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Belle Necropolis

Ghosts of Imperial Vienna


Katherine Arens

Since coming to public notice through major museum catalogues and the work of Carl Schorske around 1980, fin de siècle Vienna has been cast as the final bloom of a dying culture. Yet this assessment is itself a historical construct, deriving from the politics of the twentieth century. This volume argues that «Habsburg nostalgia» is anything but backward looking: instead, images from this glittering Habsburg past become evidence of a culture’s sophisticated sense of how and why history is made, in both official and popular spheres. Including the first translation of an original account of Crown Prince Rudolf’s suicide at Mayerling in 1889, Belle Necropolis argues for Austria’s continued reuse of its own history to point the way toward the future rather than simply memorializing a past that only exists as living memories of shared stories, not as a truth in itself. Case studies included here range from imperial stereotypes before 1900 through their adaptations in the film 1. April 2000 and today’s musicals, and from the politics of representing Austria since Rebecca West up through Schorske’s master narrative of the Ringstrasse. Through these studies, Habsburg culture emerges as a culture of commemoration that uses its own past to overcome the limits of a small country seeking a role on the contemporary world stage.
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3. The Persistence of Mitteleuropa in Memory: The Ghosts of Central Europe


The Ghosts of Central Europe

The fall of the Berlin Wall helped both to restore Austria to Europe (as it was able to renegotiate its post-World-War-II neutrality, imposed with the 1955 Staatsvertrag) and again to obscure it as central to that Europe. Its 1996 millennium, its celebration of its thousand years’ existence, fell out of visibility—an anniversary celebrating 1000 years after a country name, Ostarrici, referring to a land with unknown borders, appeared in a legal document.1 It is particularly fitting that Austria’s millennium was to be celebrated with reference to a document about a lost geographic entity, a “falsification,” given that its last incarnation, Austro-Hungary, never did have a legal country name.

Within post-Cold-War Europe, the map of that Austria-as-Europe remains as curiously devoid of specifics as ever. Remedies for that situation are few, if any. Many of the post-Wall histories of the nation-states liberated from the East Bloc are written by voices from the Second World War (or their children; see for example Norman Davies’ God’s Playground, on Poland). Another scholar notes that the French, British, and US historians who write the history of Europe are “Atlantic” historians (Kuehnelt-Leddihn 20), many of whom don’t even read German, let alone the other languages of the Europe that could include the land beyond Vienna’s Gürtel. The Nazi era, countered by the Cold War, remains the point of reference for “restoring” Europe, rather than the imperial histories ← 39 | 40 → whose last acts are remembered as...

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