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'The Gruen Transfer'

By Nicholas Gruen - posted Wednesday, 28 May 2008


Those with an unusual surname have to get used to spelling it. No it’s not Gluner. Not Glueball or Grewbie it’s Gruen “G-R-U-E-N”. The compensation is your name identifies you or a family member pretty clearly.

But odd things happen to Gruens. In the 1990s I believe some activists were unable to register “The Australian Green Party” because it was similar to the Greens. So for over a decade, Gruens marking their ballot papers wondered just who the Australian Gruen Party were, and why they hadn’t been in touch.

And now I’m getting daily e-mails asking if my finance company is really becoming the Gruen Bank, the first commercial outfit to advertise on the ABC. And what was Andrew Denton doing holding up Gruen Beer at the Logies?

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You can find out tonight when The Gruen Transfer premiers on ABC TV.

Victor Gruen’s life was suffused with excitement, irony and ultimately disappointment. Like my father Fred, Victor was a Viennese Jew who escaped the continent in the 1930s. Victor was also a socialist, an architect and an active participant in Viennese cabaret.

Even with the Gestapo closing in he had an eye for the main chance. A friend donned a Nazi stormtrooper’s uniform and drove Gruen to the airport. That was the first Gruen Transfer.

Gruen found quick success as an architect in America. A modernist fan of Le Corbusier, he designed enticing storefronts with mini-arcades at the entrances to inveigle customers into the shop’s space whereupon eye level displays would draw them further into the store. They were dubbed “mousetraps” for customers.

He had found his métier.

He was a strange mix of bombast, restlessness, idealism and megalomania.

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His architecture sought to recreate in the suburbs the civic space of the Viennese Ringstrasse.

So naturally enough ... he invented the shopping mall.

One of his earlier designs from the 40s envisaged a mall with 28 shops and 13 civic facilities including a library, post office, theatre, lecture hall, night club, nursery, playroom and a stable.

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First published in the Australian Financial Review on May 27, 2008.



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About the Author

Dr Nicholas Gruen is CEO of Lateral Economics and Chairman of Peach Refund Mortgage Broker. He is working on a book entitled Reimagining Economic Reform.

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