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Vienna, 1900
Burgtheater, Vienna, 1900
Public DomainBurgtheater, Vienna, 1900
Library of Congress

     Vienna in the year 1900 was on the cusp of two worlds. A city living in a dream world of past glories of Empire, of music, of art, and fine living. But this backward-looking society was in the throes of being pulled, sometimes kicking and screaming, into the new century. As J. Sydney Jones says in his book Hitler in Vienna; 1907-1913,"Gathered in that city were more of the artistic and intellectual luminaries who created the modern sensibility that in any other one metropolis."

Public DomainPraterstern
Library of Congress

     The Empire that Franz Josef had presided over since 1848 was slowly crumbling as the nationalism of its dozen subject nations was being heard. The rise of socialism with Viktor Adler at its head gave voice to the polyglot sub-nation of workers who came to Vienna in search of work and better lives. Karl Lueger, the mayor of Vienna and a masterful politician, rose to power on the back of the anti-Semitism that pervaded Viennese society, while Theodor Herzl began the serious discussion of a Jewish state in Palestine. Later in the decade future leaders of world domination such as Leon Trotsky, Josef Stalin and Adolf Hitler found themselves living in Vienna, the first two in revolutionary exile, the latter as a struggling, and ultimately failing, art student who yearly became more and more embittered against what he saw as the failings of society.

     Traditional, established art was being challenged as the Secessionists, led by Gustav Klimt, put Viennese art noveau into the forefront of contemporary art.

     The repressed nature of Viennese society was being brought out into the light with Sigmund Freud's work on the interpretation of dreams and Arthur Schnitzler's insightful plays and stories.

     Otto Wagner was bringing his idea of "functional architecture" in city planning to life

The Hofburg
Public DomainThe Volksgarten
Library of Congress

with his innovative and beautiful buildings and his complete design of Vienna's public transportation system. He was joined by Joseph Maria Olbrich, Josef Maria Hoffman and the more extreme Adolf Loos, who felt that any ornamentation in excess of functionality was a crime.

     The music of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven had given way to that of Brahms and, in a lighter vein, Strauss and in turn their world was giving way as the Vienna Opera became world famous under the direction of Gustav Mahler whose work with the Secessionists brought to vivid life the idea of the arts working together in a complete art form.

   The Wiener Werkstätte as an offshoot of the Secession, gathered a community of architects, artists and designers whose first commitment was to design everyday objects from tables to utensils to clothing to jewelry, which would be accessible to everyone yet still have the individuality of art.

     And for almost forty years the vagaries of Viennese life were chronicled and commented on by Karl Kraus, whose one-man show of a magazine Die Fackel brought forth his sardonic, somewhat cynical view of the world as he saw it.

Franz Josef Kai
Public DomainFranz Josef Kai
Library of Congress

     This was the contradictory, exhuberent and confident world of Vienna 1900.