Es Geht Wohl Anders (Things Turn Out Differently): The Unexpected Life of Walter Arlen

Sammlung Dichter (The Dichter Collection)

In May 2005, the space that once housed the Dichter Department store became a space for contemporary art. After being seized by the Nazi government in the 1938, and Aryanized by banker Edmund Topolansky, the store reopened in 1954 under the auspices of the Osai Company, who ran the business successfully until January 2005. When the company shuttered its doors, a group of local artists negotiated with the new owner to use the building as a gallery and performance space while he worked on his plans to build a new development on the site. They invited local and international artists to present their work there, encouraging them to be mindful of the building’s history and integrate the department-store environment into their works. They displayed pieces in the shop windows, performed music in the display spaces once occupied by mannequins, and completely reinvented the space.
When the artists learned of the story of the Dichter family, their long history in Vienna and their forced emigration, however, they decided to redirect their efforts and focus on excavating the building’s early history. In 2007, Eva Brunner-Szabo connected them with Walter (Aptowitzer) Arlen and his sister Edith, as well as their cousin Ernest Dichter, who sent them dozens of family photos and archival documents, which they organized into the “Sammlung Dichter (Dichter Collection).”

In 2006, the former department store was demolished. But the community of artists that had formed, under the direction of Eva Brunner-Szabo, Roland & Richard Schüetz, and Dr. Rainer Gries, created an exhibition along the Grundsteingasse they called, “Dichter Herbst (Dichter Autumn) – 100 Years of Ernest Dichter – the Dichter Family Warenhaus Dichter (Dichter Department Store),” a multi-layered exhibition that would function as a kind of memorial to honor the Dichter family and their contributions to Vienna’s history. The exhibit brought the family’s history to life using digital projections, old advertisements and neon signs, and excerpts from the Dichter Collection, and was accompanied by a series of lectures, readings, and film screenings, as well as a performance of Walter’s music, which both he and his sister Edith attended. Then, with support from both the national government and the Ottakring Kulturfreunde, they used the same body of materials to create a public exhibition in the piazza located next to the store they called “Säulen der Erinnerung (Pillars of Memory).” The pillars, which featured historical photos alongside Dichter family history, stood for eight months, and soon, "Pillars of Memory" expanded to become an on-going art project in remembrance of all of the victims of National Socialism. Eva Brunner-Szabo, one of the exhibition’s creators, described:

“The temporary art project “Säulen der Erinnerung (Pillars of Memory)“ is not mainly about admonition, commemoration or provocation, but the starting point of a process which makes public space a vehicle of discourse with the past.”

Roland & Richard Schüetz have generously given us access to the Dichter Collection, from which we have drawn many of the photographs featured in this exhibit, including those in the Photo Library that follows. You can learn more about their work and the Sammlung Dichter on the collection's website

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