0

Museums and malaria on the Eastern Adriatic Riviera

“Kennst du das Land, wo die Zitronen blühn,
Im dunkeln Laub die Goldorangen glühn,
Ein sanfter Wind vom blauen Himmel weht,
Die Myrte still und hoch der Lorbeer steht?
Kennst du es wohl? Dahin!
Dahin möcht’ ich mit dir,
O mein Geliebter, ziehn.”

Göethe, Mignon

 

Versinkende Sonne’, Egon’s Schiele’s 1913 painting of the sinking sunset near Trieste captures the tense and tender twilight years of the Hapsburg monarchy. Schiele’s friend and art critic Arthur Roessler is said to have commented ‘in front of the sun it is already dark and cold, every leaf on the branch is stiff and numb from the cold. A deeply melancholic sky makes me ask whether this same sun will ever return’. Did they predict the sun setting on Stephan Zweig’s ‘World of yesterday’, an ordered world with definite classes and calm transitions’? In the same year, Vienna’s population used the Adriatic to reflect on the ripples in the monarchy’s waves. Sailing off the crepuscular cliffs of the world of yesterday, the ‘Adria Ausstellung’ recreated in the Hapsburg capital the Austrian Riviera. It showed how the Danube monarchy evolved into the Adriatic monarchy. Today, in the last winter before the 100th anniversary of the summer of Sarajevo shots sees Vienna’s city museum again basking in the reflective glow of its former canal to the Mediterranean. The current temporary exhibition ‘Wien endeckt das Meer’ navigates nostalgically along the Adriatic, ambivalently refreshing an era that sunk in 1918, washing ashore picturesque paintings, colourful posters and other madeleinnes of the ‘Österreichische Riviera’

 

A century ago, Vienna was still waltzing whimsically between the belle époque and ‘the age of extremes’.  Stalin, Tito and Hitler wandered through the same baroque streets. Judt has described the Hapsburg capital before 1914 as ‘the fertile, edgy self-deluding hub of a culture and a civilization on the threshold of the apocalypse’.  1914 Vienna ruled an empire of 50 million, divided into 15 different nationalities, stretching from Lake Constance almost to the Black Sea. Critics of the Central European entity referred to the Empire as a ‘prison of the people’, where social harmony was only sustained through keeping everyone in a ‘mutual state of dissatisfaction.’ The frustrated energy and dynamic diversity of the Empire’s most talented went to the capital and made the city the ‘engine room of European culture’ through an explosion of art, science and ideas. Fin-de-siècle Vienna amongst other things contained the Secessionist art of Gustav Klimt, the psychoanalysis of Sigmund Freud and the development of Zionism by Theodore Herzel.  A vital vent emerged from this laboratory of modernity in 1857 when the Südbahn railway connected the Alps to the Adriatic. The regular Vienna-Trieste link established the Eastern Adriatic as a decompression chamber for the Empire.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New technology in the 19th century greatly increased travel possibilities. The steamship company Austrian Lloyd was founded in 1833 and the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 meant that all could start at Südbahnhof and finish in Singapore. The link with Trieste represented a geopolitical reorientation for the Danube monarchy, at a time when it was experiencing severe territorial losses. Less than two decades after connecting the Hapsburg capital to Trieste, the double headed eagle was deplumed of its valuable Italian territories of Lombardy in 1859 and Veneto in 1866. Bismarck himself had driven the Hapsburg Eagle away from the prime position in the Teutonic nest. The decision to build the railway was to break the Austrian dependence on the emerging north German ports. According to Rusinow, the Austrians were ‘jealous of the economic threat from the new German empire and were eager to see Hapsburg goods pass through Hapsburg ports.’ Trieste, the main city in the Austrian Littoral was to become Vienna’s window to the world at a time when the empire’s star began to fade.

 

Suffocated in the West and endangered in the East, the Austrian Empire’s one remaining lung breathed free in the turquoise, glass blue Adriatic. An 18th century oil painting currently at the Vienna city museum presents the last Holy Roman Emperor, Franz II as a new Caesar being admired by two confused, passive and star-struck  ladies representing the newly acquired territories of Dalmatia and Venice. In the aftermath of the 1797 Treaty of Campo Formino, the lion of St Mark was replaced by the Hapsburg eagle. By exchanging its Northern Netherlands possessions for the Adriatic provinces, the double headed eagle began its geopolitical flight from the West to the East, hoping that flying in the direction of the rising sun would make it immortal. On a trip to Dalmatia in 1820, the same Franz was said to have been so impressed by the variety of historical antiquities that he gave the impulse for the establishment of the Split archaeological museum, the oldest museum in Croatia. The Hapsburgs had first illuminated the Austrian littoral in 1818 when Metternrich built the first lighthouse in Istria. In the next century, the foamy azure waves of the Austrian Adriatic frequently reflected the life and times of the Empire.

 

 

Angelo Vivante, author of ‘Irredentismo Adriatico’ noted that the Trieste-Vienna railway arrived at the same time as Italian irredentism. Geography had given the Austrian littoral vital strategic significance that combined with a demographic diversity. Above Trieste, the Alpine barrier fades for a few kilometres- the crest line of Postojna, where the plains of central Europe come closest to the Mediterranean is merely 600 meters above sea level. This makes it the ‘shortest and lowest transit route to the European interior in the whole 1300 mile stretch of mountains between the Bosporus and the Rhone Valley break’. The Eastern Adriatic was also the junction of Europe’s three largest people, Italian, German and Slav, all with historic claims to the region. Dante’s Inferno rhapsodised that Italy lay ‘at Pula near the Kvarner, which encloses Italy and bathes her boundaries.’ The German community in Trieste was organised in the Schillerverein and saw Trieste as their ‘bridge to the Adriatic. In 1910, Trieste had a bigger Slovene population than Ljubljana. One of Slovenia’s greatest novelists Ivan Cankar famously stated that ‘If Ljubljana was the heart of the Slovenes, Trieste was its lungs.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Südbahn was the midwife of the Slovene rebirth, connecting its heart with its lungs. Previously, Slavs who sought social elevation were assimilated through the magnetism of italianità. The railway’s connection facilitated rapid urbanisation coming from the mostly Slavic hinterland. The Austrian government was accused of encouraging the Slav advance as it was more concerned about Italian irredentism. Trieste, the centre of the Austrian Littoral containing some 200 000 people was seen as the most unredeemed’ Italian’ city. The Irredentists reasoned that if italianità could be broken here, their cause might well be lost. For Italian nationalists, the threat was not just theoretical. Industrialisation and immigration had already made the suburbs Slovene, whose population in Trieste had grown by 130 percent between 1900 and 1910. An unsuccessful assassination attempt on Franz Joseph on the 500 anniversary of Austrian rule of Trieste in 1882 showed that the 900 000 unredeemed Italians spread across Hapsburg territory were not always going to be the ‘most faithful’ subjects.

 

Thanks to urbanisation, the Südbahn and its maritime prolongation, the Österreichischer Lloyd, Trieste became the empire’s fourth largest city.  Lloyd was founded by a group of merchants and investors who modelled themselves on Lloyd’s register in London. They intended to encourage the growth of the empire’s maritime commerce. Trieste journalists Dall’Ongaro and Valussi promptly reconceptualised their city as ‘the Hamburg of the Adriatic’ as its commerce boomed.  Lloyd was eventually influential enough to set its own standards in the nascent tourism industry. In 1897 it financed the building of Dubrovnik’s present hotel Imperial. Not everyone in Dubrovnik welcomed the hotel’s opening. Supilo, later one of the leaders of the anti-Hapsburg Yugoslav Committee declared in the same year that the newly opened hotel as a ‘Teutonic fort in the middle of the historic republic’. The accelerating Slavic rebirth meant that financial investments could only be a provisional solution as Supilo argued that ‘we have in front of us something else which we find dearer that material progress and that is the national question. For it is better to be your own master with a mere slice of bread rather than a servant eating a juicy roasts’. Yet while trade grew, the new infrastructure meant that more opportunities arose for the subjects of the seemingly sclerotic empire.

Lloyd’s founders hoped that it would reorient Austrian trade towards the seas and give fresh wind to the Austrian economy. Frank’s research on Hapsburg mercantilism reveals merchants like Revoltella, who argued in 1863 that ‘if we escape from the narrow circles into which Austrian traffic is now banished, a wide boundless horizon opens- a world lies before us which until now has only been know in Austrian schoolrooms… a world full of the liveliest activity, the playground of all other civilised people- where the spirit of commerce daily celebrates unheard-of triumphs’. Soon, Lloyd ships connected the Danube monarchy to all parts of the world. Trade melted barriers as the Hapsburg Empire increased trade with its hereditary enemy, the Ottoman Empire. By the time the Suez Canal was opened in 1869, the Ottoman Empire was Austria-Hungary’s second most important trade partner, after Germany. Trieste became known as the ‘third door to the Suez’. Sailing regularly to Constantinople, Bombay and Hong Kong, Lloyd was a maritime prolongation of the Südbahn. An oil painting in the Vienna city museum presents Lloyd as the sea god Neptune.

 

 

 

 

Lloyd did rule the waves and sometimes waived the rules. Frank’s research reveals that despite being one of the most reliable and comfortable steamship operators, Lloyd was no stranger to international scandals. Druskovich, a captain abroad the Lloyd ship Mars created a diplomatic scuffle in 1870 after the British consul in Smyrna, Robert Cumberbach had discovered slaves onboard his ship. Despite slavery being illegal under Austrian law, the connectivity of the ‘corrupting sea’ made slavery appear as an issue in Austro-British relations. Was Cumberbach trying to ‘lame the powerful competition that Lloyd ships give the English merchant marine in the seaports of the Levant.’?  Despite the British Empire being instrumental in trying to stamp out the slave trade, Cumberbach was ‘scolded not commended by his superiors’. Apart from slaves, the other form of human traffic that embarked on Lloyd ships were tourists.

 

As Lloyd linked up the littoral, travelers could soon reach the Adriatic coast in less than a day. This initially drew Hapsburg royalty to the Adriatic. Sharp eyed visitors to Franz Joseph’s office in Vienna’s Schönbrunn palace will notice a picture of Rovinj on his desk, eyeing up his Riviera from afar. In Trieste itself, the Kaiser’s brother Maxmilllian built the sugar cube shaped castle Miramare and a mansion on the island of Lokrum, near Dubrovnik. Maxmillian seems to have started a trend as his nephew crown prince Rudolph would spend his honeymoon on the island. After the royal family had made the Eastern Adriatic coast a popular destination, it became a popular destination for the Danube monarchy’s subjects, keen to get away from the high prices and long distances of the Côte d’Azur but also from the polarising politics of fin-de-siècle Austro-Hungary.

 

Summer waves of tourist colonisation were strengthened by medical developments that sent more people to the coast. Under the influence of the Vienna school of medicine, Dr Billroth started sending TB patients during the winter to enjoy the warm climate in resorts such as Opatija. By the dawn of the 20th century, rapid developments had made Opatija one of the most popular resorts of the Adriatic. Here, Mitteleuropa moulded the Mediterranean using modern hotels, elite villas and parks. The Trieste writer Magris has argued that ‘the Danubian travellers love the sea and cross the vast Mitteleuropean planes under heavy skies first and foremost in order to arrive at the sea. It is on the sea shores where we meet with the broad breadth of life, which opens to the great question about destiny and the meaning of good and evil; the sea makes us confront ambiguity, it invites us to brave it’. Vienna’s Mediterranean front yard gained an international reputation as ‘Brighton in the summer’ or ‘Cannes in the winter’ and soon began to attract writers such as Checkov and Bernard Shaw as well as the controversial, multi-term Vienna mayor Karl Lueger. Even while he was on holiday, the mayor would not leave polemical politics at home. Upon visiting the Pula maritime museum, he declared that ‘Vienna has secured its foothold on the Adriatic and the irredentists can exclaim evvia as much as they like but this is Austrian territory and Austrian it shall remain.’

 

Like the Austrian littoral, Dalmatia had a pronounced cultural dualism consisting of the Slav and Latin. Dalmatia, up to the geopolitisation of nationality was seen as the interpreter and intermediary between East and West. According to Tomasseo, writer, 1848er and Dalmatian participant in the Risorgimento, the province was a ‘ring between east and west, between the Slavic and the Latin worlds’.  Before the Slavic rebirth, Italian was the language of administration, education and the courts. Through less than 5% of the population, Italian was the official language until 1909. Political representation was fixed to the Italian advantage. The Dalmatian Diet was elected on an unbalanced franchise with 20 deputies assigned to   400 000 South-Slavs and 21 for 20 000 Italians. Despite the imbalance, Austrian ethnographers constantly strived to show how Dalmatia was an exotic land where the Italians and the Croatians co-existed peacefully in a balanced state of harmony, ignoring the growing tensions between the two communities. For a large part of the 19th century, national emancipation through the Italian Risorgimento had been seen as a viable possibility for the ‘Slavo-Dalmatians’ living in the Eastern Adriatic, a handful who had participated in Garibaldi’s Sicilian expedition.

Irredentism seriously threatened Dalmatia in 1866, as the Italian and Austrian fleets fought near the island of Vis. By taking Vis, the Italians were hoping to capture Dalmatia and complete the Risorgimento, arguing that the presence of the Venetian empire on the coast had given numerous cities an ‘Italian’ physiognomy. The outnumbered Austrian fleet scored a victory in the first major sea battle involving iron and steam ships. A painting in the Belvedere palace shows the nonchalant Austrian admiral Tegetoff with his hands in his pockets casually observing his ferociously vigorous crew. Dr Christian Rapp, curator of the current Adriatic exhibition explains that the victory was ‘irrelevant for the result of the war’. The historian Vrandečić describes the Battle of Vis as ‘the 19th century’s second largest naval battle after Trafalgar, which was decisive for the national crystallisation of the local population’.  Although it did forestall an Italian invasion of Dalmatia, Austria was forced to concede Veneto to the Italians. Traces of the Kriegsmarine are still visible in Vienna; the building of the former headquarters is located near Landstrasse and is still decorated by the fading coats of arms of the 12 best Adriatic ports. Near the former royal hunting grounds of Vienna’s Prater is the monument to Tegetoff. The eagle eyed skipper, armed with a telescope and sextant, longingly looks south, still guarding Vienna from a mast.

Defeat at Vis, political reform and changes in the political landscape took the wind out of the Risorgimento’s sails on the Eastern Adriatic. The new constitution of 1867 granted civil rights to the empire’s nationalities. Article XIX prescribed ‘all races of the state equal rights, with the inviolable right of maintaining and cultivating its nationality and language.’ The year 1874 marked a turning point for the Slavo-Dalmatian fortunes, with its anti-Croat autonomist party changing its programme to a more explicitly Italian orientation. In the same year, the first Croatian section of the Slav Sokol movement was founded and a Croatian language university was opened in Zagreb. Less than half a century after the unification of Italy, Italian municipalities in Dalmatia went from 84 in 1861 to 1 in 1914. Tomasseo’s own death in 1874 meant that the autonomist experiment, arguably a predecessor of contemporary European regionalism would have to wait until the 21st century before it could be attempted again.

As the Adriatic became safe from Italian irredentism, more tourists and artists began to visit the Eastern Adriatic. The beginnings of tourism coincide with an artistic turnaround and new aesthetic understandings. While Van Gogh and Paul Signac painted fishing boats on the Côte d’Azur, Austria artists Egon Schiele, Emil Jakob Schindler and Albin Egger Lienz capture similar southern serenity on the Austrian Riviera. Central European culture benefited from the fusion of Mediterranean and Mitteleuropean. Posters of the era inviting people to come to the Adriatic show significant influences of the Vienna Secession. As the pupils of Otto Wagner were intensively building villas, hotels and hospitals along the Adriatic coast, the young Klimt in 1885 painted three frescoes ‘Religious, military and concert music’ in Rijeka’s Ivan Zajc theatre.  Klimt’s first ever commissions singularly represent the symbiosis between the Mitteleuropean and the Mediterranean worlds that was a characteristic of the Austrian Riviera.

 

 

 

The regular connections to the provincial ports of the Austrian Riviera revealed to the world the more backward provinces of the Hapsburg Empire. The famous British writer and pioneer of Egyptology John Wilkinson Gardner described Dalmatia in 1844 as ‘the Siberia of the Austrian empire’. While the former industrialist Kuppelwieser and Nobel Prize winning bacteriologist Koch had helped rid the Brijuni islands from malaria, in Dalmatia, conditions were more African than Austrian.  Vienna may have been an intellectual powerhouse, but Dalmatia in 1900 had a 73.3% illiteracy rate. In a speech given by Smodlaka in 1910, the Dalmatian MP in the Austrian parliament testified to the neglected side of the Austrian Adriatic.  The PhD graduate from Graz University pointed out that ‘the most basic needs of my country are ignored…medieval conditions have survived… Dalmatia has become a land of beggars…the population is today decaying–especially in the north, where there is malaria. Over 300 Dalmatian villages have no school at all; in half the country the number of illiterates is not 50 or 60 but 99 and 100 per cent. More than half of the country has no drinking water’. Smodlaka would have certainly frowned at the ethnographic side of the 1913 Adriatic exhibition, noting that we have no wish to play the part of an archaeological cemetery or an ‘Indian reservation’ with the authentic Dalmatian Red Indians in their gay costume.’ Dr Christian Rapp, curator of the current ‘Wien endeckt das Meer’ exhibition states that: ‘The Austrians did not really understand the problems on the Adriatic well enough to start to solve them’. Indeed Austrian economic policy did little to help the desolate province and in some cases made it worse.

Dalmatia’s economy, based on agriculture, ship building and shipping went into decline causing mass emigration and revolts. Austria’s 1891 trade agreement with Italy allowed the import of Italian wine which undercut Dalmatian exports. This resulted in catastrophic consequences for local wine production. Furthermore, the switch to iron and steel ships ruined shipbuilding as there was not sufficient capital to finance the restructuring of Dalmatia’s wood-based ship industry. Many Dalmatians boarded a Lloyd steamer in search of a better life. Skilled craftsmen from islands like Korčula came to work on the Suez Canal. Unskilled labourers took to gum digging in New Zealand. In 1896, Pārengarenga near North Cape was termed a ‘little Vienna’, as Dalmatians were often labelled Austrians. Contemporary New Zealand newspapers exclaimed against these swarms of Austrians who are now infesting our gum fields. At the moment, we have hundreds of these nuisances taking the gum out of the land and sending nearly the whole of their earnings to Austria’. Disciples of the temperance movement also disapproved of the fortified wine that the Dalmatians produced and dubbed it ‘vile Austrian wine’. A picture taken of the Dalmatian gum-diggers in 1896 shows that despite hardship and exile, a sentimental attachment to the Hapsburg Empire perhaps remained as they are photographed posing in front of the Austro-Hungarian flat. Lloyd made large scale migration possible to every continent. People went to escape poverty but also avoid conscription. A young Arthur Evans, resident in Dubrovnik and working for The Guardian was arrested and deported during the protests against conscription in Dalmatia. A protest from Gladstone procured his release, but the Austrian government still expelled him holding him responsible for instigating the insurrection.

For economic and political reasons, Pan-Slav unity appealed as a solution in Dalmatia. As the First World War broke out, the British regional expert Seton-Watson observed that ‘the Dalmatian Croats will play a great part in the new Southern Slav State.’ Indeed, large numbers of Croats from Dalmatia such as Supilo, Trumbić and Meštrović engaged themselves with the Yugoslav committee that lobbied the Entente on behalf of the South Slavs.  This became more urgent with the signing of the secret 1915 Treaty of London. Britain and France promised Italy most of the Eastern Adriatic on condition that it joined the Entente. Italy’s arguments were national and strategic, claiming that control of the Eastern Adriatic allowed them to hold the keys of the Adriatic and be secure from all military attack behind two impregnable mountain walls on the northern Alps and the Dinaric Alps. Italy’s demands, tapping the Venetian heritage of the coast, were presented as necessary to complete the Risorgimento, calling it ‘the fourth war of independence’. This had found a sympathetic ear within the British establishment, for which the foundations had been established centuries before.

Britain’s affinity with the Western Adriatic went back to Venetian days. Shakespeare had marveled Venetian society in his plays. James I had written a pamphlet in defence of Il Serenissima, a constitutional, maritime and mercantile empire fortified by nature. In the 19th century, the city of the lagoons continued to inspire the imagination of Byron, Wordsworth and Ruskin.  Writers played a part in legitimising Italian territorial claims on the Eastern Adriatic. Travelers like the Oxford architect Jackson felt that the region possessed an evident and unchallenged superiority over all other lands in the Danube-Balkan region because of the enduring contact with Italy, which permitted the local population to retain the language and political traditions of ‘civic liberties, civic order and settled law’ as well as the ancient culture in the face of barbarian colonisation.’  This affinity developed a new élan during Italian reunification that connected the previous affinity with Venice with a certain strand of British Whig politics. Parts of the liberal party, following the anti-Austrian heritage of Gladstone, would have seen the Risorgimento an anti-clerical, liberal and progressive movement.

David Laven’s research on the legacy of Venice for Italian imperialism reveals that Italian journalists like Villari subtly inserted irredentist claims in the British public sphere through articles in the English Illustrated Magazine ‘of the many travellers who annually spend a few weeks in Venice only a very small proportion push on a little further and visit the former territory of the Venetian republic. There a group of towns may be seen thoroughly Italian in character’. Despite the Establishment’s role in the Treaty of London, other Britons like Seton-Watson, Sir Arthur Evans and the future editor of The Times Henry Wickham Steed took a distinctly anti-treaty position. Writing in his newspaper, New Europe, Seton-Watson stated that‘Italy has as much right to Dalmatia as England to Bordeaux. By promising Dalmatia to Italy, we shall galvanize Austro-Hungary into new life. Germany has a better right to Belgium and Holland than Italy to Dalmatia. British historian of the Hapsburg Empire Okey mentioned in a recent interview that Britain and the allies overlooked the obvious injustice was because small nations like the ‘Croats were seen a bit like Kurds today’.

The Italo-Slav boundary would continue to be a major source of contestation beyond the First World War. With Trieste under Italian control after Versailles, irredentism evolved into Fascism. In 1920, the first Fascist violence struck Europe, with the police looking on as a mob burned down the Slovene cultural centre in Trieste. Mussolini celebrated, while his friend and editor of Triest’s ‘Il piccolo’ Alesi wrote ‘with the vigour of her patriotic traditions Trieste placed herself at the head of Fascism’. AJP Taylor has written that ‘Italian rule over the South Slavs in the littoral had no parallel in Europe until the worst days of the Nazi dictatorship’. The Slavs response was to organise Europe’s first anti-fascist resistance movement TIGR. This contained the ideological embryo of the Yugoslav partisans. In 1945, the Slovene 9th corps could have written Cankar’s dictum on their tanks when they entered Trieste on 1 May 1945, indicating triumphantly to the Allies that ‘Trieste is ours’. The next day, they came face to face with the British 8th army. Less than a year later, Churchill’s Iron Curtain speech established Trieste as the first true frontier of the Cold War. The Eastern Adriatic border would not be resolved until the Ossimo agreements in 1975. After Ossimo, the Yugoslav-Italian border, according to Repe became the ‘most open border between a capitalist and a socialist state’. Trieste would recapture some of its Hapsburg trading traditions as Yugoslavs and Italians reinvented it as the nearest shopping centre to Belgrade.

As the Eastern Adriatic swims towards the 100th anniversary of 1914, what remains today of the Austrian Adriatic? Franz Joseph’s birthday is still celebrated in Friaulian villages such as Bračan and Giasicco. Throughout the coast, Austria showed how tourism could be used to modernise the Adriatic making tourism the most permanent legacy of the Austrian Adriatic. Structures such as hotel Kvarner in Opatija, hotel Imperial in Dubrovnik and Hotel Korčula are used even today by tourists, many still arriving from Central Europe. Boats still cruise the Adriatic shores, this time as pleasure crafts of well-heeled Austrians. The Süd Autobahn has replaced the Südbahn for a weekend plunge in the Istrian ports. Austria was the keenest partisans of Slovene and Croatian entry to the EU, where the Hapsburg heritage was continually emphasised as an anchor of Europeaness. Aleš Debeljak, a Slovene poet working at the Vienna Institute of Human Sciences, states that ‘it is not easy for Vienna to forget about its Riviera. This continuity can be observed in the successful penetration of Austrian banks, construction companies and cultural projects on the Eastern Adriatic in post-communist times, as a certain soft reconstruction of their hegemony over the area’. In 1914, the Südbahn rattled through faded railway stations carrying those who had all seen (pictures of) Franz Joseph. In 2014, Central Europeans race along the Süd Autobahn to the Adriatic, its tanking up at OMV, shopping at Billa and banking with Erste. Comparing the map of the Hapsburg Empire in 1914 and the distribution density of Erste Bank in 2014, the territory is virtually the same.

The current exhibition in the Vienna city museum is a valuable x-ray of the past that resuscitates a unique historical moment when the six hundred year old Hapsburg Empire was considering retirement while reflecting on itself in the still waters of the Adriatic. Like Schiele’s ‘Versinkende Sonne’, it had reached its own sunset. The wizardly political waltz it had performed for centuries was reaching its finale. The subtle message of the 2014 ‘Wien endeckt das Meer’ is that Austria had set strong foundations for the development and the enlightenment the Adriatic which the start of the war in 1914 abruptly terminated. Austria built ports, established a land registry and institutionalised the use of the South-Slav languages. Yet its abandonment by the South-Slavs in 1918 shows that although Austria did a lot for the Adriatic, it did not do enough for its people. The twilight years saw a shrivelled, plucked double headed eagle’s last moments. He had nested unsteadily for decades on the Karst, persistently trying to take off again under the scorching sun. In 1914, he tried to fly east but would collapse four years later, drowning like Icarus in the ‘age of extremes’. The exhibition revealingly combines history and geography in capturing a fundamental truth about the Adriatic. The sea is at its most breathtaking when the sun sets, bathing and marinating its shrub and Karst surroundings in a lava glow of sublime sunlight. Austria at its sunset was like Schiele’s sun near Trieste; more charming, absorbing and elated than the cold dawn that would arrive after. The exhibition allows the bitterly cold Austrian winter to enjoy the warm Adriatic glow and re-awaken Goethe’s longings for glowing sunsets, lemon blossoms and golden oranges – carrying on what the Südbahn started – the melting of Mitteleuropa melancholy by merry Mediterranean memories.

Filed in: Articles

Bookmark

Leave a Reply

Submit Comment

© 8620 Marelic.net. All rights reserved.