Austrian writers suffer a little from stepchild syndrome. They’re never going to oust Mozart, Klimt or Beethoven from the top spot in people’s artistic affections. But that doesn’t mean the country doesn’t have a pretty impressive history when it comes to the written word, as Vienna’s Literature Museum demonstrates.
- Chronological and thematic trip through Austrian literary history
- Lovely display environment with Victorianesque wooden cabinets and shelves
- Borrow a tablet to get English content
- Current/next special exhibition:
- Ingeborg Bachmann. A homage (until Nov 5th, 2023)
- See also:
(The view from Johannesgasse)
Here’s a little factoid for you: Austria has won two Nobel prizes for literature this century. That’s more than any other country in the world bar the UK, USA, and France.
Those prizes for Elfriede Jelinek and Peter Handke build on a rich literary history created by the likes of Grillparzer, Schnitzler, Kafka, and others. And the Literaturmuseum (Literature Museum) takes you on a journey through that history.
Unlike in life, you start at the top and work your way down…
The highest floor hosts a temporary exhibition: currently a homage to Ingeborg Bachmann.
The next two floors then draw you chronologically from the Enlightenment through to the modern era, presenting the people and themes of greatest importance to Austrian literature. In doing so, the displays also highlight how authors and their works relate to sociopolitics, other arts, and further themes.
(View of part of the permanent exhibition; press photo © Österreichische Nationalbibliothek/Pichler)
As such, the Literature Museum features more than just the written word and those who create them. It’s partly a history and art museum, too.
So you’ll find hiking boots belonging to that Nobel laureate, Peter Handke, photos of the Ringstrassen during the great period of construction around the late 19th century, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s diary (opened to the 20th of January, 1937) and any number of films, first edition books, posters, and similar.
The information in the permanent exhibitions is only in German. But you can borrow a tablet from the ticket counter. Tap the “Permanent exhibition: explanatory texts” button and use the NFC tags spread throughout the exhibition to call up English translations of much of the display text.
Although the Literature Museum offers a rich breadth of information, perhaps the most impressive part is the display architecture itself.
It all feels like you stumbled into a multi-dimensional Victorian study, a convolution of wooden shelves and cabinets replete with words, pictures, video, and more to inspire and inform.
(Franz Grillparzer’s office; press photo © Österreichische Nationalbibliothek/Pichler)
And you get a special bonus…
As well as being one of the country’s literary greats, Franz Grillparzer was director of the Hofkammerarchiv (Archive of the Aulic Chancellery) from 1832 to 1856. You can look into his office with all its original furniture, such as the standing desk he used for his writing endeavours.
In another of history’s quirks, Grillparzer once shared a house with Beethoven and put his literary talent to work to write the eulogy for the great composer’s funeral.
Vienna has various other monuments to the literary greats of the German language.
For example, Grillparzer himself occupies a lovely spot in the Volksgarten park, Goethe guards an entrance to the Burggarten park, and Schiller watches over the students finding their way into the Academy of Fine Arts.
Tickets & visitor tips
At the time of writing, a standard adult ticket cost €8, with one-time free entry if you have, for example, a Vienna All-Inclusive Pass (my review).
Toilets and coin-operated lockers are in the basement.
Given that literature and music are two sides of the same coin (possibly), you might also want to pop into the Haus der Musik, which is one street down.
And, if you like your books, be sure to visit the National Library proper, particularly the incredible baroque state hall.
How to get to the Literature Museum
Johannesgasse branches off from Kärntner Straße, the largely pedestrianised road that meanders from Karlsplatz down past the State Opera House and along to Stephansdom cathedral in the centre. This also puts it a short walk from one of Vienna’s oldest coffee houses (still going strong today).
Subway: the museum sits at the centre of a triangle of subway stations, all within a couple of minutes’ walk of the site…Stephansplatz (U1 and U3 lines), Karlsplatz (U1, U2 and U4) and Stadtpark (U4)
Bus/tram: ditto for tram stops…Karlsplatz/Oper (1, 2, 62, 71 and D lines), Schwarzenbergplatz (2, D and 71), Weihburggasse (2)
Address: Johannesgasse 6, 1010 Vienna | Website