Austria Made in Hollywood coming out in paperback gives me the opportunity to share a fun article I read while researching the image of Austria in the United States before it appeared on screen. After visiting Vienna, James Huneker, an arts critic published the article entitled “The Gayest City in Europe—Not Paris, but Vienna” in the New York Times on April 13, 1913. In it, the capital of Austria-Hungary compares not only favorably with the French capital as the title suggests. Rather it is the German capital of Berlin that is overshadowed by Vienna. Huneker highlights Austria’s pluses vis-à-vis its northern neighbor at many junctures. Indeed, the art critic introduces the article with praise of Austria and criticism of Germany. “I always know when I am in Austria; the coffee is much better than the watery, flavorless compound you are offered in Germany.” What follows might appear like a compliment of the German cuisine, but it is both a criticism of the American palate and praise of the tasty Austrian cooking along with its coffee culture. “Perhaps the sharper accents of the Viennese cuisine may not appeal to you—the German cookery by comparison is colorless—but the superiority of the coffee and pastry is manifest.” However, Huneker’s assessments extend well beyond the culinary.
From cuisine to the tobacco, to culture and openness to other cultures, and extending to the almost mythical power of the city’s physical surroundings, Vienna appears superior to the Germany. Hunecker proclaims “Vienna, for me, hits the medium of gayety without hectic symptoms and leisure without Prussian stiffness.” He also admires the multiculturalism of the empire. “The elements of the Austrian race are heterogeneous; the Slavic counts and counts the Magyar. The beer is Germanic, the culture is minus a heavy Teutonic quality, also Germanic; there is a lightness in the moral atmosphere that might be called Gallic.” While not specifically stated here, the mixture of ethnicities might remind some readers of the so-called melting pot of the U.S. The heterogeneity of “the Austrian race” is not only viewed as a plus in its cuisine but in the arts as well. In the section “Viennese Art and Literature” the author maintains, “The mixture of Kelt, Roman, Slavic, and German in her veins, has made Austria singularly sensitive to foreign influence.”
To draw a further distinction between the citizens of Berlin and Vienna Huneker turns to drinking habits. “In Berlin I have seen intoxicated persons, seldom in Vienna have I encountered one.” This serves as a segue to suggest that a nation’s cuisine is indicative of its national character and he goes on to use his meanderings to criticize American society. “The point is significant, as is the agreeable cooking of the city. Food plays a greater role in our psychology than our thin-skinned idealists will admit. Possibly our National [sic] cooking may be the bar sinister in our artistic productivity, for a country which is given over to fanatics and prudes—in the domain of eating and drinking—will never give birth to individual art.” In addition, to America’s gastronomic prudery and fanaticism, Huneker finds fault with America’s mercenary nature and fast-paced way of life. He views the Viennese as optimistic, and the coffee culture as an antidote to America’s “hurry, bustle, money-making.”
Despite the almost unanimous praise of Vienna, the author notes that Berlin is superior in the area of housing and tourist accommodations:
Berlin beats all Europe in its modern hotels, and Vienna is far behind Berlin in the matter of apartments. In the suburbs they are beginning to erect them. They are not as comfortable, as commodious, nor so cheap as in Berlin. […] But chilly rooms, illy-lighted, are not confined to Vienna: London is as bad as Paris, and again Berlin is most comfortable in this respect. No doubt Vienna will march in the procession later.
However, with the comparison to London and Paris, Huneker suggests that the lack of accommodation cannot be seen as representative of any national character. Indeed, he predicts that Vienna will follow Berlin. While the author’s praise of Vienna is not without reservation—he notes the poor housing, “unmistakable poverty” and the artists who were “starved” or “neglected”—the positive labels “Vienna the Magnificent,” “Optimistic Vienna,” and “A Paradise for Musicians” and his praise outweigh any criticism.
In this article, Huneker equates the city Vienna with the empire and Austria with its multi-ethnic population wins out over the monoethnic Germans. The elements in his depiction of Vienna echo in later film portrayals of Austria and in unsuspecting ways set Austria up as similar to the United States. For more insight into the critic’s thoughts on the two capitals I encourage you to read this article and his Times article on Berlin from June 22, 1913—“Huneker Prowls Around Kaiser’s Jubilee City.”
This guest post was written by Jacqueline Vansant, Professor of German at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.