Tag Archives: anniversaries

A little history lesson

3 May

As we struggle with the coronavirus, let us not forget that 75 years ago the Second World War was ending. In Austria alone, as the Kurier reported this morning, the timeline looked like this:

29 March 1945 – Soviet troops entered Austria in Burgenland; members of the SS rolled boulders off the rim of the quarry in St. Margarethen onto the forced laborers who had been driven together in the quarry below, causing a blood bath; massacres of forced laborers took place in Deutsch-Schuetzen and Bad Deutsch-Altenburg; a death march from the southeast towards the concentration camp Mauthausen near Linz (approximately 300 km away) were started

6 April 1945 – There is a massacre, called the “Krems Rabbit Hunt” (Kremser Hasenjagd), as the concentration camp Krems-Stein is being evacuated. In this massacre, prisoners who tried to escape, including the freedom figher Alois Westermeier, were caught and executed.

8 April 1945 – The freedom fighters Major Karl Biedermann, Captain Alfred Huth, and First Lieutenant Rudolf Raschke were executed at the Florisdorfer Spitz in Vienna for trying to negotiate with the Red Army a peaceful transfer of Vienna.

13 April 1945 – The battle for Vienna ends. St. Stephen’s Cathedral stands in flames.

17 April 1945 – Theodor Koerner is appointed interim mayor of Vienna.

27 April 1945 – Declaration of independence and founding of the Second Republic.

28 April 1945 – U.S. American troops approach Tirol and Upper Austria. The last of three death march groups reach the camp in Gunskirchen, Upper Austria. Thousands of those people do not survive the next few days.

29 April 1945 – Last murder by gassing of prisoners in the concentration camp, Mauthausen. French troops enter Austrian soil in Vorarlberg.

30 April 1945 – In Vienna, at the orders of Interim Mayor Theodor Koerner, street signs with National Socialist names are taped over. Hitler commits suicide in his bunker in Berlin.

6 May 1945 – British troops cross the Carinthian border into Austria. The concentration camp [actually Aussenlager”] Ebensee is liberated by U.S. American troops.

8 May 1945 – Eight days after Hitler’s suicide, the Third Reich capitulates unconditionally and the war in Europe is over.

Rooseveltplatz

26 Jul

What a concise reminder of bits of Viennese and Austrian history, all in one sign at the Institute for Social Sciences of the University of Vienna. They are located at what I have always known as Rooseveltplatz. Obviously, it has had different names over the years, reflecting eras and events in Austrian history.

I can guess at most (all) of them. Maximilian was Emperor Franz Josef’s brother, who had the nearby Votiv Church built. Freiheitsplatz (Freedom Square) probably expresses the hopes of the new democracy after the First World War. Dollfuss was the Austrian chancellor assassinated by National Socialists in July 1934. Hermann-Göring-Platz is sadly self-explanatory. And then Freiheitsplatz again until it was named after the U.S. President Roosevelt.

Interesting!

150 years of the Vienna State Opera

26 May

I’m watching the gala celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Wiener Staatsoper and remembering the moment I first saw it.

I was in a car driven by a school friend of my mother’s. It was about 10 o’clock at night. She had picked us up at the airport (thank goodness because in those days the airport bus didn’t run that late(!)) and was driving us to the student residence where we were staying.

We rounded the Ring at Hotel Bristol and suddenly there it was all lit up and glorious. In those days, I believed I was destined to sing on that stage and found the sight electrifying and deeply moving.

Over 30 years later, I must confess to a certain familiarity. I sometimes ride past on the tram without really looking at it, but tonight is giving me back some of that excitement.

To 150 more years at least!

The University of Vienna

7 Apr

Just last week I found myself wondering how long it had been since the former General Hospital and its grounds had been turned into part of the University. Then yesterday as I walked past I saw this sign:

I must investigate.

https://campus.univie.ac.at/20-jahre-uni-wien-campus/

“The Third Man”

30 Aug

Do you immediately hear the zither music when you read that title? If so, you can look forward to some interesting trivia (as well as one person’s reminiscences of a long relationship with the film).

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you can discover a quintessential film about life in Vienna right after the war (WWII, as one must specify in this city which has so much history).

Ah, “The Third Man”. Black and white. Based on the book (do we really believe it was a novel?) by Graham Greene. Directed by Carol Reed. Produced by David O. Selznick. Starring (a still young and relatively slender) Orson Welles as the elusive Harry Lime. Starring still more the city of Vienna c. 1947–“bombed about a bit,” as the English narrator tells us in the beginning. World premier: 65 years ago, on 31 August 1949.

My mother showed it to me when it was clear that I was moving here. Above all, she wanted me to experience the landlady played by Hedwig Bleibtreu because “you might end up with just such a landlady”. (In broadest Viennese dialect she said things like, “Das ist ein anständiges Haus. Hier hat sogar früher ein Metternich verkehrt” Translation: “This is a respectable house. In the olden days, even a Metternich [member of an old aristocratic family] came to visit.”)

My mother had forgotten, though, a treasured line (one of my favorites) from another great Austrian actor, Paul Hörbinger. He played the concierge in the house where Harry Lime lived.  When tired of and scared by questions about Harry Lime’s death, he says he won’t answer any more and adds very gruffly indeed, “Und jetzt gehen Sie. Sonst verliere ich meinen Wiener Charme.” (“And now leave–otherwise I’ll forget my Viennese charm.”) Even writing it down like this makes me laugh.

There are far too many such moments too relate here, and I don’t want to ruin any surprises for those who haven’t experienced it yet. If you are interested in Vienna, I simply encourage you to see it. If you’re in Vienna, you can catch it in the late show on weekends at the Burg Kino. For the time being, I’ll simply pass on some facts that were printed in today’s Kurier.

Part of what people remember best are the music (by great good fortune done by a zither player, Anton Karas, at the last minute when the budget was more or less exhausted) and the chase scenes through the sewer system of Vienna. To this day, you can take “Third Man” walking tours of Vienna including, indeed, a look underneath the commendably clean streets of the city.

First bit of trivia, over 100,000 people have already taken that tour. I’m assuming the tour does not cover all 2,400 kilometers of that system, especially since only 25 meters were used for filming. This year Tom Cruise, who just finished filming in Vienna, took it.

“The Third Man” won the Academy Award(R) for “Best black-and-white picture” and was nominated for two others. Apparently in 2012, film critics named it the “Best British Film of All Time”.

That may have made worthwhile to Reed and Selznick that they apparently only slept two hours per night for the seven weeks they were filming on location. The Kurier reports that they kept themselves awake by taking a drug called dexedrine, better known as speed(!).

The unfortunate Anna Schmidt (Harry Lime’s paramour) was played by Alida Valli, an actress ironically descended from  an old Austro-Italian aristocratic family, possibly as important as the Metternichs ;-). She died in Rome in 2006 at the age of 84.

Five years ago was the first talk of a re-make, which supposedly would star Leonardo DiCaprio as Harry Lime and Tobey Maguire as Lime’s faithful friend Holly Martins. I’m not a fan of re-makes, but I think those two would be well cast, at least. Don’t know what they’ll do about the City of Vienna, though. Most of the bombed out bits have been re-built in the last 65 years.

The famous music was #1 on the U.S. charts for weeks in 1950. The next Austrian artist to achieve this feat was Falco in 1986 with “Rock Me Amadeus”.

To give you a bit of a taste, here is the opening scene, with fantastic running commentary from Major Calloway, the devastatingly attractive if unattainable British narrator, played by Trevor Howard:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fja9kwTl_jU

For people who have already seen the film, here is the unforgettable cuckoo clock speech:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WS-JcaPFzp4

With thanks to Bernhard Praschl of the Kurier, who wrote the article from which most of these tidbits were drawn.

Two exhibition openings in one week

30 Mar

This past week I was at two exhibition openings, in each case at a Bezirksmusem.
Bezirk means “district” and is similar to what the Parisians mean with arrondissement. Therefore the exhibitions were at the small museums that serve each district in Vienna by maintaining and displaying things that are unique to that district. Sometimes these museums are located in the same building as the administrative offices for the district, as in the 18th district where I was on Thursday evening, and sometimes not, as in the 8th district where I was last Sunday. Usually they also house an auditorium that can be rented for different kinds of performances and occasions.
The exhibitions were completely different from each other and yet both fit perfectly the idea of what a Bezirksmuseum is for.
Last Sunday was the Day of District Museums in Vienna. Each district museum (there are 23) was open for most of the day and had its own exhibition on a common topic. In this case, the theme was—not surprisingly—“Vienna 1914: The End of an Era”. (People in other parts of the world may also be aware that this year marks the 100th commemoration of the start of the First World War.)
Each district in Vienna also has a name. For the 8th district this is “Josefstadt,” which explains why the exhibition was entitled “Josefstadt from 1900 to 1914”. If anyone doubts that there was enough going on in those 14 years to warrant an exhibition, allow me to put their minds at rest. It was a time in Viennese history when tremendous expansion was going on. When it seemed clear that the threat of the Turks overrunning Vienna was truly over (around 1858) the city walls were torn down, the famous Ringstraße with its stunning buildings was created, and the satellite towns were incorporated into the city proper. Josefstadt was such a town.
This meant that there was suddenly much demand for housing outside the first district and many of the Baroque houses—too small and too uncomfortable to accommodate the growing and ever more demanding population—were torn down to make room for much larger and, above all, taller buildings. (Sound familiar?)
New streets were created. Several existing streets, like Lange Gasse, were lengthened to open up contact to the—are you ready for this?—9th district. All of this expansion required new transportation and so new streetcar lines and then the Stadtbahn (literally “city railway”, now the U6, running along the old outer line of defense against the Turks) were constructed.
All of this meant that many open spaces, where old maps suggest gardens and orchards that provided food for the district, were built over. The improved transportation no doubt made it possible to bring in what was needed from areas farther out.
The 8th district is considered a very desirable neighborhood, and it was no different back then. The famous painter, Gustav Klimt, had his studio in the courtyard of a house on Josefstädter Straße. He, too, was a victim of the expansion. That house was torn down to make room for a bigger house with no room for artists’ studios, and Klimt had to move to the 13th district (also very desirable so my sympathy is somewhat limited). Apparently, though, he was so attached to his studio in the 8th district that he continued to use the address professionally.
Some of the obvious parallels from that era to this were highlighted by the talk given by the elected administrative head of the district. She mentioned a planned building that will cut off a historic view from the 8th to St. Stephen’s Cathedral. She didn’t mention the building of what has been referred to as the “phantom underground line U5”, but that, too, apparently is on the way. Plus ça change, plus c’est le meme chose.
On Thursday in the 18th district the exhibition was of ceramic pieces with modest price tags done by two residents of the district. The artists, married to each other, were both self-taught and had earned their livings doing something else. The guests were mainly friends, family, and neighbors, one had the sense. Music was provided by two ladies, one on the violin and the other on the cello and both well over 60 at a guess, playing Haydn(?) with an encouraging blend of skill, musicality, and love—true amateurs, then, who probably also live in the 18th. When one had sufficiently explored the artwork one could wander through the 18th district’s version of “Vienna 1914: The End of an Era,” more rural than in the 8th and as such fitting to the character of the district, which lies farther out. To round off the evening, the artists’ son and his partner danced the Tango Argentino.
So you see that, too, was simply a typical gathering at a Bezirksmuseum

24 years in Vienna

1 Aug

I do want to commemorate my arrival 24 years ago almost to the hour, even though I’m not up to a long post.

On August 1, 1988 my mother and I flew over from London on the last Austrian Air flight of the day into a hot and steamy Vienna, were awed by the spotless, shiny marble floors in the airport (now gone, apparently, lost to the latest expansion effort), and were delighted to be met completely unexpectedly by a school friend of hers. (In those days, before Vienna with the fall of the Iron Curtain once again became the hub of central Europe,  the airport busses stopped running at 10 p.m. or so.) The school friend, who with her husband over the course of my first few years became my Viennese parents, hurried us out to the parking lot and drove with great elan into the city to get us to the student residence where we were staying before they locked the doors. I remember with incredible clarity the moment she pointed out the floodlit Staatsoper on the great Ringstrasse. Spectacular.

I have just come back from a long walk in the Vienna Woods in summery temperatures followed by dinner with a few “G’spritze” (white wine spritzers) in Neuwaldegg with a friend so am off to bed. But what better way to celebrate?

Vivaldi in Vienna

28 Jul

This morning I learned in the most pleasant way possible that Antonio Vivaldi died in Vienna. There is a very nice Vivaldi monument in the park around the Votiv Church.

Vivaldi Monument

This morning I noticed something that is not there every day.

Vivaldi Monument with rose

And this is a close-up of the rose …

The rose

In case you can’t read the heart-shaped tag it simply says “Antonio Vivaldi, 28 July 1741.” At first I thought the rose was to celebrate his birthday but when I got home I checked my music dictionary and found out that he was buried in Vienna on that day.

Wonderful to be remembered–and so beautifully–after well over 250 years!

“Ich atmet’ einen Lindenduft” (I breathe in the scent of the linden tree)

30 May

Linden blossoms

Schubert’s song about linden trees may be more famous, but it is the 100th anniversary of Mahler’s death this year so I quote Mahler (or, more precisely, Friedrich Rückert, but Mahler set the poem to music).

The linden trees are in blossom in Vienna already, their distinctive fragrance sweetening the air. They’re early this year, but then it’s been that kind of spring. At the end of March suddenly everything came out at the same time so that forsythia and lilacs, chestnut trees and daffodils were all jostling for attention at once. Now it’s the elderflowers, cherries (not the blossoms, the fruit!), and the linden trees all out together in slightly disorienting array.

Musical addenda

Thomas Hampson singing Mahler’s “Ich atmet’ einen Lindenduft”. Hampson has been singing a lot in Vienna the last few weeks so his name is rather hanging in the air.

Hermann Prey singing Schubert’s “Der Lindenbaum”. I’ve never been that much of a Fischer-Dieskau fan. I’ve always had a soft spot for Prey’s human vulnerability. And I had the great, great privilege of hearing him sing “Die Winterreise”  in the Golden Hall of the Musikverein in Vienna, a year or so before his death. He stood and sang the cycle as if it were an old, intimate friend, which I suppose it was. Absolutely extraordinary.