The Viennese laundry girls must have been a funny people – lively, bustlingand never at a loss for a cheeky answer. Anyway, this is the image we have of them even after more than a hundred years and for which they loved their contemporaries.
One only reads once how Vincenz Chiavacci described them in his sketches from Vienna: “The handling of the soap foam also seems to exert a regenerating force on the heart and mind, as well as on physical well-being. Where else would the many buxom, healthy girl figures with the loud humor and the cheeky mouth come from?”
Today, of course, these “girls” have long since disappeared from the cityscape of Vienna. There are only a few old pictures left in which they encounter us in their characteristic costumes, with the headscarf tied back and the clothes crax on their backs, from which the clothes hung to the side.
“When these ‘Venus women’ walk through the streets with a rucksack full of snow-white, beautifully flattened goods, their chestnut-brown hair decorated with cheeky hair knots, their tight little skirts up to their knees, their legs impeccable and delicately dressed; one can see from all their behaviour that they are aware of their value, and the cheeky looks of the young master world are parried by them with a defiant smile ready for battle. Woe betide the daring, who dares a cheeky little word, a bold intrusiveness; a flood of selected nicknames, which cannot be found in any encyclopedia, is his reward; every word an English penknife.”
But behind this consciously launched image of the “Viennese washer girl” as the epitome of joie de vivre and mother wit stood a harsh reality that was cruel and mean and full of hardships.
Both in summer and winter, they had to start work long before sunrise. For up to sixteen hours they stood in the dusky laundry rooms, ready to sort the laundry, soap it, walk and knock it and finally hang it up and flatten it.
And the reward was a few pennies that were barely enough to survive.
But nevertheless, despite all the hardships and hardships, they seemed to have somehow managed to keep their cheerful character. Maybe that was their way of dealing with this difficult life, but in any case they were known for it and in the course of time something like an independent culture developed out of it.
Their small pleasures and celebrations, especially the laundry girl balls, soon became a well-known attraction in the city, to which the good citizens as well as the sons of the old Viennese nobility aspired.
But in the course of industrialisation and the spread of the washing machine, they finally had to give way to progress and the only thing that still reminds us of them today are a few old pictures, a few anecdotes and a wonderful dessert that bears their name.