The palaces of Vienna
There are over 150 palaces in Vienna. As well as the old city palaces of the nobility, there are the palaces of bankers and industrialists along the Ring Boulevard from the 19th century, and behind their stately facades are rooms which are just as magnificent, as well as plenty of interesting stories.
“Vienna was an indulgent city. But what else is the purpose of culture but to coax with art and love the finest from the raw material of life.” The Austrian author Stefan Zweig (1881-1942), who himself grew up in a palace on Schottenring, on his time in Vienna.
Stories behind the palaces
The Palais Leitenberger for instance: Crown Prince Rudolf was a regular guest. The left-leaning aristocrat, deprived of his power in the court, met with like-minded individuals here. The owner Friedrich Leitenberger was a liberal catholic, founder of a society against antisemitism, and a friend of the publicist Theodor Herzl. His love of cars, and in particular his Mercedes, were as well-known in Vienna as they were fateful: he was killed in a car race.
Much talked-about was also Friedrich Schey, builder of the palais of the same name. He married into the same Vienna family three times; the first two sisters died after brief marriages, the third bore him seven children. In his house guests could savour paintings by Rembrandt and Waldmüller, and they could even peek into the emperor’s garden.
By comparison, the story of the Palais Todesco sounds quite different. Its owner Hermann Todesco also played host to illustrious guests such as the writer Hugo von Hofmannsthal or the “king of waltz” Johann Strauss, but 100 beggars were also fed daily in its luxurious rooms.
As different as the stories of the palaces along the Ring Boulevard may be, they have one thing in common: most of their builders had only come to wealth in the last one or two generations, and many of their grandfathers were simple merchants from the provinces. Perhaps that’s why life was enjoyed to the fullest inside so many of the palaces, at least until their owners were expropriated, murdered, or were exiled by the National Socialists during World War II. Today many of the palaces are open to visitors, and quite a few of them have been transformed into “shopping palaces” or upmarket restaurants – in memory of the “good old days”.
Text: Agnes Hamberger, Fotos: Christine Wurnig