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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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5. “Glücklich ist, wer [nicht] vergißt”: From Broadway to the Necropolis


From Broadway to the Necropolis

Beyond purported Habsburg nostalgia, Austria’s “popular culture” of Austria since the Second World War has scarcely existed in the international mind, offering little beyond Falco and “Rock Me, Amadeus,”1 or, more recently, Arnold Schwarzenegger.2 To be sure, Vienna has, in most traditional terms, relaunched itself internationally as an arts center by the inauguration of its Museumviertel, the expanded Museum Quarter around the Hofburg in Vienna. Yet that transformation has handled Austria’s image only in terms of modern monumentalism, not in other aspects of the culture industry. Nonetheless, as the previous chapter suggests, Austrian culture producers have been adept at using popular culture to recast history for present public discussions. Just as the very name of the nation was based on a manipulation of documents, on a kind of postmodernism avant la lettre, Austria’s many official images have never remained the exclusive property of its various hegemonies.3

To be sure, the Habsburg family never eschewed historical cultures: for instance, it tied its own lineage to Aeneas4 and happily created new ceremonies on historical models, such as when it needed investiture ceremonies for the Throne of St. Stephen, after the 1867 Compromise that created a Hungarian Parliament (including new but purportedly traditional Hungarian “court dress” that was a fantasy reimagination of then-current fashions). In this vein, Franz Joseph and Elisabeth’s 1879 silver anniversary celebration was designed by the painter Hans ← 95 | 96 → Makart (1840–1884) as a pageant of the Renaissance bourgeoisie...

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