Just to finish off our series on Habsburg terms for visitors to Vienna, a little delve into the complicated world of the abbreviations k. u. k. and k. k.
K is for…?
The Habsburgs liked their Ks, because the German words for Emperor, King, and their derivatives all begin with that letter. For example, Emperor is Kaiser, imperial is kaiserlich, King is König, and royal is königlich.
That’s the secret behind the abbreviations “k. k.” and “k. u. k.” that you find all over the place in Vienna, particularly on royal items like court dinner services.
(A late 19th-century photo of the K. K. Theresianische Ritterakademie (a royal-sponsored educational establishment). Photo courtesy of the Rijksmuseum)
k. k. stands for kaiserlich-königlich (English: imperial-royal)
This abbreviation was used to refer to all state institutions in the Austrian Empire (1804 – 1867) and then to state institutions in the Austrian part of the successor Austro-Hungarian empire (1867 – 1918).
So a plate made in 1810 and marked k. k. was the property of the Austrian emperor.
k. u. k.
k. u. k. stands for kaiserlich und königlich (English: imperial and royal)
This abbreviation was used in the Austro-Hungarian empire to refer to empire-wide state institutions.
So the k.u.k. Kriegsministerium in 1911 was the Ministry of War in the Austro-Hungarian empire, defence being one of the things over which the Hungarians did not have autonomy.
A k. u. k. Hoflieferant was a supplier to the imperial court with an official warrant of royal approval. Such companies or individuals were allowed to highlight this affiliation in their promotional material, much like the “By appointment to Her Majesty the Queen” you see with some British businesses.
You still find businesses in today’s Vienna using this designation for marketing purposes.
Demel, a famous cake and confectionery shop in Vienna’s center, was founded in 1786. The sign outside its premises on Kohlmarkt still says “K. u. K. Hofzuckerbäcker” (which translates roughly as “By Appointment to the Imperial Court, Suppliers of Confectionery Products”).
Not so similar after all
Although the two abbreviations look and sound the same, they’re altogether quite different.
The second k (royal) in k. k. refers to the various kingships held by the Austrian Emperor. In k. u. k. that second k refers specifically to the Kingdom of Hungary.
However, just to confuse us, not everyone always stuck to the right terminology. So, if in doubt, just assume any “k” refers to something monarchical!