In January 1913, a man whose passport bore the name Stavros Papadopoulos disembarked from the Kraków train at Vienna’s North Terminal station. Dark complexioned, he sported a large peasant mustache and carried a very basic wooden suitcase.
“He was sitting at the table – wrote the person he was going to meet with, years later – when the door opened with a bang and an unknown man entered. “He was short… skinny… his gray-brown skin covered in pockmarks… I saw nothing in his eyes that resembled sympathy.”
The author of these lines was a dissident Russian intellectual, director of a radical newspaper called Pravda (Truth). His name was Leon Trotsky. The man he described was not named Papadopoulos. He was born Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, known to his friends as Koba, and is now remembered as Joseph Stalin.
Trotsky and Stalin were just two of a series of men living in central Vienna in 1913 whose lives were destined to shape much of the 20th century. 110 years ago, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Tito and Sigmund Freud were also in the city.
It was a disparate group. The two revolutionaries, Stalin and Trotsky, were on the run. Others had different motivations. By then, Sigmund Freud was already well established.
The psychoanalyst, extolled by his followers as the person who unlocked the secrets of the mind, was a famous and respected man who had become a doctor in 1881 and established his clinical practice in Vienna in 1886, on Berggasse street.
In 1913 he published the book »Totem and taboo. Some concordances in the mental life of savages and neurotics».
The young Josip Broz, for his part, who would later achieve fame as the leader of Yugoslavia, Marshal Tito, worked at the Daimler automobile factory in Wiener Neustadt, a city south of Vienna, and was looking for a job, money and fun
Then there was another young man, a 24-year-old from northwestern Austria, whose dream of studying painting at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts had been thwarted twice after failing the entrance exam and who was now staying at an inn on Meldermannstrasse. , near the Danube. He was a certain Adolf Hitler.
With a friend, he earned money by drawing postcards of Vienna’s famous sights and then selling them to tourists. In his majestic evocation of the city at the time, “Thunder at Twilight,” Austrian author Frederic Morton imagined Hitler indoctrinating his roommates “about morality, racial purity, the German mission, and the Slavic betrayal, the Jews, Jesuits and Freemasons».
“Her hair was tossing, her hands stained [de pintura] they rent the air, his voice rising to an operatic pitch. “Then, just as suddenly as she had started, she would stop. She gathered her things with an imperious noise, [y] He was walking towards his cubicle.
Coincidentally, the mayor of Vienna in those years, Karl Lueger, is considered the father of modern political anti-Semitism.
The city in 1913 was the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which consisted of 15 nations and more than 50 million inhabitants.
“Although not exactly a melting pot, Vienna was a cultural cauldron attracting ambitious people from across the Empire,” writer and editor Dardis McNamee told the BBC.
Less than half of the city’s two million residents were native-born and about a quarter came from Bohemia (now the western Czech Republic) and Moravia (now the eastern Czech Republic), so the Czech was spoken alongside German in many places’.
The empire’s subjects spoke a dozen languages, he explains. “Officers in the Austro-Hungarian army had to be able to issue orders in 11 languages other than German, each of which had an official translation of the National Anthem.” And this unique blend created its own cultural phenomenon: Viennese coffee.
The legend has its genesis in the coffee sacks left behind by the Ottoman army after the failed Turkish siege of 1683.
“Coffee culture and the notion of debate and discussion in cafes is a very important part of Viennese life now and it was then,” Charles Emmerson, author of “1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War.”
“The Viennese intellectual community was actually small and everyone knew each other and that provided exchanges across cultural borders.”
That atmosphere, he added, favored political dissidents and fugitives.
“There was no tremendously powerful central state. If you wanted to find a place to hide out in Europe where you could meet lots of other interesting people, Vienna was a good place to do it.”
Freud’s favorite hangout, Café Landtmann, still stands on the Ring, the renowned boulevard that encircles the city’s historic Innere Stadt.
But he also frequented the Café Central, a few minutes’ walk away, where cakes, newspapers, chess and, above all, chatting were the passions of the customers. Among them, Trotsky, Lenin and Hitler.
A famous anecdote relates that Count Berchtold – at the time Austria-Hungary’s foreign minister -, in the midst of a heated dispute with a local politician who argued that a war would provoke a revolution in Russia, replied dismissively: “And who will lead such a revolution? Perhaps Mr. Bronstein [Trotsky] from the Cafe Central?».
“Part of what made the cafes so important was that ‘everyone’ went,” MacNamee noted. “So there was cross-fertilization between disciplines and interests.
“In fact, the boundaries that later became so rigid in Western thought were very fluid.”
In addition, he stressed, “the surge of energy of the Jewish intelligentsia and the new industrial class had made it possible for Franz Joseph to grant them full citizenship rights in 1867 and full access to schools and universities.”
Not forgetting artists like Gustav Klimt, who in 1913 painted one of his last paintings, “The Young Woman” or “The Virgin” and caused great controversy with a series of erotic drawings exhibited at the International Exhibition of Prints and Drawings in Vienna. .
That same year his disciple, the Austrian painter and engraver Egon Schiele, gave the world several of his most popular paintings, such as “Friendship” and “Woman in Black Stockings”, and wrote to the collector Franz Hauer: “Only painting is not Enough for me; I know that one can use colors to establish qualities. When one sees an autumn tree in summer, it is an intense experience that involves the whole heart and being; I would like to paint that melancholy».
And, while it was still a largely male-dominated society, a number of women also made a big impact, notably composer, author, publisher Alma Mahler.
In 1913, she began her tumultuous and passionate relationship with the Austrian artist, poet, and playwright Oskar Kokoschka, which would inspire both to create great works of art.
But while the city was, and still is, synonymous with music, lavish dancing, and waltzes, its dark side was especially bleak.
Large numbers of its citizens lived in slums, and in 1913 nearly 1,500 Viennese took their lives.
No one knows if Hitler met Trotsky or if Tito met Stalin.
But the situation inspired works like the 2007 radio piece “Dr Freud will see you, Mr. Hitler,” by Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, in which they imagine such encounters.