« Creepers: How To Spot One, How To Be One | Main | Stop Jenny McCarthy Before She Kills Again »

July 07, 2013


The Fall of the Dynasties, by Edmund Taylor, gives an excellent history of the the era. He writes well, with a real flair for words.

For a bit, I thought you were thinking about Tom Stoppard's Travesties

-- but that's about Zurich in WWI, where James Joyce, Tristan Tzara (Dadaist) and Lenin were all living at the same time.

Ah, to be in Mitteleuropa, now that wartime's (almost) here.

Gustav [Mahler] (and, moreover, his work)--as well as Alma--is also a good documentation of that time. To that end, more and more readings/interpretation/hermenetics of [Gustav] Mahler's work are contingent upon understanding the politics, society, etc. of turn-of-the-century/fin-de-siecle Vienna.

I wish I had a good link to support this but I'm going to bed instead.

I find two versions
„Forschungslaboratorium der Weltzerstörung" (in "Die Fackel", his periodical) and
»Versuchsstation des Weltuntergangs« (in his diary).

Another groundbreaking work is: Hitler's Vienna: A Dictator's Apprenticeship by Brigitte Hamann. It was the first to critically scrutinize this formative period in his biography and the influenzes of the Viennese conditions on him. Previous works had far too much relied on Hitler's own words.


Thanks for the book rec! I'll certainly look for it.

Thanks also for the quote info! I'm really surprised not to see it in wikiquotes or elsewhere, because it's the quote of his I see most frequently.

Is Kraus still much read in Germany/Austria? In many ways he was a blogger avant la lettre, and I don't know how well that kind of writing wears. Certainly his strain of sexual bitterness doesn't play at all well, these days.

But some of the things he said could be written today without editing: "How is the world ruled and led to war? Diplomats lie to journalists and believe these lies when they see them in print."

I second "Hitler's Vienna" - it's really great and informative (I'm Viennese, so it was extra-fascinating).

Vienna 1913

The personalities mentioned were plotting the institution of the 16th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the sexual revolution of the 1960s, and preliminary plans for ObamaCare, weren't they?

Although Kraus' name is still well-known, few actually read him, I'd say. He shares that fate with many contemporaries. Hey, everyone has heard of Hitler but who takes the effort to go beyond the soundbytes into actually reading Mein Kampf? Both are victims of primarily quotemining (and it's always the same few quotes). Kraus' German equivalent Tucholsky is also mostly known these days through aphorisms (often out of context).

Btw, here here is a rare Kraus soundbyte:
(a href somehow doesn't work on that, sorry)

Count, there is a quote from Kraus rarely used in 'decent' company: 'Sleeping with a woman is a weak substitute for masturbation' ;-)

I find myself unable to rise with a decent Wiener joke, here.

Hi ari! It's great to have your input. How were you taught about this era e.g. in secondary school?

Do you know of any plans for Austrian observance of the centennial of the War?

Prussian sarcasm (nothing personal against ari): If the Austrians haven't changed recently the kids still get told that Austria was the helpless victim of Germany's thirst for war (in both WW1 and WW2). Probably Willy II personally ordered the assassination in Sarajevo (because the archduke beat him by an order of magnitude in mowing down helpless deer) the same way that Bismarck had Ludwig II killed (a common belief in Bavaria). And it is an insufferable insult and calumny to claim that the toothbrush-bearded corporal was (unlike e.g. Beethoven or Brahms) an Austrian. [/sarcasm].
The experience in German schools is btw that nothing happened between Waterloo and Versailles (1918/9) except (maybe) some inconsequential ruckus in 1848. Many kids never hear of Bismarck in school. Interestingly this has nothing to do with politics but with history class curricula that seem to assume that there is an extra schoolyear to deal with the 19th century. The French revolution and Napoleon take up so much time that there is simply no time for that, and the next year is reserved for the first treatment (of usually three) of Weimar and the 3rd Reich. This again takes up so much room that the post-WW2 period gets short shrift. In other words: due to never time-corrected curricula the 19th century and the seond half of the 20th rarely show up in German school history class. I have attended a university course on WW1 where it turned out that most participants did not even know who was on which side in WW1 (a common belief put Britain on the German and Austria on the allied* side).
Most Germans know exactly nothing about WW1 but cannot avoid knowing a lot about WW2 (since there seems to be little else historic on TV).
Sorry for the rant.

*Entente? What's that?

Wow, Hartmut, I'm *reeling*. And I thought Americans don't know much about history! (we don't, generally) Holy hell, don't hear about *Bismarck*?!? Think Britain and Germany were on the same side?!?!? Good heavens.

Do you know if there are any official plans to observe the centennary? Or maybe a big TV documentary series or similar?

One way the English-speaking world keeps an awareness of WWI is through period TV & movie dramas: "Downton Abbey", for instance. Is there anything like this in German-speaking countries? IMDB shows no German adaptation of "All Quiet on the Western Front", I notice.

If we're going to discuss the Great War's centenary, may I plug my book?


AQotWF is school reading (German not history). Most German movie treatments of WW1 are now suspect because they were made from a German National POV before 1933 or by the Nazis afterwards*. The few 'left'/pacifist films are not very well known and some are themselves tainted by communist leanings. WW2 has driven out WW1 almost completely in public consciousness. As for Bismack, he still wins the 'most important German' contests hands-down (like Churchill in Britain) but actual knowledge about him is dim.
There is lots of good literature on history available and someone seems to buy it but I am shocked on a regular base about general lack of knowledge (with the exception of WW2 and the Holocaust). Hey, history is about kings and battles and Germans have grown extremly averse to both (unless it is the young Austrian empress Elisabeth aka Sis(s)y ;-) ).
On the other hand exhibitions on ancient history (Egypt, Mesopotamia, Troy etc.) draw huge crowds including young people, to a lesser degree also those on the Middle Ages when advertised the right way.

We had major WW1 exhibitions around here a few years ago (I assume in 2008, 90 years after 1918). I excpect something big for next year too but have not yet seen concrete announcemnents. Last year was big on Frederick the Great (known to about a third of Germans leaving school that year according to polls).

*both were also very keen on 'Prussian' movies, effectively tainting that topic too.

One way the English-speaking world keeps an awareness of WWI is through period TV & movie dramas

indeed. and it seems we're currently in the middle of a early 20th C revival: Downton, Boardwalk Empire, Gatsby, flashbacks to the 20s in shows like Vampire Diaries, the resurgence in pre-WWII folk music, etc..

i saw some junk jewelry for sale at an airport gift shop that encouraged young girls to "let their inner flapper SHINE!"

oh well, it beats the 80s.

oh well, it beats the 80s.

You take that back this instant, cleek!

I believe Turkey is planning commemorations, together with Australia and New Zealand. All three nations regard the invasion/defence of Gallipoli and the Dardenelles as part of their nation-forging mythology. One of the few positives out of that whole debarcle is that nearly 100 years later the invaders and defenders are on such good terms - partly I guess because of the mythology. (No one regards themselves as having "lost" at Gallipoli, despite the ANZAC and Allied forces having been pretty comprehensively forced to retreat. Considering the Dardenelles now get "invaded" by scores of Australian and New Zealander backpackers and tourists every April I think the Turks are remarkably tolerant!)
Speaking of what gets taught about this, I'm guessing a large proportion of Australians are unaware that we were invading Turkey, and that we were defeated there. Most would also be unaware that there were large number of other Allied troops there - we hear about the British, but not the French, Indian and colonial African troops for example. Until recently the whole slaughter of ANZAC troops in France was overshadowed by Gallipoli, although even that's a more modern thing (I think since about the 1980s, amplified extensively by John Howard when he was Prime Minister, and by the film starring Mel Gibson, heh) - people who lived through it, and who lost close relatives were obviously very, very aware of the French and Belgian battlefields.
The town where my partner grew up is in the process of replacing the trees in their Avenue of Honour - if you read the plaques the majority died in France, as did about three of my great-uncles.


I'm guessing a large proportion of Australians are unaware that we were invading Turkey, and that we were defeated there.

Really?!? I'm astonished. I first learned about it in connection with the Gibson movie, and I remember reading something by an Australian saying how characteristic of the country it is, that the great national patriotic celebration, ANZAC Day, commemorates a *defeat*.

Y'all are making it difficult to keep thinking of the US as *especially* historically illiterate ...

Hmm… now you've got me remembering singing Tom Lehrer songs at PIC with Mike Schiano...

Austria was recently in the news, as an "entertainer" made an unfortunate remark, and was asked to leave the country.
Here is a comment:
I think her remark was genius, in the best tradition of the jester forcing people to face the mountain of skulls on which the glitzy facade that is Austria today is built. That’s the kind of thing drag queens are for, isn’t it? The remark and its aftermath brilliantly exposed those vapid pompous Austrian circuit boys for what they are.

Hitler was not born in Vienna but in Braunau am Inn. Quite ironic that the 'brown' movement was founded by a guy form 'Brown Maddow'. Btw the choice of colour was just by chance. Hitler needed uniforms for his thugs and got the brown ones of the former colonial troops at a bargain price.

I haven't heard any plans for any observances, but I may just have missed them. We have elections this fall, which I tihnk will overshadow any open discussion of the anniversary until then.

As for what we were taught in school... Hartmut is correct in that usually everything after 1800 was crammed into the end of the year, and the events around WW2 tended to be given much more weight than the lead-up to WW1 (but I did learn about Bismarck). I'm also fairly sure we learned about 1848.

I can't remember that we were taught that Austria was a blameless victim - definitely not for WW1. That was always presented more as "the whole (Austro-Hungarian) monarchy got way too big and it's rulers and organization failed to move with the times, thus it became more and more unstable and finally blew up, and at that point everyone got into it".

As for WW2, there are of course people who still maintain that Austria was a victim and nothing more, although I was certainly taught that this way a fiction our government adopted to get out of reparation payments (certain Austrians were probably only too happy to buy into it). There's ... a lot to be said about Austrians and not directly confronting just what people were responsible for.

(My schooling was in the late 80s/early 90s (my Matura was in 1992), and I was in school until 19. People who only stayed in school until 15 would have of course gotten much more condensed and less detailed history. And no matter how long you're in school, what you get told at home matters, too)

Re. movies/TV: there are the horribly kitschy and historically wrong Sissi-movies. I remember a TV movie about crown prince Rudolf and the events leading up to Mayerling (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0484210/). After that... there are the (awesome) Österreich I and Österreich II documentaries created by Hugo Portisch, one about Austria between the world wars, the other about the time after, but that starts with the death of Franz Joseph in 1916. They've been shown on TV, I'm fairly certain several times (and are on youtube, here's part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LgLtQpWL5UA). And then there is Der Bockerer, a great movie, but it's set during WW2 (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0082087/, and also on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCSqAFflJy4)

The people who most regretted their participation in the Sissi movies were the leads. Romy Schneider's career after that was a permanent flight from the image she gained through them and Böhm almost committed a career suicide doing the same (playing a serial killer).

We must be of a similar age, ari. My Abiur was in 1992 too.

I do not want to paint all Austrians with the same broad brush. As long as you have the EAV, there is hope (iirc they got sued by both Waldheim and Haider) ;-)
And as your northern neighbour we have more than enough old (in Franken) and new (in the ex-GDR) nazis not to start throwing too many stones at you. :-(

My brother is an (American) opera singer who has been working for a long time in Germany (Aachen, Kassel, now Augsburg) and Austria (Graz). He told me that the single greatest Austrian achievement was convincing the world that Beethoven was Austrian and Hitler was German.

He may also have been the one who first mentioned "Waldheimer's Disease," where you gradually forget you were a Nazi.

(Having said this, he really liked living in Graz and traveling around in that area.)

I remember loving the Sissi movies when I first saw them, I was probably under or around 10. Years later, I found out just how wrong they were...

I do think that at least the image people have of Elisabeth has changed now, at least somewhat, due to I think both the very good book by B.Hamann about her, the publication of Elisabeth's poems (rather, the reporting about it, which usually mentioned her unhappy life and the fact that the poems were not that great), and the musical "Elisabeth".

There was a time, when I was much younger and more naive, when I thought that once the older people who had been/approved of Nazis died off, that kind of thinking would go away, too. ... Man, I can't believe I was ever that young and stupi... er, hopeful.

(and whoops, that is drifting OT...)

It's not history but Musil's The Man Without Qualities has fun and caustic observances of the Austrian government at the time.

Not to forget Joseph Roth's novel Radetzky-Marsch

Somehow the 'a href=' seems not to work for me anymore.

I don't know if this fits into what you're looking for, but Berlin Alexanderplatz, published around 1930, was also a Fassbinder film:


As one who is pretty ignorant of the causes of WW1, but has also heard that many earlier books on the subject are a little or a lot incorrect, can anyone suggest one or two books that give the real deal? Though many of the books mentioned here sound tempting on their own merits.

Cat Brother,

Niall Ferguson's book on the Great War is pretty decent, although it has a strong pro-German POV. Ferguson essentially thinks that the British should have left the French out to dry. That way, they would not have supported the Russians and most likely, there would only have been a Russian-German war, if even that. Ferguson's cynicism is topped by his opinion that the end result, a German-dominated Europe, would have been essentially the same as the present-day European Union, but without a hundred million deaths.

From older literature, Jan Olof Olsson's "1914" is a nice counter-weight to that. It's an extremely anti-German, and also pretty Marxist, but with Ferguson, you get a somewhat decent view on the topic.

BTW, I would venture that there were also a couple other winners in the WWI:
* Serbian ultra-nationalists, who fulfilled their dream of a Serbian-dominated Yugoslavia.
* Other small nations between Germany and Russia: Czechoslovakia, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Finland.

For the small, newly independent nations, the independence was a mixed benefit. Most of these countries did not remain democratic (Finland and Czechoslovakia being exceptions) and their existing economic structures were severely damaged by the independence. In addition, most of these countries started their independence with civil wars. Still, as a Finn, I consider WWI to have been one of the best things that happened to us: we did not fight in it (Finns were not conscripted to the Russian Army.) but got independent.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Blog powered by Typepad