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Austria’s First Republic – Brief Vienna History After World War I

Austria After The Habsburg Empire

Karl Renner, Austrian chancellor of Austria's First RepublicAustria’s First Republic. Do you wonder what happened during Austria’s First Republic in Vienna? How did Vienna adapt from being an Imperial capital to becoming the centre of a small republic? My account allows you to orientate yourself with an overview of the making of the republic of Austria. My Austrian grandmother was a young girl then.

The Fall Of The Habsburg Empire

Austria’s First Republic. The 12th November 1918 marked the first day of republican Austria. For the first time in more than 600 years, we lived without the Habsburg rule.

You can see the resized Austrian territory on this map.

Austria's First Republic: Map of Austria Hungary after the First World War, 1918

Austria’s First Republic. Emperor Charles I was expelled from Austria as he refused to resign from his powers. He had only taken over the crown two years before when his great uncle Francis Joseph died in the middle of the war in 1916. (Austrian writer Stefan Zweig describes the departure of Charles and his family from Eckartsau castle near Vienna in his book The World Of Yesterday.) His first stop in exile was Switzerland. After two failed attempts to win back the rule over Hungary, the ‘Entente’ exiled him on the Portuguese island of Madeira. He died there at the age of 35 in 1922.

Austria’s First Republic. After four years of World War I, Emperor Charles I abdicated from his powers and left Schönbrunn Palace. The new Republic of German Austria was proclaimed the day after. Karl Renner became the first chancellor. His famous quote reflects the shock of losing the large territories of the Austro-Hungarian Empire: ‘We have turned into a people without state over night.’

Austria’s First Republic 1918 to 1938

Federal Chancellery of AustriaAustria’s First Republic.  The First World War ended with the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918. The former imperial city Vienna was demoted into the capital of a tiny political territory. Austria had shrunk to around 40 percent of the size of the Empire.

The Federal Chancellery moved into the Court and State Chancellery (Hof- und Staatskanzlei). The chancellery had been used to drive the Empire’s Foreign politics since Emperor Charles VI, Empress Maria Theresia’s father. The building is still used as the main office of the Austrian Federal Chancellor.

Vienna was often called the hydrocephalus (big head) because its former Imperial administration was huge. Civil servants in Vienna and the rest of Austria continued to enjoy much respect and admiration. Many of the older generation still love to wear their titles, such as HofratOberkommissaer or Ministerialrat. (It is still always advisable to address an Austrian with his/her correct public or academic title.)

Austria’s First Republic. The left liberals gained political power in both Vienna and Budapest. They pushed republican concepts and democracy. This was soon thwarted by an Austro-fascist regime headed by chancellors Engelbert Dollfuss and Kurt Schuschnigg. The regime is analysed in the essays of The Dollfuss/Schuschnigg Era in Austria: A Reassessment, edited by Anton Pelinka, Austrian’s most popular political analyst and university professor.

The influence of the National Socialist Movement from Germany on Austrian Politics in the First Republic increased. Austrian intellectuals such as writers, journalists, publishers, film makers and theatre directors, were under pressure to align their works with the ideals of National Socialism. Those with contradicting views were penalised. They lost business and money, and were blacklisted in Germany. The Jewish population in Austria faced much the same oppression. Many of them escaped to London, Paris or the United States.

My Grandmother’s War Song

Austria’s First Republic. My grandmother, born in 1899, used to tell me stories about the War, when she was a girl. How lucky she and her family had been as they lived in the rural South of Vienna close to the Vienna Woods, and had enough to eat, while the Viennese themselves were starving. (They lived on ration cards for bread and flour and in 1918 were allowed 40g of fat per person per week!).

She would often sing the war song Ich hatt’ einen Kameraden… to me, using her mouth organ:
In battle he was my comrade,
None better I have had.
The drum called us to fight,
He always on my right,
|: In step, through good and bad. 😐

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