FREUD'S VIENNA, THEN AND NOW:
THE PROBLEM OF AUSTRIAN IDENTITY
by Mary Klein Killough, PhD
For the Asheville -- Blue Ridge Torch Club
Asheville, North Carolina, La Caterina Trattoria
April 06, 2006
My thesis is that, until recently, Austria continued to live on the rosy myth of gay Vienna at the turn of the last century. At the time Sigmund Freud (1) lived in Vienna, it was a town of waltzes, the beautiful Empress Elisabeth and a supposedly untroubled cultural and political life.
Why use the name Freud in my title? It is a name Americans recognize and I think it identifies the period of rich cultural and scientific life in Vienna from the 1880s to the beginning of WWI which many Americans are familiar with. I could just as well have used the term fin de siecle or “the waning days of the Habsburg Monarchy” or referred to the well-known paintings of the time by Gustav Klimt. It was during just this period that there was a culmination of artistic and scientific achievement hard to improve upon.
I will tell you of my personal experiences in Austria and introduce several of my favorite authors, some who glorify the Habsburg Monarchy, others who expose the negative elements of Austrian history, including anti-Semitism.
My first extended contact with Austria was as a Fulbright student there to study Austrian literature and drama in 1963-64. My then-fiance Patrick Killough had urged me to follow in his footsteps as a Fulbrighter in Vienna.
Vienna in 1964 had left behind the grim, dark days depicted in the 1949 movie The Third Man, which was actually filmed amid the rubble in post-WW II Vienna. It hadn't been too long since the State Treaty of 1955, in which Austria declared its neutrality. This had freed it from the threat of being a Soviet satellite, and the occupying forces had left. Austria was not yet enjoying the Wirtschaftswunder that Germany was. Nevertheless, the two chief cultural edifices in Austria, the Staatsoper (State Opera House) and the Burgtheater, the premier theater, had been reconstructed following the bombing of WWII. You needed only to listen to people on the street, talk with a taxi driver or read the daily paper to learn that whatever new scandal created by Herbert von Karajan, director of the state opera, or what opera and theater stars were up to, was more important than almost any political event. The Opera Ball was the most important social event of the year.
The two "Sissi" movies (starring Romy Schneider as Sissi, the nickname for Elisabeth, and Karl-Heinz Boehm as Franz Josef) about the beautiful Wittelsbach princess, who became Empress Elisabeth, (2) and her handsome prince, the Emperor Franz Josef, got top billing in all Vienna movie houses the entire year. Sissi's face appeared in every shop window and in every context.
Counts and Countesses still abounded in Austrian society in 1964 and even a humble student like me was greeted with a "Kuess die Hand, gnaedige Frau!" (I kiss your hand, gracious lady) in every shop from the butcher's to the book stores.
Hollywood helped the cause along with the release of the musical The Sound of Music in 1964. There were a few Austrian Nazis depicted, but in general the people were shown as victims of Nazis. It was not until some thirty years later that I was to discover that under the mounds of whipped cream covering delicious slices of Sachertorte or Apfelstrudel, there was a more sinister side to Austrian history.
Beginning in the 1980s Austria tried to come to grips with some of the realities of its past. Before the 1986 expose of Kurt Waldheim's Nazi past, most Austrians maintained that they were victims, not perpetrators, of the Nazi atrocities, that they had not willingly accepted the Anschluss with Hitler's Germany in 1938.
Since the Waldheim affair, many left-wing Austrian authors have launched very brutal attacks on the Austrian state and psyche. At the other end of the spectrum, right-wing politicians like Joerg Haider, leader of the Freedom Party, (successor to the Nazi Party) have not helped the situation by encouraging extremist views and winning parliamentary elections. Many Austrians react by either keeping a very low profile or by being very defensive. In spite of all this, or perhaps because of this, I find it very interesting to try to untangle the very mixed feelings about Austria that result. I continue to love Austrian literature and drama, but have a somewhat different perspective on the country than I had earlier.
In 1995 I was fortunate to attend a two week seminar sponsored by the Austrian Ministry of Education on Austrian Literature in which I learned about the seminal work by Claudio Magris entitled The Habsburg Myth in Austrian Literature (3), which explores the nostalgia for mythical "Kakania," the name author Robert Musil created to describe the old monarchy.
The myth that Magris speaks of is the mistaken idea that the various nationalities of the empire all got along splendidly. He explores themes and characteristics many Austrian authors continue to use to describe Austria in the last days of the Monarchy, such as: resignation, nostalgia, melancholy -- all hidden by light-hearted music and social life -- in addition to decadence, sentimentality, denial of history, and willingness to compromise -- qualities Austrians are still thought to have.
To quote Margarete Lamb-Faffelberger's "Beyond The Sound of Music: The Quest for Cultural Identity in Modern Austria" (4):
Austria's evocation of the Habsburg Myth guaranteed a regressive cultural and social conservatism replete with the same images, concepts, symbols, and metaphors that had been employed during the Austro-fascist era of the 1930s.
Later, in 2004 I attended a seminar in Freistadt and Vienna entitled Boehmen liegt am Meer (Bohemia lies on the sea), referring to the huge expanse of the former Habsburg Monarchy stretching from Bohemia in the north, to Trieste and Bosnia in the south, and from current-day Ukraine in the east to the western borders of Austria. The whole question of Austrian identity and feelings of guilt was explored in detail. In addition to those two seminars, I was able to refresh my love of Austrian literature and culture by teaching two courses on Austria for advanced students in the German Department at the University of North Carolina-Asheville in the 1990s.
It was frequently lamented to me in 1964 and later that Vienna was a world capital of what was now just a remnant of the huge empire that it once was. It was like a head separated from its body. And it suffered greatly from this blow to its ego. (Compare the breakup of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union.) An abbreviated version of Franz Josef's title as Habsburg emperor shows how diverse the Habsburg holdings had become:
Emperor of Austria, Apostolic King of Hungary, King of Bohemia, of Dalmatia, Croatia, Slavonia, Lodomeria, and Illyria, ... Archduke of Austria, Grandduke of Tuscany and Cracow, Duke of Lorraine, of Salzburg, Styria, Carinthia, Carniola and Bukovina, Grand Prince of Transylvania, Markgrave of Moravia, Duke of Upper and Lower Silesia, of Modena, Parma, . . . Count of Habsburg and Tyrol, Count of Feldkirch, Bregenz, Sonnenberg, . . . Lord of Trieste, . . . Grand Wojod of Serbia, etc.
In 1878, 23.3% of about fifty million in the monarchy were German, 16.5 % Czech, 2.1 % Slovene, 10.7 % Serbo-Croat, 1.9 % Italian, 6. 2 % Rumanian,
19.5 % Hungarians, with scatterings of Poles, Ruthenians, Slovaks and others. (5)
Is it any wonder that the present day Austrians feel reduced to an insignificant part of their former empire? I will analyze the situation using Austrian writers from the time of the monarchy and in periods following.
First comes Arthur Schnitzler. Freud described the physician turned playwright, Arthur Schnitzler (1862-1931) as his “alter ego”. Schnitzler’s delightful plays such as Anatol or La Ronde captured the naughtiness of the sexually repressed or better said un-repressed Viennese society. He was able to reproduce almost flawlessly the tone of various levels of society, from the innocent suesses Maedl, or “sweet young girl”, a term he invented to describe the charming, innocent lower-middle- class milliner or shopkeeper, to the all-present military officers or members of the upper class or petit nobility who seduced the women. These roues would then casually toss aside the young girls. Schnitzler’s masterful short stories such as Leutnant Gustl or Fraeulein Else are innovative because of their "inner monologues" -- long, silent conversations with themselves in their minds. Both stories end in suicide because of the characters' extreme sense of honor.
The duel was still used to settle the score among rivals, but only those in the same social strata were considered satisfactionsfaehig or “worthy to respond to an insult”. Lt. Gustl spends much of the time in the short story deciding whether to challenge a person of another social strata to a duel. This is also ironic since Schnitzler, being Jewish, was not himself considered satisfactionsfaehig and was not allowed to participate in a duelling fraternity while a student at the University of Vienna. So Schnitzler's works are definitely Freud rendered in poetry. It is odd that although Freud and Schniztler lived in Vienna at the same time they scarcely knew each other personally.
Another puzzling thing I noticed while a student in Vienna in the 1960s was that Freud was seldom mentioned and I could never manage to locate Freud's home in Vienna. I was always told that Americans held much more stock in Freud's theories than Europeans did, even though Freud’s works held a mirror up to the Viennese. Truth be told, some of this attitude was pure anti-Semitism, which was often being swept under the carpet. It was only in the 1990s that a Jewish museum was established in Vienna, long after other German-speaking countries had begun to come to terms with this part of their past.
Austrians conveniently ignored the fact that a high percentage of authors, playwrights, artists, musicians, lawyers, doctors and intellectuals in the monarchy were at least partly Jewish. Such names come to mind as politicians Victor Adler, Theodor Herzl, scientists Sigmund Freud, Josef Breuer, Viktor Frankl, Lise Meitner, musicians Gustav Mahler, Arnold Schoenberg, Erich Korngold, Alexander Zemlinsky, Oscar Strauss, Emmerich Kalman, Johann Strauss, authors Arthur Schnitzler, Hermann Bahr, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Karl Kraus, Franz Werfel, Stefan Zweig, Franz Kafka, Joseph Roth, Elias Canetti, Vicki Baum, philosophers such as Ludwig Wittgenstein, Karl and Josef Popper, Martin Buber, and theater and film directors Max Reinhardt, Billy Wilder and Otto Preminger. (6) They were all Jewish or had some Jewish ancestors. Some had become Roman Catholic or Protestant.
Joseph Roth, another favorite author of mine, describes this period to a “T”. His excellent 1932 novel Radetzky March (7) exactly describes the life of an Austrian officer of the petty nobility, whiling his days away uselessly in the far reaches of the Empire -- mostly in present day Ukraine. The author himself came from the far eastern borders of the empire, Brody, in Galicia, now part of Ukraine.
Let me quote from this novel Roth's rich description of the Corpus Christi procession, an annual event in Vienna which showed all the pomp and ceremony of "His Apostolic Majesty, the Emperor."
Inside Carl Joseph [the main character of the novel] the old childish and heroic dreams surfaced, the ones that had filled him and made him happy during vacations at home, on his father's balcony, when he had heard the strains of the 'Radetzky March.' The full majestic might of the Empire passed before his eyes ... The porcelain-blue eyes of the Supreme Commander in Chief -- eyes grown cold in so many portraits on so many walls in the empire and now filled with a new fatherly solicitude and benevolence - gazed like a whole blue sky at the grandson of the Hero of Solferino . . . The blood-red fezzes on the heads of the azure Bosnians burned in the sun like tiny bonfires lit by Islam in honor of His Apostolic Majesty. In black lacquered carriages sat the gold-decked Knights of the Golden Fleece and the black-clad red-cheeked municipal councilors .. Finally, heralded by the blare of the beating to arms, came the Imperial and Royal anthem of the earthly but nevertheless Apostolic Army cherubs -- 'God preserve him, God protect him' [to the melody of Haydn's Kaiser Quartette, the tune later usurped by Germany in Deutschland, Deutschland Ueber Alles] . . .The white Lipizzaner steed capered along with the majestic coquettishness of the famous Lipizzaner horses trained at the Imperial and Royal Stud Farm ... The loud fanfares resounded, the voices of cheerful heralds: 'Clear the way! Clear the way! The old Kaiser's coming!'
And the Kaiser came; eight radiant-white horses drew his carriage. And on the white horses rode the footmen in black gold-embroidered coats and white periwigs ... On each side of the carriage stood two Hungarian bodyguards with a black-and-yellow panther skin over one shoulder. They recalled the sentries on the walls of Jerusalem, the holy city, and Kaiser Franz Joseph was its king. The Emperor wore the snow-white tunic well known from all the portraits in the monarchy, and an enormous crest of green parrot feathers on his hat. The feathers swayed gently in the wind. The Kaiser smiled in all directions. The smile hovered on his old face like a small sun that he himself had created. The bells tolled from St. Stephen's Cathedral, the salutes of the Roman Church, presented to the ruler of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. The old Kaiser stepped from the carriage, showing the elastic gait praised by all newspapers, and entered the church like any normal man; he walked into the church, the Holy Roman Emperor of the German Nation, immersed in the tolling of the bell. (8)
Robert Musil (1880-1942) is another favorite author of mine. His wonderfully ironic description of “parallel action” in his 1930 novel Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften (The Man without Qualities) (9) goes on for most of the book. Described are the weekly meetings of important members of Viennese society who are planning a gala jubilee of the 70th anniversary of Franz Josef’s coming to the throne in 1848. This imaginary event was planned for 1918, but in reality Franz Joseph died in 1916. The “action” was spurred on by the knowledge of a jubilee the Germans were supposedly planning for Kaiser Wilhelm II, who in 1918 would be on the throne for only 30 years, since 1888. Nothing is ever actually accomplished in the novel but it is delightful to read about the attempts to plan something.
Musil invented the name “Kakania” to describe the old Austro-Hungarian monarchy- a take-off on the ubiquitous K & K for kaiserlich und koeniglich or "Imperial and Royal" description attached to every official document or building in Austria and its territories. It also suggests the word Kaka or" excrement."
Here is how Musil describes Kakania in the The Man without Qualities:
It was the nostalgic yearning to be brought to a standstill, to cease evolving, to get stuck, to turn back to a point that lies before the wrong fork. And in the good old days when there was still such a place as Imperial Austria, one could leave the train of events, get into an ordinary train on an ordinary railway-line, and travel back home. (p. 31)
There, in Kakania, that misunderstood State that has since vanished, which was in so many things a model, though all unacknowledged, there was speed too, of course; but not too much speed. . . . the paper-white arm of government holding the provinces in firm embrace. And what provinces! There were glaciers and the sea, the Carso and the cornfields of Bohemia, nights by the Adriatic restless with the chirping of cicadas, and Slovakian villages where the smoke rose from the chimneys as from upturned nostrils. Of course cars drove along these roads, but not too many cars! The conquest of air had begun here too; but not too intensively. Now and then a ship was sent off to South America or the Far East; but not too often. . . . One went for sport; but not in madly Anglo-Saxon fashion. One spent tremendous sums on the army; but only just enough to assure one of remaining the second weakest among the great powers. ... a genius was considered a lout, but never, as sometimes happened elsewhere, that a mere lout was regarded as a genius. ... On paper it called itself the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy; in speaking, however, one referred to it as Austria, that is to say, it was known by a name that it has, as a State, solemnly renounced by oath . . . a sign that feelings are just as important as constitutional law and that regulations are not the really serious thing in life.
( pp. 31-33)
It is not difficult to become nostalgic about Austria's past. Franz Josef was on the throne from 1848-1916, beginning long before Germany was unified in 1871. After Austria's failed First Republic following WWI and the ravages of WWII, Austria had to re-invent itself as a democracy, the German-speaking remainder of the old empire.
As a part of establishing a new image after World War II, Austria often referred back to two incidents and documents. One was the radio announcement by Bundeskanzler Schuschnigg on March 11,1938 describing the Anschluss with Germany. He states that the German government had delivered an "ultimatum" to appoint a Nazi approved Bundeskanzler or else the German army would march in. In order to avoid any violence and loss of “German" blood the Austrians ordered their army not to offer any resistance if the German army marched in and to await further developments. Schuschnigg then said farewell to the people of Austria -- "God protect Austria".
Another important document was the Moscow Declaration of October 1943 when U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull met with Britain's Anthony Eden and the USSR's V. M. Molotov in an attempt to shorten the war. These three powers stated that Austria had been the first free country to become the victim of Hitler's agression. They considered the Anschluss to have been forced upon Austria and that it should be null and void. The Moscow Declaration does accuse Austria of fighting for Germany during the war. But the idea that Austria was a victim and not a perpetrator of Nazi aggression became a foundation stone of Austria's post WWII Second Republic.
Fast forward now to the 1980s and onward. Leading Austrian authors, such as Peter Handke (b. 1942), Thomas Bernhard (1931-89), Elisabeth Reichert (b. 1953) and the first Austrian author to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature (2004), Elfriede Jellinek (b. 1946), began to openly criticize this stance and what they declared to be hiding of a shameful past by the politicians in their country. In 1986 UN Secretary Kurt Waldheim was exposed as having been a Nazi sympathizer. This was a blow to Austria's image as victim.
In the article “Beyond the ‘Sound of Music’”, Lamb-Faffelberger identifies as further myths -- in addition to those identifying modern Austria with the monarchy -- the idea of Austria's neutrality, its innocence at the time of the Anschluss and its claim to the 1,000 year existence of a land called Austria. She claims that these cliches and stereotypes are fed by films such as The Sound of Music and guarantee regressive cultural and social conservatism.
An escalation of the cultural wars over Austria's image came with the production of the 1988 play by Thomas Bernhard called Heldenplatz (10), (Heroes Square), named for the huge square in Vienna where the Austrians had openly welcomed the Anschluss in 1938 and the coming of the Nazis. The play is a vitriolic attack on Austria's latent anti-Semitism and complicity in Nazism. It was Bernhard's contribution on the occasion of the Burgtheater's 100th anniversary and the 50th anniversary of the Anschluss. In the play, Josef Schuster, a Jew who fled to England in 1938, returns to Vienna, hears the roar of the crowds of 1938 in his mind, and commits suicide.
As one critique of this play puts it,
He [Bernhard] rants artfully and at great length against Austria's politicians and pretensions, against the lowered standards of art and intellect in modern Austria, and above all against Austrian anti-Semitism, symbolized by the Heldenplatz. (11)
Let me quote from this play (these are my translations).
”There are more Nazis now in Vienna than in 1938.” (p. 63); “Hatred of Jews is very apparent now.” (p. 82); “The Viennese are Jew-haters and will always remain Jew-haters.” (82); “... what these people have made of Austria is indescribable, a spiritual and cultural vacuum, a sewer whose stench penetrates [not just] Europe ... this Republicanism with its illusions of grandeur and this illusory socialism [which] has had nothing more to do with socialism for the last half century.” (96-97); “They would all like to gas us as they did fifty years ago.” (115); “... there is a mass murderer in every Viennese.” (118), and so on.
This gives you the flavor of the play.
Author Bernhard and Claus Peyman, the artistic director of the Burgtheater, where the play was performed, were denounced by outraged politicians and citizens. Bernhard then specified in his will that none of his novels or plays could be published, produced or recited in Austria for the duration of his copyright, seventy years.
A more measured expose of unsavory events in Austria's past was presented in Elisabeth Reichert's 1984 short story Februar Schatten (February Shadows), which has also been made into a film. It is a breathless recounting by a peasant woman of the horrible events, the notorious Hasenjagd (rabbit hunt) that took place near her home in February 1945. It is based on fact. In the Austrian concentration camp of Mauthausen, near the industrial city of Linz, and not far from Hitler's birthplace, 750 prisoners of war, including many Russian officers, escaped and tried to hide in the countryside. The local peasants, rather than protecting them, hunted them down like rabbits. This episode in Austrian history was covered up until quite recently.
To their credit, Austrians are now trying to rectify this ignoring of historical facts. These modern writers give a more balanced picture of events in Austria, in spite of their unsavory truths.
In conclusion, I hope I have opened your eyes, as I have mine, to some of the realities in the recent history of Austria. In spite of this, I can say with certainty that the average American tourist in Austria is still charmed by the rich cultural life, beautiful scenery and friendly people in Austria. I will continue to read with great pleasure the works describing the monarchy and more recent writing, and I hope you will too, but with a more realistic view of the country.
2. 1837-1898. She was stabbed to death in Geneva by an anarchist.
3. Claudio Magris. Der habsburgische Mythos in der oesterreichischen Literatur, (translated from the Italian), Salzburg, Otto Mueller, 1966.
4. Margarete Lamb-Faffelberger, "Beyond 'The Sound of Music'" Cultural Identity in Modern Austria", The German Quarterly, 76.3, 2003, p. 293.
5. Lonnie Johnson, Introducing Austria. A Short History. Ariadne Press, 1989. pp. 31-32.
6. Jewish Vienna. Heritage and Mission. Vienna Tourist Board (no date), p. 11.
7. Field Marshall Josef Radetzky put down an uprising in Lombardy in 1848. Johann Strauss wrote the stirring Radetsky March in his honor. The battle of Solferino referred to in the novel took place in 1856 near Lake Garda in northern Italy with Franz Josef personally commanding his troops. The grandfather of the hero of Roth's book supposedly saved the life of Franz Josef in that battle.
8. From The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth, translation by Joachim Neugroschel. New York, The Overlook Press, 1995, pp. 192-93. First published in German in 1932.
9. Robert Musil, The Man without Qualities, vol 1. New York, Putnam, 1980. First published in German in 1930.
10. Thomas Bernhard, Heldenplatz, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt, 1994. First published in 1988.
11. Dictionary of Literary Biography, v. 124, 20th Century German Dramatists, p. 32,
A Nervous Splendor. Vienna 1888/89 by Frederic Morton, 1979. Describes the atmosphere in Vienna around the time leading to the double suicide of Crown Prince Rudolf and his mistress Countess Mary Vetsera in 1889; much information on artists, musicians; separate bibliographies for Brahms, Bruckner, Freud, Herzl, Klimt, Mahler, Schnitzler, Schoenberg, Wolf and Strauss.
Thunder at Twilight. Vienna 1913/1914, by Frederic Morton, New York, McMillian, 1989. Describes the events leading up to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo in great detail. Tells of the stays in Vienna of Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Lenin, Trotsky and Tito.
Fin de Siecle Vienna. Politics and Culture by Carl E. Schorske, Knopf, 1980.