This trip to Vienna was invaluable to my Davidson experience and education. Due to the interdisciplinary nature of the trip, both in programming and in participants, we were able to explore the aspects of Austrian culture and history that interested us the most, whether that be walking around the city to see the buildings erected during the Fin-de-Siècle along the Ringstraβe to explore the imperial history of Vienna or speaking to the American mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe individually to help to understand the modern political climate in Austria. As a history major, this flexibility in terms of what we focused on allowed me to explore Vienna’s modern history with ample free time in the Wien Museum and Jewish Museum scheduled in to the program and large amounts of unstructured time to walk around the city and see things like the Habsburg crypt and Schӧnbrunn where the legacy of the Habsburg Monarchy can be seen distinctly among more modern buildings and businesses.
These types of opportunities would not have been available to me on a less interdisciplinary trip. Part of why I could go to so many places outside of the itinerary was due to the wide-ranging interests of the other participants on this trip. With majors ranging from Political Science to Physics, there was always someone else who would be interested in doing the same thing as you were so that you never had the excuse that you didn’t want to go alone.
This diversity of disciplines probably had the greatest impact on my experience in Vienna. Everyone was interested in each other’s academic backgrounds and was eager to hear what exactly brought everyone to this study trip. For myself, that was the opportunity to see a city where so many major events in modern European history have occurred. After reading nearly the entirety of Fin-de-Siècle Vienna by Carl Schorske, I was incredibly eager to have an opportunity to see the city where so many formative events for Europe had occurred during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.
I took a history course last semester entitled “European Metropolis: 1870-1914” that focused on European cities during the Fin-de-Siècle and we spent a solid two weeks discussing Vienna as a political and cultural center during that time. We focused especially on the rise of the far right in Vienna under the authority of Karl Lueger and his Christian Social Party that was able to come to power in the 1890’s through Lueger spewing anti-Semitic rhetoric. This trip provided me with the opportunity to see the buildings and streets where this formative events happened.
The layout of the center of Vienna is largely unchanged from the Fin-de-Siècle. It is still marked by narrow and cluttered streets within the first district with Stephansdom at its center. Surrounding this central district is the Ringstraβe, a contiguous street filled with major buildings and businesses that runs along where the city walls used to stand. Among these Ringstraβe buildings are the Rathaus, Hofburg, and the University of Vienna. Each of these buildings are loaded with history and parts of all of them were constructed just before the rise of Karl Lueger. The Rathaus was built as the city hall of Vienna and continues to serve as its city hall today. Hofburg was the imperial palace of the Habsburgs and has existed for centuries before, however, new additions were built in the late 19th Century and early 20th Century. It was in that building that Franz Joseph reigned over the quickly expanding Vienna of the Fin-de-Siècle and held-up the confirmation of Karl Lueger as mayor over his own fear of Lueger’s authoritarianism and anti-Semitism. The University of Vienna’s current campus was begun in this time and featured murals by acclaimed Viennese artist Gustav Klimt, although his murals were decried by the administration as they were a stark departure from his early work. Karl Lueger was a prominent figure in the time that was somehow tied to all these new buildings, whether as an occupant or as an enemy to the occupants.
Interestingly, you can still see many remnants of this time outside of the massive buildings constructed along the Ringstraβe. The section of the Ringstraβe that ran by the University and Rathaus was called “Dr-Karl-Lueger-Ring” until 2012 when the name was changed due to the anti-Semitic and proto-fascist associations carried with the name “Karl Lueger”. It took until 2012 for this name to change despite Austria’s dark and troubled history with both anti-Semitism and fascism. I had the opportunity to see one of the former street signs for this section of the Ringstraβe at the Jewish Museum of Vienna. In addition to the street sign, the museum had a primer on Karl Lueger and the deeply troubling anti-Semitic history of Austrian politics, but you don’t need to go to a museum to see the reminders of Vienna’s past. At the U-Bahn station for Universitӓtring, the new name for the section of the Ringstraβe that runs by the university and Rathaus, the name of the station along the tunnels still reads “Dr-Karl-Lueger-Ring”. Five years after the name change and the city of Vienna still has not been able to get around to changing the signs in a U-Bahn stop.
Walking around the city, it’s very easy to stumble into “Dr Karl Lueger Platz”, a large public square in the central district of Vienna that contains a large memorial to the memory of Karl Lueger. Walking around the city in other areas, you will run into monuments and memorials to Karl Lueger all over, what you won’t find is anything to remind passersby that this man was a raging anti-Semite and was cited as a direct influence by Adolf Hitler. Then again, you won’t find much in terms of public memory of Austria’s dark past in Vienna. This is clearly a city that has had trouble reckoning with its past.
As beautiful as Vienna is to walk through, as friendly as the people are as you walk into a café to have a mélange, as progressive as that vegan festival happening outside of the Museumsquartier may seem, Vienna is a city that has not yet accepted its own role in the horror of the early 20th Century in Europe. That much is clear based upon public memorials within the city and politics in the country at large, as the Freedom Party, a party founded by Nazis after the end of World War II. The far-right is so powerful in Austria because they haven’t learned from their past. Austria was a nation of the far-right in the early 20th Century and while the far-right faded in other nations, it has never truly left Austria.