Posted tagged ‘Habsburgs’


October 29, 2015

As some readers may recall from an earlier post, this summer I was on a week’s holiday in Vienna. For those who do not know it, I can highly recommend the city. It is the capital of a a small and, in geopolitical terms, relatively insignificant country. But a century ago it was one of the great powers, ruling a good bit of central and Eastern Europe. The First World War brought all that to an end, but in Vienna its glamorous past can be seen everywhere, in the grandeur of the buildings and the visible traces of the once powerful Habsburgs.

Vienna is also a city of vibrant art and culture – and as far as I know is the only city with urban vineyards and wineries (Grinzing). I thoroughly recommend it.

The building above is the Hofburg, once the main palace of the emperors in the city centre. In 1938 Hitler addressed the people of Vienna from the balcony, having just annexed Austria.


The Habsburgs eventually spent much of their time in the Schönbrunn Palace, above. It is a grand complex of buildings, designed to rival Versailles. I was able to attend a concert in the Orangerie.

Of course, no serious-minded visitor to Vienna can spend a day or more there without visiting the Hotel Sacher.


This is the home of the famous Sacher Torte, a chocolate cake that everybody needs to try at least once.

Apart from Vienna, I also visited some rather beautiful nearby towns, including Baden bei Wien. In Baden, the town in which the last but one Habsburg Kaiser, Franz Josef, spent much of his time, there is a particularly striking war memorial, with the inscription ‘Vater, ich rufe Dich‘ (‘Father, I implore you’).


And I also crossed the border into Hungary, visiting another town favoured by the Habsburgs, Ödenburg (now called Sopron). It is also rather beautiful, but nevertheless still carries the signs of decades of neglect during communism.


Throughout my week there I felt a strong sense of history, as one cannot really help feeling in much of central Europe. It is an area well worth a visit.

What was the Holy Roman Empire?

August 5, 2011

On this day, August 6, in 1806 Kaiser (Emperor) Franz II dissolved the Holy Roman Empire (Heiliges Römisches Reich Deutscher Nation), finally bringing to an end a political entity that had been around for a thousand years, if you count the emperors from Karl der Große (Charlemagne), a little less if you believe the Empire began with Otto der Große in 962. This action was a result of the decisive defeat of the armies of the Empire at Austerlitz by Napoleon, after which Franz concluded that his role as Holy Roman Emperor now lacked all credibility. He did however remain on what was by then his ‘other’ throne, as Kaiser Franz I of Austria, and in that role he played a decisive part in the Congress of Vienna that followed Napoleon’s defeat a few years later. The Holy Roman Empire was never restored, and in the new political realities that followed Prussia gradually became the dominant German power, culminating in the establishment of the new German Empire (Reich) in Versailles in 1871.

But what was this Holy Roman Empire? Politically it was an increasingly loose federation of states and statelets, at times numbering over 300, some of them astonishingly small. A map of the Empire from the late 18th century can be seen here, and it shows the confusing political make-up, with larger kingdoms and princedoms sitting alongside tiny feudal entities and church-run dioceses with their own political independence.

And yet, understanding the political, cultural and religious history of the Holy Roman Empire tells you much about Europe. Its chief national culture was Germanic, but the empire also contained Italian, slavic and Dutch elements. The search for political cohesion was in some ways a forerunner of similar quests in the European Union today. The gradual weakening and finally the dissolution of the Empire involved a transfer of geo-political power in Europe from Austria and the Habsburgs to Prussia and the Hohenzollern, and this created a new European power balance that, notwithstanding the convulsions of the two 20th century world wars, remains a reality of sorts today.

I suspect there isn’t too much interest in the Holy Roman Empire today. But there probably should be – understanding the Empire will help in understanding Europe. And right now we need that.