Divided Austria – History Fiction in Linz [1]

 

On September 3, 2005, the banks of the River Danube in Linz saw the staging of “an impertinent falsification of history“ [2] , as the Süddeutsche Zeitung put it: the open air play “division at the river” (“teilung am fluss”) which was produced by an artists’ network called lawine torrèn (Director: Hubert Lepka). The play formed part of that year’s “Linzer Klangwolke”, an annual sequence of performances that opens the Bruckner Festival in Linz. 2005, however, was also the year of a number of major historical anniversaries, which were celebrated by the Austrian government with a wide-ranging programme of commemorative events: 60 years of the Second Austrian Republic, the 50 th anniversary of the State Treaty (Staatsvertrag) and finally, 10 years of membership in the EU. It was therefore entirely to be expected that historical references would find their way into the “Klangwolke” of 2005.

“Division at the river” – Content and Staging

“division at the river”, however, tells a fictitious story – a “history fiction” [3] , as its creators described it. This is suggested even in the subtitle of the production: “a historical redirecting of the danube river” (“eine geschichtliche umleitung des donaustroms”). History itself is ‘redirected’ in the sense that an alternative historical narrative is presented: the story poses the question of what course history would have taken if the State Treaty of 1955, with which Austria regained its sovereignty and independence from the occupying powers, had never been signed. The scenario depicted in this “thought experiment with historical ramifications” [4] (“gedankenexperiment mit historischer tragweite”) is clearly modeled on the real post-war history of Germany. Austria is divided into two states: the Federal Republic of Austria (Bundesrepublik Österreich) belonging to the Western Bloc, and a Communist Austrian Democratic Republic (Österreichische Demokratische Republik). The border between the BRÖ and ÖDR runs along the Danube, which is transformed into the “iron river”, and Linz becomes a divided city – just like the real Berlin of those years.

The story begins during the last days of the Second World War, and ends in the 1990’s. Along the way, a number of well-known historical events are depicted – but partially altered and adjusted to suit the setting in Austria and Linz. There is, for example, the blockade of Vienna (instead of Berlin) followed by the airlift, as well as the Prague Spring, which becomes a Prague-Viennese Spring and sees the troops from the ÖDR marching into the Czech capital. The story reaches its climax with the mass escape from the East across the Danube and the opening of the Nibelungen bridge of Linz, which, by analogy with the fall of the Berlin Wall, of course, takes place in 1989. [5] Finally, Austria is reunified and joins the European Union.

This “historical prophecy looking backwards” [6] (“rückwärtsgewandte historische prophetie”), as lawine torrèn described its production, is presented to the audience through the love story of one couple. Frieda, an armaments worker at the “Hermann-Göring-Werke” in Linz, and Ludwig, a “Flakhelfer”, get to know each other at the end of the war, but are then separated by the division of Austria. Ludwig finds himself in the East and, as a fervent supporter of the “socialist project”, becomes very involved in building the Austrian Democratic Republic. Frieda, on the other hand, lives in the West, is rather skeptical and critical in her views of the developments across the border, and eventually begins an affair with John, an American GI. During the Prague-Viennese Spring, quite by chance, Frieda recognizes Ludwig on the news and contacts him. Finally, having become disillusioned with the ÖDR, Ludwig escapes to the West where the two again become a couple.

This story is told through a mixture of theatre, choreography, film and music, in a very large and costly production featuring ‘stage props’ such as historical airplanes, ships moving up and down the Danube, tanks and various other vehicles and machines. Time and again, reports and commentaries from ‘contemporary’ newsreels and other films, made up of a mixture of authentic clips from the period, doctored footage and entirely fabricated material, are incorporated into the action. This creates the impression of an “objective” depiction of the events of world history, with reality and fiction in the story becoming increasingly indistinguishable. The result is what one review of the production described as a “real fiction” [7] (“Realfiktion”). “division at the river” presents itself as “the true story of something that never happened, created in the form of music and open air theatre to be experienced through the senses” [8] . The last part of that sentence, it should be noted, points to something that the production had in common with many of the other official commemorative acts of 2005: its ‘eventisation’, and above all the fact that it was given the form of a reenactment. [9]

As one Austrian newspaper appropriately put it, the play “taps into collective memories, into an archive of images that have been etched into the consciousness of Central Europe in the years since the Second World War” [10] . Thus “division at the river” is also an excellent example of the fact that memories can cross (national) boundaries – particularly as, in this case, the part of history being remembered is something that Austria itself never experienced in this way. Rather, attention is focused on the experiences of the neighboring country; they are used as a blueprint and the East-West German history is transferred and adapted to Austrian circumstances. [11]

“Division at the river” – Context and Intentions

Even if generally the alternative version of history depicted in “division at the river” is not entirely implausible – in principle, Austria in the years after 1945 could have shared Germany’s fate of being divided not only into occupation zones, but also into two separate states [12] –, the question arises as to what could have been the motives and intentions behind the creation of such a narrative of fictitious history; all the more so since the production formed part of the official commemorative events of the year 2005. [13]

The Austrian minister of arts and media, Franz Morak, said in this context: “We‘re busy all year with thoughts about the past. This is a cultural happening that gives people permission to think beyond that. We can think about what might have happened.” [14] At first sight, this statement may not seem to offer much in the way of insights. If, however, we examine the Austrian commemorative year 2005 as a whole, then we observe that both Morak’s statement and also “division at the river” itself fit neatly, so to speak, into this programme.

So, in 2005, commemoration of the past focused above all on the “commemorative triad” (“Gedenktrias”) (Heinz P. Wassermann) mentioned above: the founding of the Second Republic in 1945, the State Treaty of 1955 and the entry into the European Union in 1995 – in other words, only on positive reference points. [15] The memory of the NS period, on the other hand, was more or less omitted or eclipsed, despite the fact that 2005 was also the 60 th anniversary of the end of the dictatorship – which, of course, formed the essential prelude to all the other events being celebrated. In 2005, however, the Austrian government preferred to avoid making such a burdened past a subject of official commemoration, and if it was included at all, then only as a story of victimisation and suffering. [16]

This becomes very clear if we examine the official programme for the commemorative year – the so called “25 peaces” [17] – and its main areas of focus. This series consisted of 25 events (“peaces”) which took place between March 2005 and July 2006 under the direction of Wolfgang Lorenz (ORF), Eberhard Schrempf (Culture Industries Austria) and Georg Springer (Bundestheater-Holding GmbH). The “interventions” and projects in public space were intended to provoke emotional responses, in order, above all, to encourage reflection and participation. As part of this, they were made deliberately unconventional: “Even the logo tries your patience, has to be learned: It stands for a project series of individual PEACES (pieces) and at the same time creates an association with peace […], and if you say it, word and metaphor come together to form one message.” [18] The events should add “stitches of irritation to the stocking stitch” [19] and were aimed at as wide an audience as possible. “Peace” and “freedom” served here as central “key words” [20] . At the same time, this also made it possible to concentrate on the themes of war, of post-war period and end of the occupation following the State Treaty of 1955 – precisely because these formed points of contrast to the central concepts of “peace” and “freedom”.

Accordingly, a large proportion of the “peaces” also dealt with the suffering of the Austrian people during the war years – it is striking to note that this now included the victims of the Allied aerial war as a significant theme, a subject that had previously played only a very marginal role in Austrian memory culture [21] – and with the privations and difficulties of the post-war occupation period [22] . Only one of the “25 peaces” was explicitly concerned with the crimes of the Nazi regime: “peace mourned” (“peace betrauert”), which consisted of a black marbled banner bearing the words “To the victims of National Socialism” over the balcony of the Hofburg, where Adolf Hitler had held his “Anschluss” speech in 1938. Other “peaces” were devoted to the end of occupation and the State Treaty [23] , and to Austria’s membership of the European Union [24] . All in all, they presented a success story of the Second Austrian Republic. [25]

“division at the river” too was one of the “peaces” and had the title “peace filled with sound” (“peace beschallt”) because it formed part of the “Linzer Klangwolke”, which literally means “cloud of sound”. And the performance fits the pattern perfectly since it also tells its narrative in the way described: To be sure, the NS period is dealt with in the early part of the play, but only in the form of a depiction of the last days of the war, focusing above all on the Allied bombing campaign. The Nazi regime itself is mentioned only once, in an extract from the speech given by General Mark Clark, the American representative in Austria, on the occasion of the first anniversary of the end of the Second World War on May 8, 1946; this extract is cut short and contains the following sentence: “The day had come when Austria would be free of the Nazi yoke after many years of oppression.” [26] In this way, National Socialism is externalized; Austria and the Austrians are portrayed only as victims – of Nazi Germany, of the war and also of the Allies. Moreover, since the words are quoted (very selectively) from a speech made by the American representative, this externalisation is in a way presented as being justified by the Allies themselves.

Against this background, it is difficult to avoid the suspicion that also a certain strategy of diversion and deflection was pursued by this ‘What if’ scenario depicted in “division at the river”. For with this “historical subjunctive” [27] , as one newspaper article put it, attention was drawn to a fictitious history – the possible division of Austria into two states and how this was supposedly overcome – and therefore, at the same time diverted away from actual historical reality, including burdened subjects such as the NS period. At the beginning of the commemorative year 2005, the sociologist Oliver Marchart had written that “[t]he country that has acquitted itself of any share of guilt is not celebrating its renewed existence after 1945. It is celebrating the fact that it didn’t exist between 1938 and 1945.” [28] In addition, positive memories of history and positive commemorative occasions could be strengthened by the lawine torrèn production in Linz. For, ultimately, “division at the river” underlines the importance of the State Treaty of 1955, which had saved Austria from division forever by securing the withdrawal of the occupation forces and guarantee of Austria’s sovereignty and neutrality. The two other occasions of remembrance placed centre stage by the Austrian government were also integrated into the production, since it emphasized the founding and history of the Second Austrian Republic indirectly, by the imagination of an alternative path of history, and since the end of the play confirms the significance of the European Union.

The commemorative year 2005 was given the official title of the “Year of Thoughts” (“Gedankenjahr”). Its critics, however, were soon to label it the “Year of the hidden agenda” [29] (“Hintergedankenjahr”). [30] Rather than acknowledging a negative memory, a memory of guilt, and commemorating burdened aspects of the past, the attempt was made to establish a “comfortable commemoration” [31] , a memory that doesn’t disturb, but is convenient. [32] Besides the revitalisation of the victim myth, one significant element of this that seems to emerge is the emphasis on the notion or aspect of freedom by telling the story of a further freedom – the one of a fictitious liberation in 1989. [33]


Cited Works:

25 Peaces – die Zukunft der Vergangenheit. Interventionen und Irritationen zur Erzeugung eigener Gedanken im Diesseits des öffentlichen Raumes und jenseits des offiziellen Gedankenjahres. Programmteil 2005 . Wien: Bundeskanzleramt, Bundespressedienst, 2006.

Flieher, Bernhard. “Die Grenze geht durch die Donau.” Salzburger Nachrichten, September 5, 2005.

Hammerstein, Katrin. “Weiße Flecken? Österreichische Erinnerungen an den Luftkrieg.” In Luftkrieg. Erinnerungen in Deutschland und Europa, edited by Jörg Arnold, Dietmar Süß and Malte Thießen, 114–128. Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag, 2009.

Kannonier, Reinhard. “Österreich ist – geteilt! Ein Breitwand-Epos.” Der Standard, September 5, 2005.

Kramar, Thomas. “Als Linz eine geteilte Stadt war.” Die Presse, September 5, 2005.

Leitner, Irene Maria. Erinnerungskonflikte im österreichischen Gedankenjahr 2005. Eine gedächtnisgeschichtliche Studie anhand ausgewählter Fallbeispiele. Wien: Dipl.-Arbeit, 2007.

Levine, Rob, “An Austrian ‘What if,’ With Airplanes, Boats and Neon.” New York Times, September 5, 2005.

Liebhart, Karin. “Inszenierungen österreichischer Identität. Vom ‘Gedankenjahr‘ 2005 zur EU-Ratspräsidentschaft 2006.” In Österreichische Nation – Kultur – Exil und Widerstand. In memoriam Felix Kreissler , edited by Helmut Kramer, Karin Liebhart and Friedrich Stadler, 271–278. Wien: LIT Verlag, 2006.

Marchart, Oliver. “Gedenken mit Zeitloch. Opferstatus als Staatsdoktrin.” Jungle World, March 16, 2005.

Marchart, Oliver. “Die ungezählten Jahre. Opfermythos und Täterversöhnung im österreichischen ‘Jubiläumsjahr’ 2005.” In rebranding images. Ein streitbares Lesebuch zu Geschichtspolitik und Erinnerungskultur in Österreich, edited by Martin Wassermair and Katharina Wegan, 51–60. Innsbruck/Wien/Bozen: Studien-Verlag, 2006.

Press release issued by lawine torrèn, July 2005, http://www.torren.at/fileadmin/pressemitteilungen/teilung_am_fluss/teilung_am_fluss.pdf.

Pribersky, Andreas. “25PEACES. Warum die Bruchstücke des Neuen so alt aussehen oder: Wo ist die entführte Kuh geblieben?.” In Bedenkliches Gedenken. 1945–2005: Zwischen Mythos und Geschichte, edited by Josef Seiter, Elke Renner and Grete Anzengruber, 60–65. Innsbruck/Wien/Bozen: Studien-Verlag, 2005.

Schmid, Harald. “Kommodes Gedenken. Die Erinnerungskultur des vereinten Deutschlands.” Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik 53, no. 11 (2008): 91–102.

Schrempf, Eberhard, ed. peace dokumentiert. März 2005 bis Juli 2006. Interventionen und Irritationen zur Erzeugung eigener Gedanken im Diesseits des öffentlichen Raumes und jenseits des offiziellen Gedenkjahres . Wien: 25 Peaces, 2006.

Thurnher, Armin. “Ein Hintergedankenjahr,” Falter, January 12, 2005.

Uhl, Heidemarie. “Was bisher geschah….” Der Standard, July 1, 2005.

Uhl, Heidemarie. “Staatsvertrag: Gedächtnisort der Zweiten Republik.” http://science.orf.at/science/uhl/135461, May 13, 2005.

Wegan, Katharina. “After the Game is Before the Game: A Review of the 2005 Commemorations.” Contemporary Austrian Studies 15 (2007): 172–200.

Wesemann, Arnd. “Stampfender Geschichtsmotor.” Süddeutsche Zeitung, September 5, 2005.


Notes:

[1] This article deals with a discovery that I made during my PhD research on the topic of “A Shared Past – Divided Memory? National Socialism in Memory Discourses and Constructions of Identity in the Federal Republic of Germany, the GDR and Austria” (“Gemeinsame Vergangenheit – getrennte Erinnerung? Der Nationalsozialismus in Gedächtnisdiskursen und Identitätskonstruktionen der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, der DDR und Österreichs”). I would like to thank Matthew Peaple for his help with the translation of this essay.

[2] Arnd Wesemann, “Stampfender Geschichtsmotor,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, September 5, 2005.

[3] Press release issued by lawine torrèn, July 2005, available at http://www.torren.at /fileadmin/pressemitteilungen/teilung_ am_fluss/teilung_am_fluss.pdf, 2.

[4] Ibid.

[5] There are many more adjustements, also in matters of detail, to suit the Austrian setting. For example, car production in the Communist East is represented by the “Puch 500” instead of the “Trabant”, and the art museum “Lentos” in Linz takes over the role played by “Kaufhaus des Westens” in Berlin.

[6] Press release, 2.

[7] Thomas Kramar, “Als Linz eine geteilte Stadt war,” Die Presse, September 5, 2005.

[8] Press release, 4.

[9] An example of the move towards ‘eventisation’ of commemorative acts is the series “25 peaces”, which is discussed in more detail below. The series included, for example, “peace destroyed” (“peace zerstört”), a reenactment of the Allied bombing of Vienna on March 12, 1945 using light and sound installations in the first district of Vienna. Furthermore there was “peace walled in” (“peace eingemauert”) which involved the temporary walling in of the statues on Heldenplatz; this had previously been carried out during the war to protect them from bomb splinters – the organizers described this as “reconstruction as vivid history experience”. See 25 Peaces – die Zukunft der Vergangenheit. Interventionen und Irritationen zur Erzeugung eigener Gedanken im Diesseits des öffentlichen Raumes und jenseits des offiziellen Gedankenjahres. Programmteil 2005 (Wien: Bundeskanzleramt, Bundespressedienst, 2006), 4.

[10] Bernhard Flieher, “Die Grenze geht durch die Donau,” Salzburger Nachrichten, September 5, 2005.

[11] In this context (and also with regard to the increasing tendency for commemorative events to be given the character of reenactment) a comparison with the events of the commemorative year 2009 is interesting. On the occasion of the 20 th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 2009, “walls” were erected all over the world, sometimes more, sometimes less abstract, to tear them down subsequently or let them disappear in another way. In Los Angeles a cardboard wall was pulled apart, while in London a wall made of ice melted; in Berlin, a wall made of giant “dominoes” was brought down.

[12] Reinhard Kannonier, for one, sees this having been a “quite real possibility”; Reinhard Kannonier, “Österreich ist – geteilt! Ein Breitwand-Epos,” Der Standard, September 5, 2005.

[13] This also shows that the staging of “division at the river“ should not be seen merely in a local context – as one might otherwise assume, given that it was performed in Linz and that its alternative history narrative was centred on that city.

[14] Cited in Rob Levine, “An Austrian ‘What if,’ With Airplanes, Boats and Neon,” New York Times, September 5, 2005.

[15] See, for example, the New Year’s advertisement that the Austrian federal government published in several newspapers, and the brochure „Die großen Jahrestage – Kultur im Aufbruch – Österreich in der Welt“ released by the Federal Chancellary on the occasion of the commemorative year 2005; besides the aforementioned anniversaries, the latter contains information on 50 years of the Bundesheer, 50 years since Austria’s entry into the UNO, 50 years since the reopening of the State Opera, the Burg theatre, and the Spanish Riding School, 50 years of television, 30 years since the Helsinki Final Act, 15 years since the Charter of Paris and the centenary of the Nobel Peace Prize being awarded to Bertha von Suttner. The brochure is to be found under http://www.austria.gv.at/DocView.axd?CobId=8651.

[16] On the revival of the victim myth in 2005, see Heidemarie Uhl, “Was bisher geschah…,” Der Standard, July 1, 2005.

[17] On the “25 peaces” project, see 25 Peaces ; Eberhard Schrempf, ed., peace dokumentiert. März 2005 bis Juli 2006. Interventionen und Irritationen zur Erzeugung eigener Gedanken im Diesseits des öffentlichen Raumes und jenseits des offiziellen Gedenkjahres (Wien: 25 Peaces, 2006); Andreas Pribersky, “25PEACES. Warum die Bruchstücke des Neuen so alt aussehen oder: Wo ist die entführte Kuh geblieben?,” in Bedenkliches Gedenken. 1945–2005: Zwischen Mythos und Geschichte, ed. Josef Seiter, Elke Renner and Grete Anzengruber (Innsbruck/Wien/Bozen: Studien-Verlag, 2005), 60–65; Karin Liebhart, “Inszenierungen österreichischer Identität. Vom ‘Gedankenjahr‘ 2005 zur EU-Ratspräsidentschaft 2006,” in Österreichische Nation – Kultur – Exil und Widerstand. In memoriam Felix Kreissler , ed. Helmut Kramer, Karin Liebhart and Friedrich Stadler (Wien: LIT Verlag, 2006), 271–278; Irene Maria Leitner, Erinnerungskonflikte im österreichischen Gedankenjahr 2005. Eine gedächtnisgeschichtliche Studie anhand ausgewählter Fallbeispiele (Wien: Dipl.-Arbeit, 2007), 173–193. See also Katharina Wegan, “After the Game is Before the Game: A Review of the 2005 Commemorations,” Contemporary Austrian Studies 15 (2007): 172–200.

[18] 25 Peaces , 1. See Schrempf, peace dokumentiert , 4: “The slogan [‘Wortmarke’] 25 PEACES just happened to us. Current political situation in Europe: 25 states, add to that 25 project ideas, then 25 months of preparing and performing. And in the end one aim above all: preservation of peace for the future, probably the greatest talent of Europe, which is once again moving towards unity”.

[19] Schrempf, peace dokumentiert , 3.

[20] Ibid.

[21] These events were entitled “peace destroyed” (“peace zerstört”), “peace deleted” (“peace ausgelöscht”), “peace walled in” (“peace eingemauert”). See Katrin Hammerstein, “Weiße Flecken? Österreichische Erinnerungen an den Luftkrieg,” in Luftkrieg. Erinnerungen in Deutschland und Europa, ed. Jörg Arnold, Dietmar Süß and Malte Thießen (Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag, 2009), 114–128, esp. 121–127.

[22] These included, for instance, “peace quartered” (“peace geviertelt”), “peace occupied” (“peace besetzt”), “peace divided” (“peace geteilt”), “peace cooked” (“peace bekocht”) and “peace tilled” (“peace beackert”). Cf. Pribersky, 25PEACES, 62; Liebhart, Inszenierungen, 273–4.

[23] Examples include “peace freed” (“peace befreit”) and “peace bidden farewell” (“peace verabschiedet”).

[24] F.e. “peace participating” (“peace beteiligt”) and “peace bedecked with flags” (“peace beflaggt”).

[25] See Liebhart, Inszenierungen, 275–6; Uhl, Was bisher geschah; id., “Staatsvertrag: Gedächtnisort der Zweiten Republik,” http://science.orf.at/science/uhl/135461, May 13, 2005.

[26] An unedited version of this extract from the speech can be found at http://www.mediathek.at/oe1_journale/popup/popup_media_manager.php?fileId=1010487&ext=1.

[27] Flieher, Grenze.

[28] Oliver Marchart, “Gedenken mit Zeitloch. Opferstatus als Staatsdoktrin,” Jungle World, March 16, 2005.

[29] Armin Thurnher, “Ein Hintergedankenjahr,” Falter, January 12, 2005.

[30] On making 1955 the central site of memory (“Erinnerungsort”) in the commemorative year 2005, see Oliver Marchart, “Die ungezählten Jahre. Opfermythos und Täterversöhnung im österreichischen ‘Jubiläumsjahr’ 2005,“ in rebranding images. Ein streitbares Lesebuch zu Geschichtspolitik und Erinnerungskultur in Österreich, ed. Martin Wassermair and Katharina Wegan (Innsbruck/Wien/Bozen: Studien-Verlag, 2006), 51–60, esp. 57–8. According to Marchart the years between 1938 and 1945 are simply not counted in the anniversary calculation, therefore he refers to them as the “uncounted years”; ibid., 58.

[31] Harald Schmid used this term to describe German memory culture in the year 2008; Harald Schmid, “Kommodes Gedenken. Die Erinnerungskultur des vereinten Deutschlands,” Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik 53, no. 11 (2008): 91–102.

[32] With regard to the Austrian commemorative years there seems to be, so to speak, a “coexistence of golden and black memory”. Thus during the “5 years” (f.e. 1985, 1995, 2005) it is above all positive historical events, such as the founding of the Second Austrian Republic and the State Treaty, that are remembered and commemorated, while in the “8 years” (f.e. 1988, 1998, 2008) negative memories of the “Anschluss” and the NS period predominate. I would like to thank Heidemarie Uhl for this suggestion.

[33] In 2009 at the opening of the year of Linz being European Capital of Culture the issue of Linz as a divided city was taken up again. The cabaret group maschek produced a video with the title “Linz changed. A historical falsification” (“Linz verändert. Eine historische Fälschung”). The story is similar to that of “division at the river“, more in the form of cabaret, of course. In this version, the city is only reunited and above all considered to be free in 2009, when the mayor hands over control to the artists because of the role of Linz as European Capital of Culture. The video can be found at http://www.maschek.org/linz-veraendert/.

IWM Junior Visiting Fellows’ Conferences, Vol. XXVIII

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Preferred citation: Hammerstein, Katrin (2010): Divided Austria – History Fiction in Linz. In: Perspectives on Memory and Identity, ed. B. Marrin and K. Hammerstein, Vienna: IWM Junior Visiting Fellows’ Conferences, Vol. 28.