I already almost live for six years in Vienna. Anyway, my brain must have felt pointless while my feet’n’legs struggled hard with the pedals of the city bike. Suddenly, in passing by the Austrian Parliament Building, it pulled a little doozy out of its bag I got stuck on: The access to the main entrance of the Austrian Parliament Building doesn’t take place head on; which is different with the German Reichstag in Berlin.
Suddenly I asked myself whether this architectural detail voices anything about the understanding of democracy in those countries. (Let me be foolhardy right from the start: Actually my brain’s a little bit dizzy when it comes to the honky-tonky history of these buildings.) This thought backed itself with the idea that those are central political buildings. Do you feel the same? How do your parliamentary or governmental buildings look like? (I say “governmental” too, because I’m not quite sure whether all of you who read this entry live in a democratic country.) Which picture of democracy or political system does your governmental building portray? Let me know.
In the Austrian vernacular there is a common utterance. “There is no wisdom inside the parliament.” It’s a joky punchline using the figurehead Pallas-Athene Fountain and one of its figures, namely the Goddess of Wisdom, in front of the Parliament Building as occasion. (Out of sight, out of mind.)
Anyway, all kidding aside. My first sense was to prefer the formation of the Reichstag as being more proper. For my first thought was, that in frontally approaching it I’m granted direct access. It’s different with the Austrian Parliament Building. I may have a frontal view towards it, but the access to its main entrance are two bounded bypaths. (I’m not considering the new, behind the fountain hidden and underneath the path and main entrance lying, entrance for visitors.) I felt it to be humiliating; a little bit how one feels as a citizen with democracy: one elects representatives, but neither can I partake in forming my society, nor do those representatives consider my concerns, rather they try to put their bags full with money. (To put in some honky clichés.)
However, what if I take a different stance? In standing in front of both buildings I get a plain view on them. Let’s take a flying leak and say, it’s like having a view of democracy as it is or as it should be. But with this one misses an essential point of democracy. That is, democracy is less an achievement, it is rather a task, as American philosopher Hilary Putnam puts it.
In so far the sideways access to the main entrance could be positively interpreted. Since the view on the whole of the building substantially changes, this could be taken for, first, the self-reflection about one’s own views about democracy; second the openness for letting oneself be questioned by fellow citizens, especially those who took the opposite bypath. By the way, if one’s truly a right or a left wing one gets irresistibly baffled about which path to choose. Always choosing the same, but then taking in one case the opposite direction or deciding for the proper direction, but then walking the same path as the opponent?
So, this detail could stand for democracy as a form of conversation (of experts, since, at least, I am first and foremost expert concerning myself) on an equal footing.
Well, feel free to report your thoughts. I’m interested in what you feel like when seeing the governmental building of your country.