Mediating the City
Thoughts on the tours of 
the project “From Level Zero” 

Rolf Wienkötter

Matthias Klos and Hans-Jürgen Poëtz invited me to create tours through Donau City as part of their project “From Level Zero”. I am an art and culture mediator in various contexts, in museums, exhibitions and in outdoor spaces. Depending on what and with whom I am dealing, the requirements concretise themselves in new ways; there are no templates. The present project is simultaneously the framework for and the object of mediation itself, like Donau City itself. This gives the task of mediating a peculiar character and raises questions. This text sees itself as a sketch: Thoughts in advance, a glimpse into the workshop, even before practice has been given the opportunity to throw everything out.  


“Vienna’s new centre on the waterfront. Here it is possible to live, work, spend leisure time.” That’s the short version of Donau City, as it appears in the “D-City Pocket Guide”, a recent brochure. Elsewhere: “… a lively, colourfully mixed quarter that has something to offer for all demands, needs and desires.” This is the official (self-)description of the quarter. Other observers find quite different words, and residents and users of Donau City in turn have their own feelings. Donau City is anything but a blank slate. In terms of mediation, this is a difficult starting point. 


The practical questions are: What does Donau City consist of? In which form, at what location and in which order can Donau City building blocks be addressed? What attitudes, opinions and judgments do we already have and how can we work with them? What do I take with me as the person who organises the tour? And how does everything stay in touch with the artistic perspective that motivates the overall project? In a certain sense, Matthias Klos and Hans-Jürgen Poëtz’s preferred media, photography and sound, create a feeling of proximity from a distance, by looking and listening. The central element in the tours is the concrete physical movement through the area, in constant coupling with seeing and hearing – as well as with everything we know, remember, associate, feel, like or dislike. All these levels can hardly be separated.


The structural levels that separate pedestrians and car traffic and repeatedly penetrate each other, even if only visually, are a specific feature of the quarter which is often commented on. Isn’t this an opportunity for a “metaphorization” of Donau City? Or would that perhaps be too unfair, because ultimately, isn’t everything “multilayered”? Is it “layers” in the sense of a horizontal division that come to mind, or does Donau City appear as a conglomerate of elements that form into a whole by moving back-and-forth, up-and-down, crisscross, or perhaps not? In any case, beyond what has been built, the experience of the quarter appears as a complex of levels of perception that interpenetrate, illustrate or counteract one another. 


The quarter is constantly commenting on itself. This is not a theoretical remark, this can be seen in many things when one moves around on site. Anyone coming from the subway is greeted by banners, images from the computer that show us the neighbourhood, including the “star parade” of skyscrapers, lined up like cast members of a current hit series. This shapes the gaze and directs perception. The image we are supposed to form of Donau City is thus part of Donau City, as is the language, for example the names of the buildings where we encounter gods or the big, wide world (“DC Tower”), or on the fences of current construction sites which give descriptions of the projects in words and pictures. Orientation, information and advertising are inextricably intertwined. 


In the quarter we walk along “promenades”, e.g., Carl Auböck Promenade. According to Wikipedia, a promenade is characterised by “great strolling quality and interesting vistas”, serves the purpose of “pleasure strolling and only secondarily pragmatic pedestrian traffic functions”. Where can we see this in the constructed reality in which we move? Which type of movement are we enticed to, and to which are we compelled? Patricia Grzonka’s text speaks of the omnipresent ramps. Passages, gate-like situations, bridges and crossings are also conspicuous in their frequency. What is staging, and what is a stopgap? What appears as quality, and what as lack? “As in a fairy-tale high mountain landscape, the – physically separate - levels of pedestrians and vehicles are visually connected.” This was the opinion of the board of the Donau City operating company in 2006, according to an article in The Standard


The expression “Little Manhattan” was used in reference to Donau City. It is not without reason that Rudy Guiliani, ex-mayor of New York, was guest of honour at the opening of Dominique Perrault’s DC Tower 1. To me, “Little Dubai” is more likely to come to mind in various places. In February 2020, I had the unplanned and somewhat strange opportunity to serve as a “scientific tour guide” for an art trip to Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Dubai is home to the world’s tallest building (Burj Khalifa, 828 m); Donau City is home to Austria’s tallest building (DC Tower 1, 250 m). So far, so flat. But both towers are connected with the claim of creating a new city centre. High-rise buildings, the star principle, economic interests and how they relate to urban planning and the goal of a “lively, colourfully mixed quarter” (see quote above) – signals that one wants to set, and living spaces that one would like to create, and perhaps also feelings that arise when moving through the city – these would be perspectives that invite comparison. The proportions are different in Dubai, and even more so – it should be clearly emphasized – the political situation and working conditions. 


Last year, Donau City was the filming location for a high-budget action thriller (Tyler Rake: Extraction 2), with DC Tower 1 as the setting for “breathtaking” scenes. When thinking about the possibilities and limitations of a tour of Donau City, another film comes to mind: Jean-Luc Godard’s Deux ou trois choses que je sais d’elle from 1967. 24 hours in the life of a woman in a Parisian suburb. Everyday life, family, sexuality, money, society, longings, disappointments, moments of happiness, city, politics, history, literature – the design of a totality as an impossible undertaking. Quoting Godard: “You can put everything in a film. You have to fit everything in one film.” We can’t fit everything in one tour of Donau City. But we can try and, in the worst case, fail as happily as possible. 

Rolf Wienkötter

(Art historian, art education)

English translation by Jennifer Blaak