the beautiful places and are more interested in the other Side of Vienna. Quinn’s motivation to offer this tour is “The locals should discover and discuss their own city from an innovative perspective. Vienna is much more interesting than its reputation. I want to show another Vienna, beyond the clichés of “Sissi and schnitzel”, a city that is more creative, more contemporary and more adventurous.“
In the Hollandstraße we see the Hungarian cultural institute. Quinn asks the participants “And, who’s hungry for pizza now?” The building is more reminiscent of an Italian pizzeria in its national colours than of a cultural institute. He criticises “no informative posters on the windows. Who knows what they’re doing in there?”
According to Quinn, what is reminiscent of a parking garage in Abu Dhabi is Austria’s Ministry of Transport, Technology and Innovation. Inside there is hardly any daylight, but a bakery and an inn. In the middle of the foyer stands a black statue, at the feet of which a plaque is attached: “The commitment of our client to cultural responsibility was the prerequisite for mastering the artistic, sociological and technical dimensions of this building in creative cooperation.”
But Quinn and his Vienna Ugly Tour had to overcome some hurdles. Not everyone likes the walk as much as the locals do. The Vienna Chamber of Commerce is not happy about the fact that Quinn has appointed himself a special kind of city guide on his own authority. A compromise was made so that the Vienna Ugly Tour would not compete with the official Vienna tours: Quinn is allowed to show “nothing worth seeing” on his tour. He is passionate about exploring Vienna’s ugly side, that should not be a problem for him.