Tag Archives: museum

Wien Museum (Vienna Museum)

10 Jan

I went to the Wien Museum (formerly Museum der Stadt Wien) at Karlsplatz this afternoon. For some reason, I feel the need to justify this on a Thursday. My justification is this: at about noon I finished the preparation for my big meeting tomorrow, the preparation that shortened my Christmas vacation by three to five days, depending on how you count it. Now I’m making up part of one of those missing vacation days.

The incentives were also strong. The Museum will be closing for extensive renovation and expansion on 3 February 2019, and an exhibition I’ve been wanting to see ends this Sunday already. (I can’t go tomorrow–big meeting–and I hate going on weekends because there are so many people).

In fact there were two exhibitions I really wanted to see so I was there for the better part of two hours, until they closed. One is called “Fluchtspuren” (or “What Remains: Traces of Refugees”). The other is called “Die Erkämpfte Republik” (or “The Hard-Won Republic”) and shows photos and newsreels from the first year of the First Republic of Austria (one hundred years ago).

“Traces of Refugees” is small. It displays 15 telling, everyday objects–shorts lovingly sewn by a mother for her son out of sailcloth and with buttons scrounged from a soldier or the keys that are all that remain of a house that was destroyed when a whole village was burned to the ground in the Balkan Wars. All the objects are connected to refugees to Austria, mainly to Vienna, and mainly at the end of the First World War as the Austro-Hungarian Empire was disintegrating, during the Second World War, and during the Balkan Wars (which I remember as I was already living here then).

This exhibition was in conjunction with a small but wonderful exhibition about Lisa Jalowetz Aronson, who was a costume and scenery designer (as well as being a Jewish refugee in the Second World War). Among other things, she worked with her husband on Broadway, where she landed after being born in Prague, raised in Cologne, and educated in Vienna. The exhibition included a video interview with her done, I think, by her grandchildren. Quite something! She struck me as the epitome of resilience, laughing easily as she recounted hair-raising stories like how angry she was at her parents that they wouldn’t let her finish her art studies in Vienna (in 1938). “They probably saved my life but I was still furious,” she tells us.

“The Hard-Won Republic” was an important and effective reminder that this city, which is now so beautiful and rich, was cold and starving at the end of the First World War. Trees were being cut down in the Vienna Woods (my Vienna Woods!) to make sure people had something to heat with, and the Viennese traveled out of the city to glean the fields once the farmers had harvested what they wanted. People were literally starving to death and, of course, were terribly vulnerable to disease, particularly tuberculosis.

Beyond that, things that stuck out for me were the fact that Kaiser Karl, Franz Josef’s successor and emperor for only two years, didn’t understand why people wanted him to abdicate(!). (Seeing a photo of him getting off a plane at the airfield in Aspern with his wife and children reminded me that this is all recent enough–and I have been here long enough–to have seen Zita Hapsburg’s funeral in Vienna. Something to tell my grandchildren, if I had any.)

Other things: Within days after the end of the war, there were three security forces in Vienna, each allied with a different political platform. Anti-Semitism was as strong and, in some ways as subtle, as ever. Women were getting the vote. People were taking to the streets–a different group practically every day it seemed. And in 1924 there was a massive anti-war protest (“Nie wieder Krieg!” or “Never again war!”) in front of the City Hall.

If I’d had time, I could have gone to the “Gemma, Gemma” exhibition (“Gemma” is Viennese for “Let’s go” or “Let’s get going”) about the coming renovations and expansion. As it is, I took a brief moment on my way out to watch a video about it. It looks very promising. (And this from someone who hates change.)

An afternoon very well spent, if you ask me.