Vienna remembers the Great War

written by
Jonathan Bousfield

updated 29.07.2021

If there is one European city that seems particularly focused on the World War I centenary then it is the Austrian capital Vienna, where a host of war-themed exhibitions will be opening over the course of the year. Such attention may come as something as a surprise when one considers that the Austro-Hungarian Empire was one of the powers brought crashing to its knees by the conflict. Few other European nations would find their own decline and fall quite so engrossing.

Austria was at the centre of a huge multi-national empire in 1914, and the Viennese archives are full of photographs and documents recalling the wartime service and home front lives of the Habsburg Monarchy’s many subjects. Implicitly recognized by this year’s events is the feeling that Vienna still bears a burden of responsibility towards all those who fought under an Austrian flag. And it’s by no means just the war that the Viennese are commemorating.

This year’s events also draw attention to the twenty-year period of cultural efflorescence that occurred in the lead-up to the conflict, a period when writers, artists and thinkers as diverse as Gustav Klimt, Arnold Schönberg and Sigmund Freud turned Vienna into the unofficial capital of European modernism. The restless cultural energies of fin-de-siecle Vienna have long been an important part of the Austrian capital’s tourist appeal – and it’s no wonder that this year’s centenary provides yet another opportunity to bring this to the fore. Here are six ways to remember the Great War in Vienna.

The Car, the Pistol and the Ostrich-Feather Hat

As every schoolchild ought to know, the outbreak of World War I was provoked by the assassination of Austrian heir to the throne Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914. The car in which he was travelling, together with his uniform, hat, and one of the pistols used by his assailants, now occupy a completely renovated hall at the Austrian Military Museum. The display will be reopened to the public on June 28, exactly one hundred years after the event itself. As the heir to the military traditions of a multi-national empire, the museum provides a focus of commemoration for all the peoples of Central Europe. Czechs, Hungarians, Slovenes and Croats all served on Austria-Hungary’s Italian and Russian fronts, a point well made by the redesigned permanent exhibition currently being made ready for summer 2014.

From June 28 onwards

The Glory and the Gloom

The biggest and most wide-ranging of the World War I exhibitions, Glory and Gloom: Living With the Great War is the historical blockbuster that most Austrian coach parties will be queueing up to see. Hosted by Schallaburg Castle near Melk, west of Vienna, the exhibition will focus on personal stories of the people – both soldiers and civilians – who were marked by the consequences of the conflict. The exhibition has an international focus, and also shows how truly global the war became for the Austrians themselves: Austro-Hungarian units served in German East Africa, while Austrian sailors caught in the Far East in 1914 spent the war as POWs in Japan.

March 28 – Nov 9


© Christoph Reiter/Shutterstock

And Yet There was Art!

The artist Egon Schiele had a relatively easy war, guarding Russian POWs in a small-town internment camp, and drawing their portraits in his spare time. His experiences were very different to those of Tyrolean painter Albin Egger-Lienz, who served on the Italian front and produced some of the most haunting, tortured and disturbing images of Austria’s war. Both artists feature prominently in And Yet There Was Art! Austria 1914-1918 at the Leopold Museum, a revealing look at the many ways in which Austria’s visual artists responded to the conflict. Schiele’s good fortune didn’t last – he died of influenza on October 31 1918, the very day on which the Austria-Hungarian empire ceased to exist.

May 9 – Sept 15

Armageddon: Jewish Life and Death in World War I

This exhibition at Vienna’s Jewish Museum makes pointed reference to the fact that Austria’s Jews supported the war effort just as much as any of the Empire’s many communities – as many as 300,000 Jews served in Austria-Hungary’s armed forces. The exhibition reveals just how central the Jews were to Viennese life, with Jewish journalists, businessmen and public intellectuals all playing prominent roles on the home front.

April 2 –Sept 14

To My People: The First World War 1914-1918

Named after "An Meine Völker!", the famous proclamation issued by Emperor Franz Josef on the outbreak of war, the Austrian National Library’s exhibition of posters, postcards, photographs, and private drawings documents the war’s visual impact on the Viennese urban scene.

March 13 to November 2

World War I in Vienna: City Life in Photography and Graphic Art

The copious archives of Vienna City Museum will be opened to reveal this rich and rather moving collection of images chronicling civilian life during the war, contrasting the routines of daily life with the distress of poverty and hunger, and brief moments of leisure.

Sept 18 - Jan 11 2015

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Top image © AlexAnton/Shutterstock

Jonathan Bousfield

written by
Jonathan Bousfield

updated 29.07.2021

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