Austria’s past is not all palaces and polkas. In the last 100 years, for example, we witnessed the birth, death and rebirth of democracy, as well as one of the darkest chapters in world history.
As one of Vienna’s newest museums, Das Haus der Geschichte Österreich (The House of Austrian History) takes a critical, balanced look at the country’s recent heritage and what it means to be Austrian.
- Covers contemporary Austrian history
- Current exhibition presents the entirety of the country’s post-WWI development
- Modern, detailed displays that touch you emotionally
- All information available in English, too
- Entrance ticket also lets you visit the Ephesos Museum
- See also: Vienna museums
Opened in 2018, the House of Austrian History is still finding its museal feet. Conceived as a museum, web platform, discussion forum and more, it’s yet to settle into a permanent form.
(“Long live the Republic” film display. Photo © Hertha Hurnaus / Haus der Geschichte Österreich)
For now, the main exhibition New Ages: Austria since 1918 takes you on an intense journey through the last 100 years of the country’s history. The highs were very high. The lows unimaginably low.
Democracy, Nazi terror, occupation, independence, equality, migration, and the meaning of nationality are just some of the themes tackled. (Told you it was intense).
The modern displays offer insights into the key moments of all that history, supported by multimedia elements, numerous items of “memorabilia”, and personal stories from those involved in the events covered.
The museum celebrates the positive developments, but does not shy away from highlighting darker times. And for non-Austrians, the most interesting parts are, inevitably, those covering the immediate aftermath of WWI and the period of Nazi rule.
What few of us realise is that within the space of about 24 hours at the end of 1918, Austria went from a powerful empire led by a centuries-old imperial dynasty to a defeated tiny democracy low on cash and self-esteem.
Original footage from Vienna immediately after the war’s end brings home the sense of chaos and uncertainty.
The exhibition presents contrasting domestic reactions to defeat and the end of the monarchy, then examines the chaos and harsh reality of the aftermath (including the socioeconomic changes brought on by economic devastation).
Beginning in 1918, the country undertook a radical transformation across all spheres of life – from politics to street names – as democracy replaced authoritarian rule.
Fascism and Nazi rule
I actually cried at the displays on the growth of home-bred Austro-fascism in the 1930s and the impact of Anschluss with Nazi Germany in 1938.
Tears at the utter insanity of that short period where reason and humanity seemed to desert so many people (but not all).
Tears at the banality of the forms taken by such extremism. At a swastika-shaped candlestick. At the (badly drawn) Nazi symbols in an exercise book belonging to a primary school pupil.
Tears at the initial political reluctance to accept Austrian complicity in Nazi terror.
Tears at the organised killing. Not just those so familiar, like in the concentration camps, but also through the death marches and at the Hartheim Castle euthanasia centre.
Tears at the complicity of the local population.
Tears at the stories of those who resisted and gave their lives as a result.
And tears at the 1945 poster from Vienna, urging women and children to leave the city before the Russians arrived and the “last battle” commenced. Someone had scribbled across the bottom: “where to?”
Elsewhere you emerge (much like Austria) into a more upbeat future. And the timeline ends with two notable exhibits:
- The dress worn by Conchita Wurst when she won the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest for Austria
- The USB stick that contained the “Ibiza” video footage that brought down the Austrian government in 2019
Tickets & visitor tips
At the time of writing, adults pay €8 for an entrance ticket. This ticket also gets you into the Ephesos Museum, a small collection of Greek and Roman antiquities. Both museums occupy part of the Neue Burg tract of the Hofburg Palace complex, so you might like to visit just to see inside this rather magnificent building.
(The two museums are strange bedfellows. One a gentle walk among marbled columns and the remains of an ancient civilisation, the other a roller coaster ride through the trials and triumphs of a young democracy. Vienna – a city of contrast and paradox!)
Vending machines offer drinks and snacks in a seated area just inside the museum proper. Lockers are downstairs at the entrance to the Neue Burg.
How to get to the museum
The Neue Burg is quite central and a wing of the Hofburg palace complex that dominates the main tourist routes in Vienna’s old town.
The entrance to the Ephesos Museum and House of Austrian History is at the centre of the building on the side facing Heldenplatz square. You can’t miss it, since it screams “Imperial entrance” at you, with its steps and ornate gates.
Subway: Your best bet is Volkstheater (on the U2 and U3 lines) or Museumsquartier (on the U2)
Tram/bus: Take any of the ring trams – 1, 2, D, 71 – to Burgring
Address: Heldenplatz, 1010 Vienna | Website