The Vienna Opera is one of the landmarks of the city with hundreds of locals and tourists visiting it every year. While it is subject of nearly every collection of holiday photos, the building behind (and often ignored by) the photographer is equally steeped in history. If you take the time to turn around and peer at the building on the Ringstraße opposite the Opera, you’ll notice it looks oddly out of place. After the removal of the city’s walls, Vienna saw an unprecedented level of construction. If you had left Vienna, say, in 1860 and came back in 1865 you would have most likely not recognized the city anymore. Apartment buildings were being constructed everywhere for those who could afford homes in this “new” part of the city. One of those who could definitely afford to do so was the industrialist Heinrich Drasche, owner of the Wienerberger brick manufacturing company. He engaged the famous Danish architect Theophil von Hansen (architect of, among others, the Parliament and the Musikverein) to build the apartment building on the Ringstraße that would bear his name: the Heinrichhof. Built between 1861 and 1862, it was an imposing apartment building that was so impressive, it set the standards for the construction of other projects in the Ringstrasse and elsewhere. It boasted four towers that indicated that it was a sort of palace for a new class of people: the aristocracy was passé and a new group of wealthy industrialists were here to stay. The classical allusions remained, however. The façade was adorned by beautiful Hermae, two of which were auctioned off at the Dorotheum in 2015 for 35,000 Euros. The complex also hosted the Heinrichhof Café, which was visited by artists such as Josef Hoffmann and Otto Wagner, and even the composer Johannes Brahms. Frederic Morton recounts how the famous German, who used to have a table reserved for him at the Café, would recline in a chair by the window and then would “doze off” after his regular Mocha. Meanwhile, Morton continues, “Passers-by would pause to admire the Brahms monument which sat there behind the glass pane with closed eyes. It was a thrill to watch the statue come alive and tip the waiter.” Unfortunately, the Heinrichhof was one of the many inanimate Viennese victims of World War Two bombing, being hit in March 1945. Although some believe it could have been restored it was removed entirely by 1954 and was replaced by today’s Opernringhof. This was arguably a less than equal exchange. Not much is left to remember the Heinrichhof. Unless you are able to spend several thousand Euros if another original Herm appears on the market, the best option is to admire one of the surviving engravings or photos of the building. Mr. Drasche, however, lives on to some extent: kept alive by his company Wienerberger that continues to manufacture bricks to this day. And it is in this sense that you could still be lucky enough to stumble on a physical remnant of this seemingly lost past. If you pass by any of the numerous construction sites throughout Vienna right now, you might see a HD brick… send us a pic if you do!
Summer time in Vienna means, among many other things, a non-stop array of festival and events in the most popular of the city’s squares. Find yourself here in those warmer months and you will likely while away a few hours in front of the Karlskirche tasting your favorite drink, dancing, or enjoying a live concert. Perhaps even Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, should you be in the mood for something classical? This atmosphere belies the history of the area surrounding the Karlskirche: it was not always the lively place as it is today. Quite the opposite. At some point in history this area was very quiet. It was, let us say, dead. The existence of a cemetery in the area of today’s Karlskirche dates back to the sixteenth century when the plague devastated Vienna. There was no space for the dead within the city walls and the city authorities probably thought better of interring the victims near those living outside the walls. At some point in the 1600s this cemetery became known as the “Armensünder” cemetery, which literally means “poor sinners”, as both executed criminals and the poor were its primary occupants. Illustrious neighbors for today’s inhabitants of Vienna’s fourth district. However, alongside the infamous and forgotten, lies one recognizable figure: Antonio Vilvaldi. It is believed that he was looking to serve under Charles VI, but the emperor died not long after Vivaldi arrived in Vienna, and he ended up on no fixed income living with his old father. He died almost impoverished in July 1741. The story about how and why he found his way in the Armensünder cemetery will most likely never be known. Both the graveyard and a chapel erected in 1638 (see the picture of an engraving of Salomon Kleiner) were removed in the late 1780s. The bodies were, most likely, never removed. The only remaining evidence of the quieter residents of the area that observant visitors might spot is the plaque commemorating Vivaldi on the Technische Universität indicating it was his place of burial. Incidentally – or perhaps because of this historical proximity - the Karlskirche continues to hold regular Vivaldi concerts. So, in summer – while perhaps listening to ‘l'Estate’ – spare a thought for its composer, who may be following the tune in his grave several meters below you.
Next time you find yourself in the Freihaus neighborhood (Freihausviertel) at night, pause for a moment. Over the modern murmur of the Wieden (the fourth district) you might just catch a faint, familiar melody on the wind. It was in 1642 when Konrad Balthasar Starhemberg (father of Rüdiger who led the defense of Vienna during the second Ottoman siege) purchased a piece of land close to the Vienna River (Wienfluss) somewhere between the current Operngasse and Wiedner Hauptstrasse. Eventually this area became a housing complex, which by 1857 hosted around 1000 people, several shops, restaurants, a library, and a theater! The Freihaustheater opened its doors in 1785 and may have disappeared into the annals of history had it not been the site of the premiere of Mozart’s Magic Flute (Zauberflöte) in September 1791. Emmanuel Schikaneder, who owned the Freihaustheater, had asked Mozart to compose an opera based on a libretto developed by Schikaneder himself. Mozart agreed, and according to one historian, did not demand anything for the opera except for Schikaneder’s word that Mozart would keep the copyright of the piece so that he could sell it if the opera was successful. Schikaneder benefitted doubly, landing the role of Papageno (see the flier in the picture), the bird catcher and most recognizable character from the opera. However, so the story goes, Schikaneder did not keep his word and sold the Zauberflöte to other theaters and made a fortune out of it! Given that Mozart died only two months after the opera premiered, he likely never complained. The building remained in the hands of the Starhemberg family until the year 1872. Under new ownership, demolition began in 1913 and the final parts of the housing complex were completely removed by 1970. Today the neighborhood where the Freihaus was located continues to bear its name, and remains one of the most vibrant parts of Vienna full of coffee shops, hairdressers, bars, and restaurants. Other than the theater and the tax exemption (“the free house”) it seems like everything has remained the same.
"Who is the guy next to Trude Forsher ?" This is an old joke which can be adapted to any famous person but in this case it might ring true. Trude Forsher, born in Vienna as Trude Adler, was one of many who witnessed the assembly at Heldenplatz in 1938, when Hitler annexed Austria to Germany. The next day, her father was arrested and she barely escaped being submitted to violence by one the soldiers. How did she saved herself? She calmly convinced him that touching her would be something to be ashamed of. (The episode is told by her in the video below).That's the kind of woman we are talking about. Trude left Austria and started her new life in England. After London, she moved to New York and married Bruno Forsher. In 1956, appeared on Groucho Marx’s You Bet Your Life TV program and Trude’s article about that experience was published in TV Radio Life magazine. That started a chain of events that led to her becoming Colonel Parker’s secretary in Hollywood. A friend introduced her to Parker, who granted her an interview. The Colonel then allowed her to interview Elvis immediately following his appearance on The Milton Berle Show in June 1956. The following month, Parker hired Trude to be his and Elvis’s secretary at 20th Century-Fox Eventually, she got familiar with people like Gregory Peck, Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra. She was also in charge of buying clothes for the King at the Lansky Brothers and answering the fan mail that Elvis would get, ( 1,000 a day) Before Elvis joined the Army in Germany, he asked Trude to give him German lessons. However, her husband was jealous and accused her of having an affair with Elvis. One night after work, Trude went back home and the apartment was empty; her husband jus left and filed for divorce. This also ended her carrier with Elvis because Tom Parker didn't want her divorce (and the allegations of an affair) to reflect badly on Elvis. They were different times, indeed!. Currently, the Jewish Museum in Vienna is having an exhibition dedicated to Trude Forsher and her life as Presley's assistant from 1956 to 1961. Her son, James Forsher, started this exhibition and - in more than one occasion - said that his mother's heart never left Vienna. (Pictures' copyright: the Jewish Museum of Vienna).
Above is a video with her story told by her son. Part in German and part in English.
"Here in Vienna one's blood gets no chance to stagnate. The atmosphere is brimful of political electricity. All conversation is political; every man is a battery, with brushes over-worn, and gives out blue sparks when you set him going on the common topic. Everybody has an opinion, and lets you have it frank and hot, and out of this multitude of counsel you get merely confusion and despair. For no one really understands this political situation, or can tell you what is going to be the outcome of it."Does it sound familiar and really contemporary to you? Well, it was written in 1897 by Mark Twain in his: "Stirring times in Austria". This article first appeared in Harper's New Monthly Magazine in March, 1898 . Nothing new under the sun.
Ernst Rüdiger von Starhemberg was the commander of the Viennese troops during the second siege of Vienna in 1683 with fewer than 20,000 men to oppose about 120,000 besieging Ottomans. He died in 1701 and was buried under the Schottenkirche. In the picture below you see his tomb. There is more. If you look carefully at the detail on top of the decoration of the wrought-ironed gate, you will see a cross, a globe and a semi-covered golden symbol with a "star" and a crescent moon. There is a legend mixed with history behind this. Between 1514 and 1519 at the top of the South tower (Der Steffl) of the Cathedral a weatherwane (wind indicator) was fitted in the shape of a eight-rayed sun - not a star - with a crescent moon as a symbol of spiritual and temporal power. When the Viennese, during the first Ottoman siege (1529), saw similar symbols in the camp of their enemies , they raised first objections against the "haidnisch Zaichen (heathen signs)", yet they remained on the tower. In the meanwhile, a fake legend/rumor spread out that the Ottomans or somebody consorting with them put those symbols on top of the Cathedral. Only on the occasion of the second siege in 1683, Leopold I woved to replace it when the city was liberated. The new top was a Spanish (double) cross made of copper. The next year, on September 14th, celebrating the anniversary of the city liberation, the new cross was placed. However, it was not flexible enough and already on the 14th of December fell down due to a violent storm. On 31st October 1687, followed the setting up of a new crowning. To the Spanish Cross, the imperial double-headed eagle and the initials of Leopold I had been added. Now the question remains: why the defender of the city on his tomb wanted the old and "heathen" symbols ? Well, Leopold I fled the city during the siege and if it hadn't been for the cavalry led by the the Polish King Jon Sobieski maybe Vienna would have fallen. Not having the symbols wanted by the Emperor to celebrate his "glory" on top of the Cathedral was a way for the real defender of Vienna to settle a score and bear a grudge for eternity!
We love to read at Secret Vienna and reading about Vienna is even better. Larry Hilton, Author of "Europe: chained by history" was a student in Vienna and came back several decades later to visit a very different place. He is in love with our city and has used it as a metaphor for Europe in his book. Secret Vienna asked him to tell us about the period of hyperinflation after WWI. Watch the video: you'll learn something people don't talk about a lot. What is really great about his book is that you become part of history reading about his characters. You see what they see, you are part of their lives and at the same time of the events which shaped not only Vienna but our continent. Click here for the video!
As every good book it will lead you to ask yourself even more questions after you finished it but for some you will find your answers, we guarantee you.
In the 10th district, also known as the "workers' district", if you get off at the last stop of line 67 in Oberlaa (a unique thermal spa), you will notice a full size bronze monument of Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin: the famous Russian poet, playwrighter, and novelist of the Romantic era. It was sculpted by the Russian artist Juri Orechow and was a gift from the city of Moscow on the opening day of the "Moscow Days" which started in 1999. The reason for such celebrations was to mantain good relationships between Vienna and Moscow; the "Moscow Days" take place form the 8th to the 10th of September. There is another connection between the Russian poet and a painting from Velazquez kept in Vienna at the KHM. To learn that story you will have to get your copy of the book "Secret Vienna Stories". Suffice to say that a young princess, an Emperor and a cold storm in Moscow are all elements of this interesting story. There is another link between Pushkin and Vienna. In one of his short plays known as The Little Tragedies written in 1830 and entitled Mozart and Salieri he had theorized about the causes of the sudden death and poisoned-like appearance of the body of the seemingly healthy Mozart which much later influenced the plot of the movie Amadeus.
Fieldmarshall Charles Joseph 7th Prince of Ligne is known for his quote during the Vienna Congress: "The Congress is dancing, but nothing is moving forward" . He was also asked by one of his friends if he could be the "second" in a duel. The Fieldmarshall wrote back to his friend "I will arrive in two days, please provide breakfast for four and dinner for three".The seconds were gentlemen chosen by the participants whose job was to ensure that the duel was carried out under honorable conditions, on a proper field of honor and with equally deadly weapons. They also would accomodate a fitting place for the duel. Duels in Vienna were common back then and one third were deadly. There were also "girls only" duels but this is another tale of Secret Vienna Stories !
The engraving "1439 AEIOU" (on the arc of the westside) stands for the year when Emperor Friedrich III - back then only a Duke - arrived to Vienna. The AEIOU meaning is more complex and it is already present in a notebook of 1437 belonging to him and now at the National Library in Vienna, If you want to know more about it get your copy of "Secret Vienna Stories"! In this particular case, If you use cumpasses pinning the needle on a map where St. Ruprecht's church is located and stretching the other arm to the closest church (e.g. Karmeliter Kirche) you can draw a full circle of a radius of 633 meters (also known as the Chinese mile named "LI", which in Roman Digits means 51: the sum of the letters of AEIOU being A=1, E=5, etc.). Yet there is another mysterious number: if you add the number 51 with the year 1439, you will get 1490, the year when Matthias Corvinus (born 1443) died. He was King of Hungary and Croatia and conquered Vienna until he was chased by Friedrich III and had to flee to Graz and then Linz until he died.