Vienna 1913: The Surprising Hotspot for Massive Historical Figures


Hitler, Freud, Stalin, and the Rothschilds all walk into a bar. This isn’t the setup for a joke; this was the reality of 1913 in Vienna.

That year the Austro-Hungarian Empire was one of the largest states in Europe. It was made up of many smaller ethnic groups that are now their own countries. In addition to the two main nations, Austria and Hungary, there are what are now the Czech and Slovak parts of Romania, Italy, Poland, and most of the states that made up Yugoslavia. Needless to say, its capital was a multicultural melting pot. Only about half of Vienna’s population was born there, and on its streets could be heard over a dozen languages. An example of just how multicultural the state was: to be an officer in the Austro-Hungarian Army you had to be able to give commands in 11 languages, besides German. 

This metropolis attracted a huge amount of artists, great thinkers, and future revolutionaries. In 1913 some of these included Tito, Hitler, Freud, Stalin, and the Rothschilds. They all walked on the same streets, drinking in many of the same places, like the legendary Viennese coffee house, Cafe Central. These are the 10 famous leaders and influencers that lived and walked the streets of 1913 Vienna.

10. Hitler

Adolf Hitler was born in Braunau am Inn, a small town in what is now Austria. His family moved around a lot before settling in Linz. There, Hitler’s father refused to let him follow his dreams of becoming a painter, something that Adolf deeply resented. After his father’s death, Hitler finally got to follow his dream and with government orphan’s benefits, he moved to Vienna. There, he struggled to become accepted as an artist. His money quickly ran out and he was forced to sleep in homeless shelters and for a while even under bridges. Finally, he got enough money to live in the men’s Meldermannstrasse dormitory near the Danube. 

With a friend, he made money from drawing postcards of the famous sights of Vienna and then selling them to tourists. He was twice rejected from Vienna’s academy of the fine arts after he failed the art academy’s admission test.

Vienna at the time was not only a melting pot of nationalities but also a melting pot of ideas. Marxism, anarchism, antisemitism, and nationalism all swirled around the streets Hitler walked every day. The mayor when he lived there, Karl Lueger, is seen as the father of modern political antisemitism and seemed to have an influence on Adolf. Finally, in 1913 Hitler’s father’s estate was settled and in May of that year, he moved to Munich, Germany. When war broke out in 1914, he would join the Imperial German Army and start his journey into becoming one of the most brutal dictators in history.

9. Tito 

On May 7, 1892, Josip Broz was born in Kumrovec in what is now Croatia. 60 years later he would be a communist dictator, known as Tito, that would rule the state of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, a state that at the time of his birth didn’t even exist. He got the bare minimum of education and from a young age bounced from job to job around Europe. He became involved in union activism and worked in factories, farms, and as locksmith. He moved from city to city in the Austro-Hungarian Empire even living briefly to Munich, Germany a year before Hitler did. Finally, in 1912 he moved to Vienna to live with his brother and worked at the Daimler automobile factory. 

Men of Austro-Hungary were required to serve two years in the army and he was drafted in the Austrian Army in 1913. As a good soldier in a Croatian unit of the Imperial Austro-Hungarian Army, he took part in the invasion of Serbia, a state that would eventually become part of Yugoslavia. During the war, he was captured by the Russians and spent time as a prisoner of war. He learned Russian and escaped the POW camp and with his fluent Russian blended into the population. When the war ended he left Russia with a pregnant Russian bride and fled to the new state of Yugoslavia. During WWII he led a communist guerrilla group that eventually took Yugoslavia from the Nazis, and he became its dictator until his death in 1980.

8. Archduke Franz Ferdinand

As one of Europe’s many kingdoms and empires in 1913, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was ruled by the 83-year-old Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria. Next in line to the aged emperor was Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The Archduke led a life of shifting politics in a complicated multi-ethnic empire. His desire to marry Countess Sophie Chotek, a lady-in-waiting to the Archduchess, caused huge controversy. As heir to the empire, he was required to marry a member of a European royal family but, deeply in love, he refused and married Sophie in 1900 after agreeing that their children could not rule the empire. 

Ferdinand saw the weakness in his father’s empire and tried to battle it by strengthening the military and navy. He was deeply disappointed that the Imperial Austro-Hungarian Army didn’t take part in the Chinese Boxer Rebellion. To further the empire, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was a huge proponent of the country’s navy even though it didn’t have much of a coastline. In 1913, the heir apparent became inspector general of the army. He couldn’t stand the Hungarians in the empire and apparently once he became emperor planned to suppress this powerful ruling class. While Ferdinand was given the title of inspector general of the army a terrorist group in Serbia, the Black Hand, were planning the assassination of important figures of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. By June of 1914, the Black Hand had sent a terrorist cell across the border to kill the Archduke. His assassination on June 28, 1914 would spark the First World War. 

7. Artists Kokoschka and Alma Mahler

The woman, Alma Mahler, was a Viennese-born composer, author, editor, and socialite who wrote dozens of songs. Throughout her life she was linked to several famous artists. The man, Oskar Kokoschka, was an Austrian artist, poet, and playwright who created dozens of world famous works of art. The two met in 1912 in a highly unusual and creepy way but by 1913 a passionate love affair had developed that inspired great works of art from both. During this tumultuous time Kokoschka measured Alma’s bed and cut the canvas of the same size, and created one of his most famous paintings, The Bride of the Wind. There is also a movie about Alma Mahler of the same name.

The intensity of the relationship proved too much for Alma Mahler. When the First World War broke out in 1914 and Oskar joined the military she saw it as a chance to end the relationship. In late 1914 she wrote that “He alone seeks my destruction. One cannot cleanse what is soiled … What foul fiend sent that one to me?” Even though the relationship ended Kokoschka was still inspired and obsessed with Alma and created more works of art in her name. He even created a life size doll called “Alma Doll,” allegedly true to real-life Alma in every intimate detail, that he would carry around town, to the opera and bring to parties. 

6. Sigmund Freud

By 1913 Sigmund Freud was already a famous and respected psychoanalyst with a huge following. He was born in the town of Freiberg, then in the Austrian Empire now in the Czech Republic. He became a doctor in 1881 and set up his clinical practice in Vienna in 1886One of Vienna’s many celebrities, Freud was also a celebrated author and in 1913 published the book with the heavily worded title: Totem and Taboo: Resemblances Between the Mental Lives of Savages and Neurotics, or Totem and Taboo: Some Points of Agreement between the Mental Lives of Savages and Neurotics.

In addition, he also published a paper on sexuality called The Disposition to Obsessional Neurosis wherein Freud argued that a patient in some sense chooses their neurosis or things like depression, anxiety, obsessive behavior, and hypochondria.

5. Giacomo Puccini 

In a time before TV, movies, or even widespread radio, entertainment was found on the stage. Plays and operas had been around for centuries but in the late 19th century there was an operetta movement. Shorter and with more spoken dialogue, the operetta, or opera light, was becoming more and more popular, especially in the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s capital, Vienna. 

The operetta, much like today’s blockbusters, depended on a few common tropes and cliches that appealed to the mass market and made their producers the most profit. The industry did have its composers that managed critical success. One of these was leading operetta composer Franz Lehar, whose shows inspired Italian opera composer Giacomo Puccini, seen by many as the greatest composer of Italian opera, to try his hand at creating an Operetta. While in Vienna in 1913, he saw his new creation, the show that would become “La Rondine,” as an attempt to push operetta into respectability

Unfortunately the First World War got in the way. Although Italy was initially neutral, its government pressured Puccini to produce Italian operas not Austrian operettas, so he moved back to Italy and worked on La Rondine. When it finally premiered in Monte Carlo in 1917 it was initially well received but over time was seen as one of Puccini’s weaker creations.

4. The Rothschilds

The Rothschild family was a wealthy Jewish family originally from Frankfurt that created a banking empire across Europe. In 1820, Salomon Mayer von Rothschild moved to Austria and founded the Viennese branch of the family. 

By 1913 the Rothschilds were firmly established in Vienna which was a huge center of finance. Louis Nathaniel de Rothschild owned the huge Palais Albert Rothschild in Vienna. By WWII, Hitler had crushed the Jewish community, including the Rothschilds, and looted whatever of value the Nazis could get their hands on.

3. Gustav Klimt

Gustav Klimt was a leader of the Vienna Secession art movement. While living in Vienna he created a number of iconic paintings. One of which (the Klimt Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II) Oprah Winfrey sold for $150 million in 2016. 

No stranger to controversy Klimt published a series of erotic drawings that were later published in the Fünfundzwanzig Handzeichnungen “Twenty-five Drawings.” When some of them were displayed in 1913 at the International Exhibition of Prints and Drawings in Vienna it caused huge controversy.

Klimt was a victim of complications related to the Spanish Flu Pandemic when he died in Vienna on February 6, 1918.

2. Trotsky

Leon Trotsky, born Lev Davidovich Bronstein, was a Soviet revolutionary whose version of Marxist thought is known as Trotsky-ism. He grew up in a Ukrainian-Jewish family in what is now Ukraine. He fought against the Russian Tsar and was arrested for these activities. He eventually escaped and fled the country, moving from country to country before settling in 1908 in Vienna. There he joined the Viennese editorial staff of the Russian paper Pravda “Truth,” the first “Pravda” newspaper. Trotsky was very active in the international communist movement during this and in 1912 even organized a “unification” conference of communists in the Austrian capital. Trotsky was a regular at the Cafe Central, a famous coffee shop where Freud, Hitler, and Lenin were also regulars. Famously, Count Berchtold — at the time the foreign minister of Austria-Hungary — was in a heated dispute with a local politician that was arguing war with Russia would cause a revolution in that crumbling Monarchy. Dismissively, Berchtold jokes, “And who will lead this revolution? Perhaps [Trotsky] sitting over there at the Cafe Central?” 

In 1913 Leon Trotsky was covering the Balkan war and publishing articles for a number of newspapers including Pravda. It was at this time that he briefly met a young Stalin who had been sent by Lenin to investigate the potential of harnessing nationist feelings during the ongoing second Balkan War. They barely spoke and Trotsky thought he was nothing more than a Russian peasant and was alarmed by “a fixed hostility in Stalin’s ‘yellow’ eyes that made Trotsky uneasy.” He disliked Stalin even more after he found out that he wrote for the St Petersburg Pravda, a communist paper, started in 1912, that stole the name of his Vienna paper. 

A few months after this meeting the First World War started and on August 13, 1914, Trotsky fled to neutral Switzerland. He returned to Russia when the Bolsheviks took power and was instrumental in leading Soviet forces during the Russian civil war. After the Soviets took control of all of Russia he had a falling out with their leadership and was sent into exile. He was assassinated in Mexico on the orders of Stalin on August 21, 1940.

1. Stalin

Stalin was born in 1878 in the Russian city of Gori, in what is now Georgia. As a youth he became involved in unions and became a fervent supporter of Marxist communist ideals. During this time he robbed banks, wrote for and published multiple socialist newspapers, and made connections with communists throughout Russia, including Lenin. 

In January 1913 Lenin had Stalin travel to Vienna, under the name Stavros Papadopoulos, to research revolutionary groups in the Austrian Empire. At the time intense nationalism in the Slavic and Balkan states of Southeastern Europe led to the Second Balkan War. Lenin was interested in seeing if he could harness the nationalism of ethnic minorities and so sent Stalin, who being Georgian, was himself an ethnic minority in Imperial Russia. Trotsky only met Stalin for a second at a friend’s place but in that brief meeting Stalin came to the conclusion that Trotsky was a paper tiger, a “noisy champion with fake muscles” and Trotsky’s “beautiful uselessness” enraged him.

Just before the Russian revolution in 1917, among socialists Stalin was the third most popular leader behind Lenin and Grigory Zinoviev. There was intense debate in communist inner circles about whether or not the communists should seize power by force from the civilian Russian government. Ironically, in the interest of freedom of the press, Stalin, an editor of the communist newspapers, published some of these opposing views. When the communists held another meeting on October 20, 1917, Trotsky was furious at Stalin for airing the inner parties’ dirty laundry and verbally attacked Stalin. Stalin never forgot this and began obsessively keeping track of the many times Trotsky “slighted” him. After Stalin had taken the reigns of power he exiled Trotsky, even though Trotsky was essential to the Soviet Russians winning the Russian Civil War. Then, he ordered a string of assassination attempts against the former communist leader. Trotsky bounced from country to country before ending up in Mexico at the villa of that country’s famous artist, Frida Kahlo. He eventually moved to his own house in Mexico, where a Stalinist hitman put an ice pick through his skull, killing him on August 21, 1940.

Jon Lucas covers events on this day during WW1,  You can follow the action on Twitter, Tumblr or Instagram

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