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In Habsburgum: A 21st Century Journey with the Last Crown Prince
BY FELIX PFEIFLE
We are not born simply to accept or write down what was and how it all was before we were here; rather, everything awaits us – things seek out their own poet and long for a connection to us. — Ernst Bloch
If you ever wanted to know what happened to the Habsburgs after the First World War, after the collapse of empire, loss of thrones and fortune, decades of exiled wandering, this is the story. In Habsburgum is a journey amid the nebulous afterglow of imperial legacy. There has not been another book like it in English and there will be no other volume like it, because no one has had access to the center of Europe’s once most powerful dynasty as I have for the last 20 years, particularly in the last years of the life of the ultimate crown prince, Archduke Otto von Habsburg. In Habsburgum, born from my inheritance of 60 years of letters written by the Archduke to a spirited and quirky American loyalist, Herbert Hinkel, who bequeathed the letters to me in 1995, comes on the heels of the release of a documentary film, FELIX AUSTRIA!, which just had its world premiere at the most prestigious documentary film festival in North America, the Hot Docs International Film Festival in Toronto. FELIX AUSTRIA! tells the story of my inheritance of this archive and of my quest to discover the lives of the persons behind the letters: the Archduke and Herbert Hinkel, in addition to portraying a character study of me. In Habsburgum shifts attention away from me at its center in order to arrive at far greater depths than the film could portray with an understanding of Why Habsburg? This book leaves no mistake that through my unique and eccentric journey with the Archduke–a story that at times scripted itself into a tale not believable in fiction–I have captured the last breath of European empire.
With the 100 year anniversary of the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo next year, June 28, the name Habsburg will resurface upon even the pop cultural radar, and In Habsburgum will allow potential readers a window into a history that did not end with the First World War–despite the text books–rather even the book takes us to Sarajevo in 2007 with the Archduke Otto, his grandson, and me to the very spot where the murder took place, where we reflect upon the historical event and the tentacles it spread into the 21st century. In Habsburgum is precisely the post-modern tale that charts a shadow history, explains its relevance and shows how the story continues–and will continue even beyond this book–which has otherwise been denied readers for the last century. Ironically, to be sure, it’s largely the story of the last Crown Prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, who was otherwise brought up to occupy the pages of real history text books, but who becomes a subject almost all readers are curious about: the impoverished and exiled prince hunted by Hitler, the underdog fighting to save his country and to return to center court, a vanquished would-be monarch who completely reinvents himself to fit in and still make a difference, because for him dwelling on memory lane and indulging himself with royal titles is not, as he would say, “the task at hand.”
On a more abstract note of timely relevance, In Habsburgum also comes when there is a heightened sense of loss in our culture, a loss of history and a loss of connection through frenzied and frayed communications. Naturally, with the dizzying proliferation of electronic media, which offers both greater access than ever to all manner of historical information–especially alternatives histories–and to social connectivity, we are nonetheless left in America with a baffling ignorance of world history and a culture hyper-connected, constantly connected, yet lacking in anything even remotely familiar to the noblesse oblige at play in the letters between the Archduke and Herbert Hinkel. In Habsburgum promises to inspire people with the emotional pull of history, showing that beautiful stories are born of the endeavor to search for things about to be lost and forgotten, and to become the custodian of those stories. The book almost beckons everyone to find their own Habsburg, whatever that is for him or her, whether it’s the story of the last Jews of Fez or Grandma’s secret love. It will also resonate with readers on the lost art of communication in letters, a loss of quality in the way we relate to each other and the respect we would accord each other through letters, so evident on the pages of In Habsburgum.
“Habsburg?” A Polish guard said at the end of the Second World War, scrutinizing the passport of an archduchess, “Sounds Jewish.” Barely a generation after the collapse of the Habsburg Empire, which once included that part of Poland into which the archduchess had entered and already the illustrious name was unknown, even suspect, to the presumably young Pole. More recently, in last year’s season of Downton Abbey, the Dowager Countess conjures the glory of Habsburg when referring to the nouveau riche suitor of one granddaughter versus the servant suitor of another granddaughter, “Well, compared (to the chauffeur), he’s practically a Habsburg.” Of all names the show’s writers could conjure, only one would convey a universal sense of antiquity and royalty; Windsor, Hohenzollern, Bourbon, Saxe-Coburg-Gotha would only confuse the audience for various reasons, with the possible exception of Romanov, which surely the Dowager Countess wouldn’t mention since it’s not verifiably European, she would explain.
Habsburg, the name resonates and yet it doesn’t, it flickers across the minds of some as embodying the late baroque world of Mozart, the core of Austria and Central Europe, of Spain’s Golden Age, a name found in the annals of nearly every century of the second millennium and yet for others, now almost 100 years since the dissolution of their empire, the name may only remind even the decently well-educated person of some vague memory of kings and queens, at best, but then perhaps it’s just Jewish, like Rosenberg.
For me, in any case, Habsburg means the former: it is the name of the ages, it is a cultural concept in itself–it embodies two of the three most influential institutions in the history of Western culture: empire and monarchy. It is a by-word for the counter-reformation and the baroque, the Habsburg Empire is the place of origin for a large percentage of white Americans–it is a defining dimension of Europe–and it comes down to one person: Otto von Habsburg, the Archduke, the last Crown Prince, last heir of Charlemagne, himself the successor to the Romans. He is The Habsburg, a holy grail of European civilization living in the 21st century, in whom all road maps of culture, history, and pedigree converge–an infant heir at the center of Vienna during Schoenberg’s invention of a new tonal system, amid Freud’s revelations of another layer to the psyche, in the city where the first architects called ornament a crime–this heir to a 640-year empire born during the hot house of early modernism.
And I, coming from a rural city lodged between San Francisco and Yosemite–aptly named Modesto–will, following all the paths that are out there, grow up to discover the Archduke, will meet him and know him and everything about his world, from the intricacies of Habsburg armorial bearings to the complexities of burgeoning modernist ideologies surrounding the Archduke’s birth, because, coming from the Western frontier, I know the Archduke is Europe’s last Mohican–a Geronimo–in whom a millennium of layering is stacked, and as long as the Archduke breathes, so, too, does the breath of his ancestor Charlemagne–and the aura of a cultural renaissance in Vienna, Budapest, and Prague from 100 years ago. Unwavering in my path of discovery to the center of the fin-de-siècle, I literally will myself into the inner-circle of the Archduke.
I am there to capture the last regards of an ancien régime prince, but I am not on this path alone, of course, because a similar path was carved for me 75 years before, by a young Herbert Hinkel in 1930s New York. Hinkel turns onto the imperial causeway as a teenager in 1937 when the Archduke is still yet very young, in his 20s, and there is strong and serious hope for a Habsburg restoration in Austria, until Hitler, just 5 months after the admiring Hinkel pens his first letter to the “Emperor,” quashes any further monarchical prospects and annexes Austria to the Nazi Reich. Nevertheless, Count Trautmannsdorf, the Archduke’s secretary later writes to Hinkel: “In spite of all the terrible events happening in Europe, Archduke Otto is not at all discouraged, but firmly trusting God’s everlasting Justice and believing in the final victory of freedom, democracy and Christianity.” Hinkel believes in The Habsburg and continues to write to him wherever he goes. Hinkel, whose playful name resonates by way of Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, and who reminds us of Walter Mitty in his letters, is out to save the Habsburgs, to restore them to the throne of Austria or maybe even a reconfigured Danubian empire, while the Soviet Union looms over the entire region, immovable. Hinkel fires off letters to Churchill, Eisenhower, and John Foster Dulles to bring attention to the imperial plight. The Archduke’s culture and birthright appear forever destroyed under the seeming monolithic weight of the Soviets, but Herbert Hinkel presses further and launches the Habsburg Restoration Association from his modest apartment on Nagle Avenue at the northern tip of Manhattan, a notably quixotic scheme in the mid-20th century, while the Archduke is already positioning himself for a crown-less future; one’s royal standard is ascendant, the other’s is being folded up.
The letters between the Archduke and Hinkel are the epilogue of Habsburg history, taking us into the 700th year of the dynasty’s place in European history, reminding us that crowned or not, the dynasty remains and so does its mission—it just happens not to be Hinkel’s mission for an imperial restoration, per se. Rather, for the Archduke, who reshapes his identity for the more plausible “Dr. Otto von Habsburg,” that mission is a united, supranational Europe, something the Habsburg Empire always aspired to be, which leads him to apply his vision and considerable energy toward the European Union, for which he becomes a Member of Parliament for 20 years, where he advocates tirelessly and nearly till the time of his death at 98 years for the inclusion of former East-Bloc, i.e. Habsburg, countries into the Union.
It would have to be that two men, one young, one old, would see their paths converge one day when Herbert Hinkel discovers an article in an historical journal which I wrote as a student in the early 1990s at Berkeley. Hinkel and I strike up our own correspondence, which takes a poignant turn when I go to Vienna with a Fulbright Scholarship. From Vienna, sensing that Hinkel was not someone who possessed the means to travel, but for whom the world of Central Europe and Vienna meant everything, I would therefore write letters and postcards to Hinkel from across the City—from concerts at the Musikverein to visits at the Cathedral and the Imperial Crypt, where I would leave flowers upon Hinkel’s wishes at the sarcophagus of the last Empress, Archduke Otto’s mother. It was at the end of my studies in Vienna that Hinkel, at the time 70 years old, revealed his nearly 60-year expanse of letters from the Habsburgs and that he would like to—insofar that he had no children, and no one close to him for whom these letters would have meaning—leave the archive to me in his will. Two and a half years later, just before Christmas 1994, Hinkel is struck and killed by a car while crossing the street to his job as a greeter at Costco in suburban Florida, where he lived in semi-retirement. At the time of his death there is a Christmas card addressed to me on his desk, as there is also one for the Archduke, yet sadly, neither The Habsburg nor I ever met Hinkel in person. A couple months later I receive the archive, the Imperial Archive.
Although I was already on my own expedition surrounding Habsburg, In Habsburgum is born of the Imperial Archive, of the need to go to its center, to explore the lives of both the Archduke and Herbert Hinkel in parts equal to their places in the world, to understand the meaning of a correspondence like this in the late 20th century, when everything Habsburg is supposed to be a closed subject matter—but so obviously is not—and once that door is opened, it would become the inevitable self-perpetuating odyssey that would put me at the center of the Habsburgs, a “friend of the House,” as it is said in the circle. It is a path spread with adventure and richness and the ultimate prize is finding myself in Jerusalem at the Yad Vashem to honor the grandfather of a friend of mine, Eduard Propper de Callejon, a Spanish diplomat who saved the lives of thousands of Jews at the border of France, and who, I discovered through my talks with the Archduke, was also the man to secure the Habsburgs’ escape from the Nazi war machine pressing toward the Pyrenees. It was the Archduke who became the only located living witness to testify to this man’s heroism vis-à-vis the Jews he rescued, many of whom were Central European Jews whom the Archduke was sending to Mr. Propper in droves. Otto von Habsburg’s letter to the Yad Vashem becomes the clenching factor to have my friend’s grandfather recognized as a Righteous Person Among the Nations. It is the result of what happens when one digs to remember and to discover what is still among us.
In Habsburgum is an epic journey, both in terms of the intellectual scope of the subject matter–the historical and cultural legacy embodied in the Archduke and his own adventurous odyssey of exile–and the cross-epochal, cross-cultural textures at play, in the way that the stories of Herbert Hinkel and mine are woven into the path of Habsburg history, showing the inter-related tributaries that really define human culture, streams that lead us between 1980s Modesto, California and back to the scaffold on which the Habsburg-born Marie Antoinette is executed, the result of the latter being the clearest reason, not remarkably, of the Archduke’s survival nearly to the age of 100. That tapestry takes an even richer turn when I begin dreaming about the The Habsburg, which involves its own 20-year narrative arc relating to the growth of my relationship with the Archduke, showing the sub-conscious beacon to Why Austria? Why Habsburg? Naturally, being totally immersed in the ethos of the legacy of the fin-de-siècle my dreams are recounted here in analysis with my psychologist–it could only be thus. This book, which comprises biographies of the Archduke Otto von Habsburg and Herbert Hinkel is also a memoir of that story-telling path. The letters between the two men provide obvious source material, in addition to my extensive interviews with the Archduke, whose daughter Gabriela von Habsburg, gave me full rights to reproduce the letters and dozens of photographs from their private family archive. Interviews with Herbert Hinkel’s family and closest friends fill out his truly enigmatic life story–which flourishes into the biography of the real hero in this Mitty-like man–and interviews with the Archduke’s daughter, Michaela von Habsburg, and a grandson, Marc Joao d’Antin, in addition to personal experiences with other close family members, give us insight into the next generations of this once imperial family and where they are going with the Habsburg legacy.
CHAPTER I STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS, 2011
• I begin writing the book as President Obama’s State of the Union address airs, reminding me that it was the Archduke, in Sarajevo, September 2007, who first said–among anyone I had yet heard anywhere–that he believed Obama would win the 2008 election. The stage is set for an extraordinary post-modern odyssey by the mere mention of a former imperial crown prince, remarking in Sarajevo that a black man will certainly clench the US presidency. The book is written presuming the Archduke is alive, until one reaches his death in the last chapter.
CHAPTER II AN ARCHDUKE AND HIS ORIGINS
• What is Habsburg? Explaining Habsburg, the Habsburg Monarchy, the Habsburg Empire, as a cultural and historical concept.
• Why one needs to know Habsburg in order to understand European history–for otherwise one has no real notion of what Europe represents. Putting the puzzle of Europe together by way of Habsburg; the simplicity of nation states only having arrived recently relative to the couple millennia of mosaic-like constructs comprising the map, which is what the Habsburg Empire embodied, like the Holy Roman and Roman empires before it.
• Otto is the last Crown Prince, eldest son of the last reigning Habsburg Emperor, Karl I. The Habsburg Empire at its height in a nutshell. The Habsburg Empire after loss of the Spanish Monarchy (and therefore the Spanish Empire), the Austrian then Austro-Hungarian Empires. Other territories in the course of Habsburg history: Tuscany, Modena, Lombardy-Veneto, etc.
• The Privilegium Maius of the 14th century and the construction of a Habsburg mythology, binding the dynasty to the legacy of the Roman emperors, eventually leading to a complete appropriation of the myth of The Aeneid, written by Virgil, 29-19 B.C. This, on a more scholarly note, establishes, Why Habsburg? and Why this Habsburg?
• The cultural world surrounding the Archduke’s birth–an overview of and introduction to the Viennese fin-de-siècle. While the main line of historians has mostly been to assume that Habsburg and Modernism were mutually opposed forces, one decadent, the other ascendant–the latter poised to destroy the former–the matter is not so simple, since it was the cosmopolitan and ethnically tolerant, non-nation state based outlook of the Dynasty that beckoned the arrival of legions of Jews to the Imperial Residence City, Vienna, who became the most prolific progenitors of the “modern project.”
CHAPTER III SARAJEVO
• We return to what brought me to Sarajevo with the Archduke in 2007 and what we explored there. After my previous visit with him in Vienna, he said, “The next time we meet it will have to be in Bosnia,” thus suggesting we would have to establish a tradition of meeting in key parts of the former empire.
• The present situation (2007) – Otto is to speak at the Bosnian Parliament, where he conjures in cross-epochal manner (the boundaries of text books are too simplistic for him), why it is essential that the European Union–and the world at large–support Kosovo for independence against Serbia, a decision imminent within weeks of his address, and that the EU support Bosnia for inclusion as much as for Croatia. The very relevance of 1914, the assassination, its consequences, and the fact that the last crown prince is there speaking before Parliament, is implicit.
• After the Archduke–as Dr. von Habsburg–has finished addressing Parliament, his secretary, Ms. Demmerle, asks his grandson and me that we join her for a little excursion across town, with one objective in particular: to find the Archduke some underwear, since the maid at home has forgotten to pack any. Thereupon ensues a hugely amusing quest to cloth “the emperor.”
• The next day in Sarajevo we make the exalted, the indispensable visit to the Latin Bridge, where the Archduke’s grand-uncle, Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated in 1914 with his wife. Otto maneuvers us through on-coming traffic to describe to his grandson and me how it all happened–or at least the Habsburg perspective on how it happened.
• We all look at the water running beneath the bridge and I reflect upon the gravity of “historical moments.” This is an historical moment, yet looking for underwear for the would-be Emperor of Austria-Hungary the day before occupies a larger part of my imagination at that point. One wonders about just how historical the day of the assassination really is / was.
CHAPTER IV MODESTO
• Suffice it to say that growing up in a small city of the Central Valley in California, I never imagined shopping for underwear for the last heir to the Habsburg Empire in Sarajevo, although my mind was somehow pointed in that direction from the earliest age. I explain the geographical and cultural context of growing up in Modesto, California and how one comes to discover Habsburg.
• Naturally, there is a Habsburg connection even to Modesto and it is by way of the The Spanish Habsburgs who discovered and laid claim to California through the Portuguese explorer, Cabrillo. California was at the northern tip of the Habsburg’s empire in the Western hemisphere.
• It was not the Latin and Spanish influence in California for which I was looking, however–Anglo-Saxon pupils in my youth were not educated to appreciate this legacy–and the thread-bare, dusty legacy of my mid-19th century ancestors of the Western frontier, among the first Anglo-Saxons in California, was somehow to recent for me to explore, too familiar, and too unappealing from an aesthetic perspective.
• I explain the origins in me of Why Habsburg?–because I had to dive deep into history, deeper than anything America could show me..
• In Modesto, through my childhood, the outer-world and Europe came to us and sometimes we went into it. I chart the course of these developments and how I come to embark upon the path toward Europe, toward, Austria, toward Vienna and Habsburg.
CHAPTER V EUROPE
• I leave for Switzerland the week after high school graduation in 1988, where I get my first taste of the European continent, specifically, at the Grandhotel Giessbach, where I work for a summer, where I’m also first introduced to the complexities of European nationalities, in addition to the finer points of upstairs, down-stairs relationships.
CHAPTER VI AUSTRIA
• Upon completion of my summer work at the hotel, I embark upon a six-month journey across Europe and, as it happens, it is first to Austria where my best friend from Modesto is staying as an exchange student.
• My train ride from Switzerland to Austria is occasion to revisit the Swiss origins of the Habsburgs, whose ancestral seat of power, the Habichtsburg–later Habsburg–a medieval fortress, is in the Aarau region of northwestern Switzerland, not far from where my train would pass on its way to the Austrian frontier.
• High on an isolated mountain pass in the province of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s birth I have my first curious experience of Austria, most memorable for having seen a book on the shelf of my hosts, called Otto Habsburg. I already know who he is, of course, but know nothing about him. My hostess explains his biography a bit and adds that his mother, the Empress, lives relatively nearby in a castle belonging to her daughter, Princess Elisabeth of Liechtenstein. This sets me to wondering, for the first time, about the incongruities of time as we’re educated to understand them–that a European empress still lives nearby, surrounded by the still (seemingly) solid East-bloc on most sides.
• I go to Vienna for the first time, where I am introduced to the scope of Habsburg. The dimensions of Habsburg presence loom so large it makes me curious for what Habsburg represents beyond the borders of Austria.
• Back on the mountain pass, my immediate reaction to discovering that the Empress is alive was to think somehow, some way, one had to reach the Empress to record her thoughts in 1988, after an early life started on the heels of the Holy Roman Emperors, themselves the self-proclaimed heirs of the Roman Emperors who merely expanded upon the precedent set by Alexander the Great—except that the Empress dies less than six months later at the age of 92, just as she was being made aware of the impending downfall of the Communist East-bloc which had enveloped her former “peoples” after the Second World War.
CHAPTER VII IMPERIAL FUNERAL DREAM INTERLUDE
• First Habsburg dream, Modesto, CA, 1989, in analysis with Dr. Michael Pariser, Los Angeles, 2008. I have returned from my first sojourn to Europe several months previous and the Archduke’s mother, Empress Zita, dies. There is a massive, state-like funeral in Vienna, drawing upon the prescribed protocol of all imperial funerals. I dream that I am in the Imperial Vault below the Capuchin Church in Vienna, where I view the Imperial Family from across the other side of the sarcophagus. I see them, but I am invisible to them, and thus begins my subconscious odyssey of Habsburg.
CHAPTER VIII THE FIN-DE-SIÉCLE AND HABSBURG
• At Berkeley I am swept into the delight of real intellectual challenge, but perhaps it is the moment of standing beneath the baroque wrought-iron gates of the Hofburg, during my first visit to Vienna, that sets me on a path to explore what becomes the most interesting aspect of European history to me: that vanished world of the Central European, fin-de-siècle culture, which flourished between about 1890 and 1918.
• Already many qualities of Austro-Hungarian culture must have attracted me psychically. It was at once at the center of things—in the geographic center of Europe—a major power, but not the greatest; progressive, but not especially; economically successful, though not like Germany and England. Habsburg culture was even in its own time one on the margins, one that somehow didn’t jump on the most obvious track and trajectory to modernity, perhaps because it was too sophisticated, complicated, and refined. Everything about it was somehow different.
• It was study at Berkeley of this last phase of Habsburg, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the fin-de-siècle, that I realize the domains of the Dynasty ironically take on their greatest cohesion of Habsburg expression in a makeshift supranationalism, which had always really been at the core of Habsburg dynastic culture; they just had not had to announce and define it until the ever threatening rise of nationalism in the 19th century.
• Sensing that I want to go further into the reaches of Habsburg/Austria, my professor for the course The Habsburg Monarchy, William Slottmann, suggests I find a copy of Carl Schorske’s, Fin-de-siècle, his Pulitzer prize-winning survey of turn-of-the-century culture in Vienna, “a magnificent revelation of Habsburg Vienna in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, where out of a crisis of political and social disintegration so much of modern art and thought was born.” The referral to this book transforms me.
• Schorske’s Fin-de-Siècle Vienna is a springboard to an intellectual jigsaw puzzle for me, which, the more I am able to solve and define, the better I am able to understand modernity—and therefore history before it, because if one sees modernist thought as a kind of breach with history, then one necessarily has to understand from what Modernists were liberating their subject matter, whether it was politics, philosophy, painting, music or architecture.
• I graduate from Berkeley and leave for Vienna where I study with a Fulbright scholarship, almost abandoning entirely the Habsburg dimension in my studies of the fin-de-siècle. The Archduke Franz Joseph Otto lingers on my consciousness as an almost mythic living exponent of that epoch and, given his birth in 1912 at the physical center of fin-de-siècle culture and given his place on the genealogical map of European rulers, as the last heir of Charlemagne, as it were, who created an empire with the mythic mandate of Augustus and Alexander the Great, before him, one could argue that all channels lead to him, and that, as any individual possibly can, Otto embodies more than anyone else—now living—the legacy of more than two millennia of European Civilization.
CHAPTER IX THE ARCHDUKE’S AMERICAN FRIEND, HERBERT HINKEL
• It seems like when one is sensitive to the décalage of time, its inconvenient ruptures that place together a Habsburg crown prince at the end of the 20th century with a young American college student at the University of California Berkeley, then the twirling layers of characters and time overlapping do not make it surprising that someone like Herbert Hinkel should appear from a retirement housing community in Florida.
• Bringing Hinkel, Habsburg, and me onto the same page happens by way of reflection upon a little known event of attempted heroism and pacifism that failed in the First World War: The Sixtus Affair, i.e., the attempt by Otto von Habsburg’s father, Emperor Karl, to secure a separate peace with the French by way of his brother-in-law Prince Sixtus of Bourbon-Parma. The article was published in an historical journal which Hinkel read, whereupon he sent a letter to me expressing his praise, etc.
• Hinkel is born in New York City in 1922, where he grows up in a working class Catholic family of German immigrants, although his mother is the daughter of a relatively successful Kapellmeister from Bad Kissingen, Germany. Speculating on the origins of his interest in Habsburg and Austria, despite his German ethnic background. Shared Catholicism may provide one clue. Perhaps Hinkel, like other adolescents, was looking for a hero–and royalty at the time were still figures of leadership–and perhaps Hinkel was uninterested in the more fiery Communist and Fascist movements common among youth of ethnic German and Italian neighborhoods of 1930s New York.
• Perhaps also Hinkel or someone near to him is reading the New York Times through the 1930s, in which the Archduke Otto appears regularly–he’s a veritable household name at the time, often referred to simply as “Otto.” The New York Times fawns on the Austrian Pretender, extolling his good looks, his studious and virtuous character. It is likely here that Hinkel understands a character context for the Archduke that mounts with time, especially as the Times charts the mounting tension in the stakes for Central European power–will it be Hitler or Habsburg? the Times asks.
• In October 1937 Hinkel receives his first letter from the Archduke’s court-in-exile, apparently after the 15 year old Hinkel has sent good wishes to the Archduke–referred to as His Imperial and Royal Majesty the Emperor and King–and has requested an autographed photo. The “Emperor’s” secretary, Count Franz Trautmannsdorf, himself from a princely family, responds to Hinkel that it is only after having achieved merit through “great service to His cause” that the Emperor dares to sign an autographed photo. Hinkel thereupon sets out on a lifelong path toward (post-) Imperial recognition.
CHAPTER X FINDING THE HABSBURG
• I set on my own path toward knowing The Habsburg, as my gentle friend and mentor, Lee Nicholson, calls the Archduke, over a period of the last 20 years—since I was barely just 20 years old, myself. As one friend suggested early in my journey, I would have to find the “chink in his armor,” to find his humanity, to understand his place in the world, to sense how he related to the rest of the Austro-Hungarian spectrum of my studies—the fin-de-siècle—to understand his modes of survival and to understand how someone meant to be a sovereign adapts to a post-royal landscape.
• The Archduke’s biography continues to fill out as I loosely chart his development from Crown Prince in exile, to Pretender to the Throne upon the death of his father in 1922, when Otto was still only 9 years old. Otto, from the earliest age, therefore, is brought up as Emperor and King, as sovereign, if even in exile–which was not regarded by the adults surrounding him as a permanent fate, by any means. It would only be a matter of time before he was restored to the thrones of his ancestors, as even the letters to Herbert Hinkel demonstrate in the 1930s.
• Ultimately, he charts a different course, unlike almost any other royal exile in the 20th century–completely the antithesis of the example set by the former King Edward VIII, the Duke of Windsor, who was most prized for his sartorial presence at posh parties around the world. The Archduke instead, becomes highly politicized and uses his considerable intelligence and formidable education to write newspaper columns and books and to engage in political speaking tours.
• Nonetheless, by the time he renounces his rights to the throne of Austria in 1961, he is 49 years old, having spent what would become about half his lifetime in the role of “sovereign,” as “Imperial Majesty.” It doesn’t matter how we in the outside world may have viewed it–that his royal title was abolished at the age of 6, after the collapse of the monarchy in 1918; what matters here is his psyche and his perceptions–and those were of “Imperial Majesty.” As his daughter said to me just within the last two months, “My father was Emperor until the moment he died.”
• Therefore, if I were to know the Habsburg, to capture him in a way, I would have to understand what the psyche of being Emperor means to a Habsburg. One answer lies in the cult of imperial adoration surrounding his godfather and great grand-uncle, the Emperor Franz Joseph, “The Emperor smiled to all sides. On his face the smile remained like a small sun which he himself had raised.” (Translated from Joseph Roth’s, Radeztkymarsch.)
• He has, in a sense, remained Sovereign, while donning a public mask for bourgeois democratic politics. These dual identities, that of the Dr. Otto von Habsburg and His Imperial and Royal Majesty are manifestations of a fascinating sensibility, which has allowed the Archduke to reinvent himself on a public stage—acceptable to republican minded peoples as Dr. von Habsburg—while privately guarding the traditions of his House as dynast.
CHAPTER XI DRAWBRIDGE DREAM INTERLUDE
• The second Habsburg dream, ca. 1991, from the night before my first “audience” with the Archduke, in Brussels. I dream that I am on my way to meet the Archduke and I’m ascending a hill toward an archetypal medieval castle with drawbridge. As I mount the long, gravel driveway toward the entry, I notice village children in peasant dress running up the hill around me. As I arrive, I see the Archduke with the Belgian Royal Family, his cousins. They are posing for photographs with the village children. I soon realize that my “audience” with the Archduke is merely a photo-op for the Archduke and the Belgian royals.
CHAPTER XII MEETING THE HABSBURG
• How I come to meet the Archduke while staying with anti-Habsburg bourgeois friends in western Austria.
• The aesthetic context of meeting The Habsburg for the first time, at the European Parliament in Brussels, 1991. The building reminds one of a third-rate airport and certainly subverts one’s expectations of meeting the last heir of the Holy Roman Emperors.
• But it is rather like the film Orlando, based on the story by Virginia Woolf, where all those images of aristocratic splendor mounting over centuries in the film collapse upon the last scene where the protagonist, played by Tilda Swinton, enters the sterile confines of a London office tower–times have changed, indeed, but the image makes sense as one thread relating to all the others, evolving over generations–and there appears the former Crown Prince in the European Parliament on what is for him just another day.
• Now sitting before the Archduke, one realizes one can take the boy out of the palace, but one can’t take the palace out of the boy; this, because, despite our surroundings at the European Parliament, I could not help but feel the deep veins of history in the Archduke, the breath and touch of history being expressed in nearly every gesture and utterance; the sovereign is in full form.
• The first few times I met with the Archduke it is this battery of royal and political armor I encountered–the Archduke as sovereign, as politician, and as my inchoate path to know the Habsburg implied, there is an essence to this man which I was yet to discover—and was determined to discover.
• Leaving the “imperial audience” –the amusing other end of the odyssey.
CHAPTER XIII THE IMPERIAL ARCHIVE
• Arrival of the Archive, February 1995. They are the letters from Otto von Habsburg, or members of his court-in-exile, to Herbert Hinkel from 1937 till 1994.
• How I came to inherit the letters from Herbert Hinkel.
• I thought the letters might hold more obvious historical value, that among them would be some smoking guns of historical importance, but instead I find, on first glance, that they seem fairly banal—the great thick lot of them.
• But I come to realize that the richness doesn’t lie in the smoking gun—anymore than the monumentality of the First World War lies at that bridge in Sarajevo—rather, the letters would chart the course of Hinkel’s fantastic parallel life as a loyalist in the cause of the House of Habsburg. Thereby the letters also carefully chart the meandering path away from royal life meant for the Archduke; the throne becomes more and more distant, till the point that he renounces it all together and starts a new course.
• An example of the above is the letter dated January 20, 1938–interesting, but not fascinating, until we look at the historical context surrounding the letter, the impending Anschluss, the negotiations of Otto von Habsburg to save Austria from invasion, etc.
• The letters are another window onto the 20th century, where definitive text books miss the mosaic of complexities—there simply isn’t room—of the seismic shift in Western culture at play, as Habsburg monarchical power fades entirely, but not as simply—as clearly—as we’re led to believe by the text books and certainly not without a fight.
• The situation as seen through the letters in the early 1940s–exile for the Habsburg court in New York City.
• Hinkel is drafted into the War and sent to Europe. Upon his return, he re-groups in New York City in an apartment under the high-line train (the 1 and the 9) and, with a focused sense of the Archduke’s post-war mission (although essentially acting of his own accord) he cuts straight to the center of power and fires off a letter to John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State, urging him to push forward the concept of a Danubian Condfederation to be led by the Habsburgs.
• Hinkel writes an appeal for the Habsburg restoration cause to Herbert Hoover, former President of the United States.
• In his letters Hinkel steps up his worldly identity and begins using the title “Baron Hinkel von Muehlbauer,” or even in another, “Baron Hubertus Hinkel von Muehlbauer,” Muehlbauer being his mother’s maiden name. Apparently one of his maternal uncles had been ennobled by the Bavarian king and so Hinkel appropriates the title for himself. Around this time, Hinkel makes his efforts for the Habsburg cause official and starts the Habsburg Restoration Association, replete with letterhead and telegraph cable link. He appoints himself New York Chairman and Imperial Ambassador (“Im. A.”) and appoints a fellow loyalist in California, Rodney Hartwell, West Coast Chairman.
• Hinkel’s devotion to the Imperial cause is entirely outside the way our society is generally able to think about such persons today, because he goes so far beyond the stereotype of “the fan” or the “royalist.” Hinkel is no slouch in his efforts–it doesn’t appear he’s out for invitations to glamorous parties and opportunities to hob nob with royalty (despite the self-appointed aristocratic titles he’s somehow no social climber), rather it’s the cause for which he fights, continuing to write letters denouncing Soviet hegemony and proposing a Danubian confederation headed by the Habsburgs to shift the balance of Central European power.
• Nonetheless, the Habsburgs quietly continue through the 1950s to hope for the eventual overthrow of the Soviet Union in Europe and although perhaps delusional to most others—in terms of riding out the Soviet demise that could lead to a Habsburg restoration—it would be entirely sensible to a dynasty that enjoys the long-arm of history on its side, that could wait for its obvious and inevitable collapse, perhaps not unlike the removal of Hitler and Napoleon from Europe, which happened within a generation each—even less. What is a generation, or a few generations, in the timeline of dynasty that has been at the center of things since the 13th century?
• The truth in Hinkel’s letters is always a little nebulous and difficult to verify on the surface. His assertions seem almost plausible, but not quite and so he becomes enigmatic. It will certainly require further investigation beyond the letters to ascertain a sense of the reality at play in this archive of imperial letters.
• The letters move beyond the Archduke’s renunciation of his imperial and royal claims in 1961. After this point, the Archduke, who no longer asserts the identity of a “sovereign,” begins signing his own letters for the first time. Until this point all letters are signed in the name of His Imperial and Royal Majesty or His Imperial and Royal Highness by a Court secretary, usually Count von Degenfeld-Schonburg.
• At some point not long after this the Archduke requests that Hinkel fold his Restoration Association, since it comes in conflict with the Archduke’s plans to enter European politics with the bourgeois identity of Dr. Otto von Habsburg.
• About a year after Otto von Habsburg renounces his rights to the throne, Hinkel receives his first autographed photo from the Archduke, which, curiously is not signed in his new identity, Otto von Habsburg, but rather in German as Otto von Oesterreich (of Austria), thus acknowledging the “merits” Hinkel has earned in a 25-year course of support for the Habsburg cause, per the response of Count Trautmannsdorf in the very first letter addressed to Hinkel.
• As in the archive of letters itself, even in this photo dating from about 1962 one must really perceive its nuances to appreciate its place in the full scope of Habsburg history.
CHAPTER XIV HABSBURG SUPERBOWL INTERLUDE
• Third Habsburg dream, New York City, ca. 1996, in analysis with Dr. Michael Pariser, ca. 2008. I am at the Superbowl and it’s the Habsburgs vs. the ??? (the team is unknown). The Habsburgs win, the game is over, and as I am exiting, I encounter Otto von Habsburgs, who is buoyant from the victory, surrounded by celebrating fans. I see him and am close enough to say hello, to reintroduce myself, but I’m unsure that I want to speak to him. I decide not to say anything and turn the other direction.
CHAPTER XV THE IMPERIAL ARCHIVE REVISITED
• I explore the evolution of my own aesthetic ideals which mirror my perception and appreciation for this imperial inheritance. To see it in Modernist terms, there is no place for it in my life—because there is no place for the Habsburgs and for Hinkel—but to see it in post-modern terms, we can imagine to reinterpret the meaning of the letters and their place in the last half of the 20th century.
• Not entirely impressed with the historical weight of the Imperial Archive of which I am now custodian, I nonetheless fashion the most valuable pieces–autographs by the last Empress and some autographed photos by the Archduke and his son–into an abstract modern composition, which I now call the “Habsburg Shrine.” Ironically, it is my appreciation of Modernist ideals that chills me to the idea of “Habsburg.” It begins to seem silly to me.
• My Modernist ideals mellow a bit and I begin to see the Imperial Archive through a different lense, or begin to appreciate it, at least, through a post-modern lense, that is, there are many threads of history spinning forth at once in our complex, globalized world and the correspondence between the Habsburgs and Hinkel, amusing as it might sound just by putting their names together, is the kind of thread I like most, sailing in its own direction, firmly bound to a rich past, but every bit apart of our presence as all the other threads, some of which are highlighted for historical timelines and others shunned; it just depends on those who decide to highlight which threads and how they connect.
• My friendship with the celebrated Modernist photographer, Julius Shulman, about the same age as the Archduke, helps alter my perspective on the Imperial Archive, allowing me to rethink it, to consider opening it again—and embarking upon a journey to explore it.
CHAPTER XVI KNOWING THE HABSBURG PART I
• As I come to know him and as he has comesto reveal to me, more and more openly, his life is characterized, in fact, by survival. It turns out there is the path of his survival, which he has related to me in great richness, but there are also the origins of that ability to survive, emanating from his ancestors and residing in, I realize, the French Revolution.
• Thus in Sarajevo, September 2007, we start by talking about the possible election of a Senator Barack Obama to the Presidency of the United States, and then about how he met Che Guevara in Mexico in the 1950s.
• This is the pattern of discussion in our engagements, and it is at his house, Villa Austria, on a lake outside Munich in 2005 where the Archduke finally, on our third meeting, doffs his imperial and political armor and speaks to me intimately about some decisive moments in his life, decisive moments in the history of Europe, touching on as-yet unpublished stories.
• The Villa Austria is a late 19th century villa typical for the European grand bourgeoisie; it is no feudal castle or palace. It is a mansion, but unpretentious, especially in its presentable although un-pristine “old money” state. What differentiates the place from its normally industrialist bourgeois contemporaries is the spread of ancestral portraits across the walls.
• The Archduchess, Otto von Habsburg’s wife, appears. She is cordial, but slightly spooky, slightly more modern in her body language and manner of speech than the Archduke–she was born after the First World War–but different, nonetheless.
• The Archduke enters the sitting room precisely in the way one would imagine his godfather, the Emperor Franz Joseph, having entered an audience. As usual, starting in the present we talk about George W. Bush’s policies at Guantanamo Bay, which the Archduke finds deplorable.
• My thoughts are, however, with the initial letter the Archduke’s court in exile posted to Herbert Hinkel in October 1937 and its historical context. The survival of Austria’s independence looms in the balance.
• Nearly one month after Hinkel receives his first letter from the Habsburg court, Hitler makes his first open act of aggression against Austria and forces the Chancellor, Kurt von Schuschnigg, to legalize the Nazi Party in Austria. Thereupon, Otto von Habsburg, just barely 25 years old, makes the boldest move of his life by writing to the Chancellor, urging him to step down–since Schuschnigg is clearly unequal to the battle with Hitler–and to give the Chancellorship to him.
• I segue with the Archduke into how in the midst of the events leading to the annexation of Austria–the military name of which was Operation Otto, no less–did someone from his court-in-exile have the space and time to respond to the letters of a Herbert Hinkel in New York City. He explains that “we have” always observed the principle that “When someone greets you in the street, you greet them back–and the letter is like that.”
• I move onto the historical context of the second letter Hinkel receives from the Archduke, less than two months before the Anschluss. I ask him why Hitler designated the military invasion of Austria as Operation Otto. He recounts that Hitler already had it out for the Habsburgs in Mein Kampf.
• Indeed, for over 50 straight pages Hitler spews his vitriolic hatred for the legacy of the Habsburg Empire, culminating in: “This conglomerate spectacle of heterogeneous races which the capital of the Dual Monarchy presented, this motley of Czechs, Poles, Hungarians, Ruthenians, Serbs, Croats, etc. and always that bacillus which is the solvent of human society, the Jew, here and there and everywhere—the whole spectacle was repugnant to me. The gigantic city seemed to be the incarnation of mongrel depravity.”
• Beyond Hitler’s published hatred for the Habsburgs and the Habsburg Monarchy, Otto von Habsburg explains to me why, then, Hitler comes to hate him, personally. The Archduke was studying in Berlin to complete his doctorate at the age of 20. While there, his mother encourages him to call upon the family of Kaiser Wilhelm, the Hohenzollerns. Prince August Wilhelm, a Nazi, receives Otto in Nazi uniform and extends an invitation from Hitler to meet, “The Fuehrer would like to speak with you.” Otto declines.
• The story above is little known to history and yet it gives cause to reflect upon how devastating this rebuke by the Archduke, who was meant to be Hitler’s emperor, must have felt to Hitler. This is 1933 and Hitler’s wrath and thirst for retribution against Otto von Habsburg would reveal itself with time, as already evidenced by the plan to invade Austria with the code Operation Otto.
• As soon as the the Anschluss occurs, Otto denounces the event in the French paper, Le Jour, “In the name of the oppressed people of Austria I appeal to the conscience of all peoples for whom the words freedom, peace, and justice are not empty words. I encourage them to support the Austrian people in their determination to recover independence.” Hitler responds by charging the Archduke with high treason in headlines blared across the tops of newspapers throughout “the Reich”: “Warrant for the Arrest of Otto von Habsburg; The Habsburgs’ degenerate offspring—a fugitive criminal.”
• Thereupon, the Archduke relieves all members of the monarchist movement from loyalty to him for the sake of a restoration, since their standing in such a movement under Nazi rule in Austria could be a threat to their lives. Baron Hans Karl von Zessner-Spitzenberg, a promiment member of the monarchist movement, is the first Austrian to die in a concentration camp, already in August 1938.
• Eventually the Archduke and the rest of the Imperial Family take refuge in the United States on the invitation of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I ask the Archduke how this came about, considering the adversarial role that the United States played in the downfall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, specifically Point 10 of Woodrow Wilson’s 14 Points: “The peoples of Austria-Hungary, whose place among the nations we wish to see safeguarded and assured, should be accorded the freest opportunity to autonomous development.”
• Otto von Habsburg explains to me a little-known story of intrigue before the war where his court was approached by a Catholic priest who claimed to have information given by someone central in the Nazi party, detailing Germany’s military plans. The Archduke comes into possession of these plans and takes them to Paris, where he hands them to the American Ambassador, William C. Bullitt, with whom he is already friendly. Bullitt passes them to President Roosevelt. With some time, the plans in the possession of the President reveal themselves to be legitimate whereupon the President offers refuge to the Habsburgs as they flee Europe.
• These events transpire just on the heels of Otto von Habsburg’s first visit to the United States just weeks before, when the Archduke makes an exploratory visit, which includes a speech before Congress. He is barely back at his castle in Belgium for the occasion of his mother’s birthday in May 1940 when word comes in from his uncle, Prince Felix of Luxembourg, that Germany is poised to invade both Luxembourg and Belgium that night. Prince Felix sends his children to the Habsburgs and they all flee that night. By morning the Luftwaffe has already destroyed the Archduke’s castle. Rudolf Hess, the Deputy Fuehrer givese instructions to shoot and kill Otto von Habsburg and his four brothers upon sight. They all flee safely to Paris.
• Waving his arms for me in a grand gesture, the Archduke describes the night Paris fell only a few weeks later. He was having dinner at the Ritz with Clare Booth Luce. It was a night one can’t forget, because the city was already surrounded on nearly all sides, one could see the light of bombings coming ever closer to the City, and the city seemed so totally deserted that one could hear the sound of his own footsteps echoing off the buildings of the Place Vendôme in front of the Ritz.
• Here the Archduke countenances a shift in our relationship. He was really enjoying the role of raconteur, partly, I suppose, because I knew how to prompt him forward with enthusiasm. He stops and says, “Well, I could tell you so many stories, they are all uninteresting, they are of the past, including some with super natural things, prophesy.” Then with mischief in his eye he says, “I tell it to you rapidly.”
• He tells me the intriguing story of how he went to a palm reader in the early 1930s with his uncles Prince Felix and Prince Sixtus of Bourbon-Parma, which leads to an extraordinary revelation that only becomes evident in 1940, as the Habsburgs join Prince Felix (of Bourbon-Parma and Luxembourg) in the south of France, where hundreds of thousands of people are being driven in flight from the Nazis.
• As the Habsburgs near Bordeaux, where the French government have also taken flight, in addition to the massive human exodus, a story arises that concerns both the Archduke and me, personally; he encounters the grandfather of a friend of mine, who is the Spanish Consul General in charge at Bordeaux, from whom one needs a transit visa in order to pass through Spain and exit the continent via Portugal.
• One scarcely knows where to say this part of the story begins, because it’s a story still playing itself out since the Second World War and it is precisely because I am talking with the Archduke that the two threads needed to join for this story to complete itself come together by way of him and me. Eventually, it will take us all to Jerusalem to honor the late Consul General for having saved the lives of thousands of Jews at the border to Spain.
CHAPTER XVII LIBRARY INTERLUDE
• The third Habsburg dream, Los Angeles, 2003, in analysis with Dr. Michael Pariser, Los Angeles, 2008. I’m in The Habsburg’s library, ostensibly in his house, but not really, for it is baroque and rather like the double-height formal libraries of Benedictine monasteries throughout Austria. He enters, we pore over books, he gives me a history lesson, and we discuss history and politics in a pair of plush armchairs, but then Robin Williams–the actor–enters. He’s floating in mid-air about the mezzanine level. The Archduke doesn’t see him at first, but then he does and says to Mr. Williams that Herr Pfeifle is coming along swimmingly in his understanding of history. The Archduke and Robin Williams join and exit the library, which already has a green EXIT sign over double doors, which are like steel hospital doors suddenly. As they exit, it’s evident the exterior is a business park and people are flowing out of the neighboring buildings at the end of the work day. I remain in the library.
CHAPTER XVIII KNOWING THE HABSBURG, PART II
• Since I used the correspondence with Herbert Hinkel as my point of departure on the day I met with the Archduke in the salon of his house, Villa Austria, on Labor Day in 2005, I wanted in part to have some sense of his experience of the United States during and after his Second World War exile. How does a prince navigate New York when up until just about a month before he was operating still on 16th century Spanish Court Ceremonial at his Belgian castle?
• Despite the standard regard that Habsburg history is finished since 1918, the Times, with their significant coverage of the Archduke from about 1933 through 1942, has reopened the case on Habsburg; they may yet matter again, they are still near the center of things–there’s this bright, handsome and young heir with his four brothers, the youngest of whom is especially handsome, they make good material for repeated coverage–there might be hope for a restoration in them after all, and it’s almost as if the Times is rooting for their cause, perhaps because Habsburg Central Europe looks increasingly attractive in relief against the Nazis, Communists, and Italian Fascists.
• The Archduke sets immediately to work in New York for the cause of Austria in the United States with afternoon teas in his suite at Essex House, which still stands on Central Park South (probably the outer bounds of his notion of entertainment), from where his secretaries respond to Herbert Hinkel’s letters. Otherwise the Archduke does not engage in the social life of New York, writing to one of his brothers, “. . . it is unbecoming to attend parties while the homeland bleeds and hungers.”
• Recognizing that the Austrian-exile community in New York is hopeless, with its complicated layers of political back-stabbing, he removes himself to Washington, DC, where he can be near the seat of power and where, anyway, he has easy access to President Roosevelt, who is quite obviously fond of him. The President and he meet at the White House and Hyde Park on several occasions, of which there is plenty of evidence in the Roosevelt archives.
• The first objective of Otto in Washington is, with his brothers, to re-establish Austria to the map of Europe and to designate the country as the “first victim of Hitler” due to the 1938 annexation and the repeated aggression of Nazi Germany in Austrian affairs since the Nazi-led 1934 “putsch” that resulted in the assassination of Chancellor Dollfuss. Eventually, these efforts, through the Habsburgs’ extensive contacts with Roosevelt and Churchill, bear fruit.
• Next, the Archduke argues vehemently–with Roosevelt included–for the recognition of an Austrian exile-government–for the most obvious reasons that such a body coalesces the exile community into cohesive thought and expression, it gives any resistance efforts within the home country a beacon of hope (and an organ with which to communicate), and it establishes legitimacy. However, two clear factors impede the Archduke’s efforts here: there is no acceptable leader to all parties involved and politics among the exiles are mired in ideological complexities of paradoxical contradictions that are almost intrinsically Austrian.
• Instead, it is President Roosevelt’s idea in 1942 to establish a volunteer battalion of Austrian emigrés to be stationed in Indiana. Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson invites “Otto of Austria” to form an Austrian battalion as part of the 101st Infantry Division in Attenbury, Indiana, but like almost every other effort to coalesce Austrian immigrants, it fails in an almost comic implosion.
• Otto von Habsburg also uses his influence with the President to postpone as far as possible the bombardments of Austria and Vienna. His conduit is Grace Tully, the secretary of Roosevelt who is also Catholic, which is always an immediate point of connection with the Archduke.
• Lastly, as the war winds down, Otto von Habsburg is invited by Roosevelt to attend the secret conferences in Quebec, where Churchill and Roosevelt are discussing–deciding–the future of Europe after Hitler’s assured loss. There, Habsburg encounters Henry Morgenthau, who lobbies Roosevelt with his absurd plan of turning Germany into an agrarian state, thus retarding its potential perpetually. Otto von Habsburg argues vehemently against this, as he does against the idea of allowing the expulsion of the Sudenten Germans (essentially Austrians) from Czechoslovakia.
• The last goal of the Habsburg brothers during the war is to facilitate a switch for Hungary to the Allied side, which would ensure its freedom from the Soviet Union at the end of the war. These negotiations take place in Portugal, but fail, alas.
• Despite the influence of the Habsburg Archdukes on both Churchill and Roosevelt, the two statesmen completely cave to all Stalin’s demands at Yalta, the result of which is that the entire former Habsburg Empire is engulfed in the Soviet sphere, with the exception of Austria. There Otto von Habsburg lobbies strongly to have Austria split into four zones of occupation—Vienna as well, instead of the proposed Soviet vs. one Western allied zone.
• At the end of the war Otto and his brothers sneak into Innsbruck and establish themselves with the monarchist cause, but despite any possible popular support among an otherwise decimated populace, there is almost no chance for a restoration with the Soviets so firmly in place.
• After the war the Archduke is effectively stateless and penniless. By way of the Prince of Monaco he somehow obtains a Monagasque passport and returns to the United States not to live, but to earn a living. He embarks on lecture tours, which keep him quite busy, as he tells me that he has visited every State of the Union at least twice. He even knows precisely where my hometown in Central California is–he spoke there–where didn’t he speak, he wonders?
• I ask the Archduke what interested his audiences when he came to speak, what he spoke about. He, for the obvious reason that the Soviet Union absorbed his family’s legacy into their totalitarian state, detested Communism, and it was therefore a good fit for American audiences in the 1950s and 1960s. He says that financially “I re-established myself completely by way of these speaking tours.”
• Reflecting upon his years of living and travel throughout the United States, I ask him about a quotation I read from him in a journal somewhere. He spoke of the “inverted value” of relationships in American society vis-à-vis a European perspective. I asked him to explain what he meant by that. He explains by way of example of Senator McCarthy, whom he knew–a very odd story about how McCarthy was accused by the editor of a magazine of being a homosexual.
• That day at his house the Archduke could have gone on telling me even more stories, but I worried that if I took too much of his time, his secretaries in the future would bar me access. Nonetheless, he takes me on a tour of the sitting room, talking to me about all the ancestral portraits on the walls, noting the nuances of their historical importance.
CHAPTER XIX KNOWING THE HABSBURG, PART III
• The following year, 2006, I have the pleasure of re-visiting Vienna for the first time in twelve years and of visiting with Otto von Habsburg there—the place of his earliest childhood and the former Imperial Residence City. There it was a very different scene than his lakeside villa. As Honorary President of the International Paneuropa Union, a socially and economically conservative movement devoted since its founding in 1923 to the unification and peace of European states, Otto von Habsburg uses the Vienna office as his Austrian headquarters. The office feels like the apartment of a lower-middle class Central European woman in her 80s. The staff on hand seem like they would be that woman’s children–everything here seems strange and particularly un-Habsburg. There’s even a styro-foam Imperial Habsburg coat-of-arms just tossed upon the top of the bookcases.
• On the occasion of this visit I wanted to press even further along the lines of understanding the Archduke as a human being given the context of his birthright and the subsequent upheavals he has either witnessed or endured. Toward understanding the balance of the rupture of worlds since his childhood and early adulthood, I wanted to explore something with him of which I had long been curious: his changing identities, from Archduke to Crown Prince, to Emperor and King and back to Archduke, then to Dr. von Habsburg. For him what did those identities signify?
• Naturally, when he comes to sit down with me to speak we begin by talking about the current situation (2006) with the war in Iraq. We discuss some of the origins of the tensions there. He politely blasts the contemporary lack of understanding of that region and he talks about his own understanding, how he was in Iraq with its king just weeks before the Baathist coup in the late 1950s. He knew all the principal players there, including their counterparts in Israel, down to the Mayor of Jerusalem (who, of course had been born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire).
• Unusually, I shift the conversation with almost no transition to the kaleidoscope of identities in the course of his nearly 95-year life. I ask him about the titles, which he apparently doesn’t prefer and which I sense immediately.
• When I take him back to the question specifically about imperial and royal titles, he responds, again circuitously, that identifying with the struggle of the fight for survival in certain peoples and countries has almost always been the matter at hand and, “not whether I am this or that.”
• I wanted to understand the psyche of being brought up as “Emperor” only to realize the rest of the world doesn’t acknowledge your sovereign status–where does that put one? He reverts to the fight against Nazism as a source of distraction from perceiving such things–as majesty and sovereignty. All one’s energies were calculated against the Nazi threat. But what I realize is that the Archduke always perceived himself–always–as Emperor, and the gripping, eternal concerns for the plight of the people of Central and Eastern Europe is the concern of a sovereign’s plight of his peoples, as the father of the people. It is as if he never ceased believing himself to be Emperor, except that he acknowledges some details about it have changed.
• I take up a new thread with him based on a quote I once read from him, “I could have gilded the name Habsburg.” He explains that this ties directly to what we were just discussing: survival, titles, “the matter at hand”–and, he says, the matter at hand was never the high-living and extravagant parties, and beautiful estates. The matter at hand has been the legacy of his family’s political interests, his political interests, and the need to flush petty nationalisms from the European continent, in order to make way for the European Union, for which he has labored so devotedly for decades.
• Otto recounts how he has become so completely sympathetic to the plight of forgotten peoples and countries–countries not of obvious and primary importance–because of the treatment he received at times during the War, “When you know they’re looking down at you like a dog–and I experienced a lot of that especially in America.” This experience set him on the subsequent lifelong course of fighting for the rights of struggling peoples, for which, indeed, he has a proven record. This has defined the latter of his adult life.
• We close with my question of what will secure the Habsburg legacy, the Habsburg mission in the future, once he is gone, because previously during the monarchy, the Dynasty’s mission was official governmental policy..
CHAPTER XX ANOTHER WAY TO SEE THE HABSBURG
• Perhaps from my desire to understand the Archduke on a personal level, which required forming a personal connection to him, I refrained in my engagements with him from touching upon the subjects that made him reviled especially in Austria and across Europe leading up to the Second World War and thereafter. This chapter grapples with the reality that Otto von Habsburg was detested by the Left in Europe for most of his life not merely for being a Habsburg, but for his arch-conservative political stances.
• The first point of compromise in the Archduke’s reputation was the very intimate favor he curried with the proto-Fascist government leading up to the Anschluss in Austria. The result of this connection after the war was for the Social Democratic (Socialist)-led government to vilify the Habsburgs as continuing enemies of the Republic. It is more complicated than that, of course, because although it is likely Otto von Habsburg would have established himself upon a constitutional monarchy based on democracy should he have been successful in a restoration, he hinged his pre-WW II bid on becoming the successor to the proto-Fascist government, which happened to be very pro-Habsburg, itself.
• After the War, the Archduke, completely stubborn toward any sense of “political correctness,” was rabidly anti-Communist and associated with some very unpopular ultra-conservative, pro-Vatican organizations, making him a source of ridicule for the political center, center-left, and left.
• It’s probably only by way of the fall of Communism and the ascendance of the European Union—behind which he has thrown all his political energy—that the Archduke has fallen, par chance (critics might allow) on the “right side of history.” It is only recently in Austria that Otto von Habsburg’s divisive reputation has subsided—since the Second World War one has always been either on one side of the fence or the other where he and the Dynasty is concerned.
CHAPTER XXI WEEKEND AT THE HABSBURGS DREAM INTERLUDE
• Fifth Habsburg dream, Los Angeles, 2004, in analysis with Dr. Michael Pariser, Los Angeles, 2008. After returning from a wedding near Berlin, where we stayed at a villa on a lake, I dream that I’m a guest at the Habsburgs’ Villa Austria, also on a lake (outside Munich). The atmosphere is very familial and down on a meadow, Otto von Habsburg beckons us all to come play baseball with him. The dream is an amalgam of my European and American worlds.
CHAPTER XXII FINDING HERBERT HINKEL
• Having captured the Archduke satisfactorily in the last years of his life, I turn my attentions to Herbert Hinkel, the other half of this story. As surely as I had to meet and know The Habsburg, to understand the dimensions of his place in the world, I had, also, to know more about Hinkel, who died, tragically, before I could meet him. He is most mysterious in his letters through the 1950s and 1960s, but he remains essentially enigmatic throughout the correspondence. What is truth, fantasy, or pure fabrication? Is he a royalist madman?
• He is unusually passionate about the Habsburgs, perhaps, at times delusional with notions of grandeur, but he seems of sound mind and not certifiably crazy, as many letters I discover in the archive of the Archduke bear witness, such as a man from England by the last name of Prince, who thinks, therefore, that he may be related to the Habsburgs and, anyway, if there’s no relationship, he is in any case a house painter and would the Archduke know of any good house painting jobs.
• I travel to every of the apartments and houses from which Herbert Hinkel wrote his letters–from Washington Heights in Manhattan, to Queens, over to Levittown (which he describes to the Archduke as the “Gates of Silver Lane,” to the Catskills, and then down to a string of places in Florida, where he was in retirement. I need to see the physical context in which Hinkel wrote to the Archduke, particularly because he mentions his surroundings at great length in a number of the letters.
• On one leg of the journey, to find Hinkel’s 48 acre estate in the Catskills, I go on an odyssey from the county assessor’s to the 1950s local hamburger stand–quite literally one of about four businesses in the whole hamlet. I ask a pair of burly prison builders from the town whether they knew of a Mr. Hinkel–no, so I order a hamburger but proceed to tell them about the correspondence. Everyone I meet has either heard of Hinkel or knew him, but no one says anything similar about him—everyone has completely differing versions of who he was.
• I travel to Massachusetts to meet with his second cousin, Nancy Kovaleff Baker, a music scholar at Boston University, who has the family archive of Hinkel’s maternal ancestors, which he has left to Mrs. Baker. She only met Hinkel a few times while growing up and he is as much a mystery to her as he is to me–she’s not even sure which one is he in the photo albums she shows me. She says the family always speculated that Hinkel was in the CIA–he just knew too much, and to many figures, yet everything was always of a shady, not completely verifiable nature–and yet it was believable at the same time.
• In New York I meet with Theodore Kovaleff, Nancy’s brother. Given his education, Kovaleff would use his arsenal of historical knowledge with Hinkel to test the mysterious waters of Hinkel’s stories of historical and political intrigue–his apparent connections to the Habsburgs, to Chang kai-Chek, to the King of Jordan, and others. Hinkel always weathered these mine fields with aplomb, leaving Kovaleff to speculate that Hinkel was somehow involved with the CIA; the whole of it couldn’t otherwise make sense.
• Because Kovaleff is the son of a white Russian emigré, an aristocrat who became a physician in New York–in fact, Alexander Kerensky’s physician–he was well aware of the nature of emigré communities and their rabidly anti-communist monarchist yearnings, so he sheds light on the context of how Hinkel’s Habsburg interest may have taken hold.
• Finally, I travel to Florida to meet Hinkel’s “family”–his nieces and nephews with whom he lived in Levittown and then on the “48 acre estate” in the Catskills. Like many other facets of Hinkel’s life, the nieces and nephews turn out not to be such, but rather the children of his nearly lifelong best friend, Anthony Brahm. Hinkel, about 18 years older than Brahm, mentored the latter after employing him in his ice cream shop. Hinkel more or less adopts Brahm and with time, as Brahm started a family, which would include five children, the Brahms adopted Hinkel.
• While even through my rich engagement with the Brahm family in Florida Hinkel remains somewhat enigmatic, will always be a bit mysterious, it is here with them that the man in the letters to The Habsburg becomes fully human. It turns out they scarcely knew a thing about his correspondence with the Archduke until after he died, likewise his rich correspondence with King Hussein of Jordan (another story I decide not to pursue). Even the Brahm family–quite separate from the Kovaleffs–speculate he must have been in the CIA. Likewise, they knew almost nothing of his romantic life–apart from some story of falling in love with a Chinese girl while in China before the revolution, which, led, according to Hinkel, to his acquaintance with Chang kai-Chek. Hinkel never married and although there wasn’t the slightest nuanced mention of homosexuality, he seems like a very closeted figure in more ways than one.
• Hinkel-in-the-world, through his letters, was not the person the Brahms knew. Rather, for them Hinkel was an almost magical father figure, the man who gave them the backbone of their moral and cultural upbringing. He continually emphasized the importance of understanding history, of remembering, of legacy–for which the Brahms provide very poignant examples–but also he was very keen on the cultivation of their Catholic religion. Every one of the family members I interviewed was teary-eyed remembering Hinkel’s place in their lives. In short, he was very much a hero to them.
• There was just one detail of Hinkel’s grand and aristocratic life outside the Brahm home which he shared with them and that was his desire to be knighted in the chivalric and hospitaller order of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem, an order dating back uninterrupted to the crusades in the 12th century. It becomes for Hinkel his most significant accomplishment, the embodiment of his values for human service–which the order still undertakes, like the Red Cross–honor, and Christian values. Through his letters with the Archduke, The Habsburg’s destiny is to become a statesman for a reorganized Europe in the form of the European Union–no crowns included–whereas Hinkel’s is to become a knight, Chevalier of the Order of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem, which he achieves in 1986, after perhaps 20 years of charitable and humanitarian good works, when he is recognized as such by the Duke of Seville, Grand Prior of the Order.
• Hinkel’s knighthood conjures all the best visions of Don Quixote and Walter Mitty–one could really parody and amuse ourselves with it, but why be so uncharitable? So cliché in our notions of what is an acceptable or politically correct path toward a meaningful life and a self-sense of greatness? What exactly makes it so laughable on the surface? In reality, Hinkel’s path toward knighthood was an organic outgrowth of his belief in nobility–not necessarily aristocracy–and the tradition of how that is achieved. It doesn’t matter whether one is born noble, it matters that one’s values and actions are just and honorable. Naturally, there are more acceptably contemporary, bourgeois ways of expressing this, ways that usually don’t involve feudal-sounding titles and distinctions, but Hinkel’s chivalry was rooted in historical foundations and a completely normal part of his way of being in the world, because the historical threads most central in his life, Habsburg and St. Lazarus, have always been there. Hinkel is simply one of the few souls in America who understands that human culture is a continuum and not a series of tabula rasae.
• The Brahm family tells me the story of his death, how he disembarked from a bus on a busy boulevard in front of the Costco where he worked in semi-retirement. It was raining in massive sheets and the driver of the Toyota Camry coming his way didn’t see him through the rain, nor apparently did he see her. He was killed instantly. Afterward, for the funeral the cortège drove through the parking lot of Costco, where Hinkel had worked as a greeter–somehow I had already known that even before I was told–and there in front of Costco stood all its employees, the store being closed for that moment, in order to salute the passing coffin of Hinkel, who lay inside enveloped in his knightly cape of the Order of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem. It was, I understood as the Brahm family conveyed the story, Hinkel’s royal send-off.
CHAPTER XXIII WHY THE HABSBURG SURVIVES
• On my visit with the Archduke in Vienna, 2006, he describes to me the last moments of the monarchy with the rest of the Imperial Family at their sprawling 1,442 room palace, Schoenbrunn, in Vienna, “Well, it was a very dark day, first of all. No electric light anymore. You moved in darkness. . .”
• The bloodless revolution comes to the palace. The Emperor resigns from participation in the government of Austria, but he does not renounce his imperial titles–by which legitimists continue to believe that the Head of the House of Habsburg is the Emperor, no matter what Austria wants to call itself—republic or otherwise.
• In those hours, at the dimly lit palace, as the Habsburgs considered their narrow options, the entire enterprise becomes in my mind a Bourbon affair–the result of Louis XVI’s beheading in 1793. The Empress was born a Princess of Bourbon-Parma and every generation of her family since the French Revolution was mired in cycles of assassinations, exile, restoration; this is how she was brought up to exist as a royal in the world; her husband, the Emperor, however, was not.
• The Empress, being the stronger character of the Imperial Couple, would bring her Bourbon roots to bear in their odyssey of impoverished exile–and it would include going down with a notable fight, because the Bourbons, at this point since the French Revolution, are hardwired, genetically mutated, for surviving revolutions and exile. Archduke Otto’s survival is the result of a constitution cultivated in him by his mother, who drew upon the example of her own forebears dating back to the moment Louis XVI and his family left the Palace of Versailles.
• Paradoxically, I have come to see the essence of the Archduke, largely through the time I have spent with him and the stories he has imparted to me, but this detail, which I think is fundamental to his nature, he did not share with me; in fact, he was incapable of seeing it, because as a dynast, he sees only Habsburg, not Bourbon, too, such as when he said to me, “Well, when my mother married my father, she became a Habsburg and, therefore, she brought us up in the traditions of that House.”
• At the palace in the moments of the revolution the Empress implores the Emperor to refuse any kind of resignation or abdication, shouting, “A sovereign can never abdicate. He can be deposed… All right. That is force. But abdicate — never, never, never! I would rather fall here at your side. Then there would be Otto. And even if all of us here were killed, there would still be other Habsburgs!” I ask the Archduke if they were ever in danger, such as the Romanovs were, and he responds, “Yes, of course, but I was unaware of it, because my parents shielded the children from it all.” Ultimately, the Archduke tells me, they obviously had no choice and they begin the odyssey of exile, first to an imperial hunting château north of Vienna.
• In the Spring of 1919 sentiment in Austria turns against the Habsburgs more sharply and it became dangerous for them to remain. A brother of the Empress, Prince Sixtus of Bourbon Parma, persuades King George V of England to intervene, whose cousins in Russia have only recently been murdered. With instructions from the War Office of Great Britain to “Get the Emperor out of Austria immediately,” a detachment of officers and soldiers arrive at the castle to negotiate and organize the Habsburgs’ departure.
• The celebrated Austrian author, Stefan Zweig, the best selling author of his generation, happens to be at the frontier town train station between Austria and Switzerland when the train bearing the Imperial Family to their exile rolls in. In his book The World of Yesteryear he describes the scene with elegiac tones: “And now I saw (Franz Joseph’s) heir, the last emperor, banished from his country. From century to century the glorious line of Habsburg had passed the Imperial globe and crown from hand to hand, and this was the minute of its end. All of those who stood about sensed history, world history, in this tragic sight.”
• From exile in Switzerland Emperor Karl tries twice, unsuccessfully, to regain the throne in Hungary, which remained a monarchy under the protectorate of a regent, Admiral Horthy. The second attempt causes a massive scandal not unlike Napoleon’s bid to re-enter France, and the Allied powers have the Imperial Family removed to the Isle of Madeira, far off the coast of Portugal. There, the family lives with a small retinue of aristocratic retainers and some servants in relative poverty. Their situation reaches a veritable cul-de-sac when the “baron” entrusted with bringing their jewels from Switzerland, including the famed 137-carat Florentine Diamond from the Medicis,
• They do not heat the villa in which they live and the Emperor contracts pneumonia due to the foggy climate of the island. The Emperor dies in April 1922, leaving his pregnant widow with seven children. The Crown Prince Otto becomes Head of the House of Habsburg, His Imperial and Royal Majesty, at the age of 9. From there the family moves to the Royal Palace in Madrid, upon the invitation of Zita’s distant cousin, King Alfonso XIII, also a Bourbon. A few dozen Spanish grandees purchase a villa in the Basque region of Spain for the Habsburgs, where they move until Otto is ready for college.
• With the situation in Spain becoming unstable and the approaching majority of the Archduke, the Empress moves the family to a castle in Belgium, provided to them by an aristocrat there. It is from this castle that the Archduke’s secretary, Count Trautmannsdorf, sends the first letter to Herbert Hinkel in October 1937.
CHAPTER XXIV JOURNALISM DREAM INTERLUDE
• Sixth Habsburg Dream, Los Angeles, March 2008, in analysis with Dr. Michael Pariser, Los Angeles, 2013. In 2005 an Italian journalist was abducted in Iraq. Special Italian agents were flown in to win the journalist’s release, but upon escape they came under fire and the agent was killed in the car in which they were traveling. Subsequently it led me to dream about something similar. I’m at a memorial shrine on a hill overlooking what seems to be Florence. Many journalists have gathered their to pay their respects to three journalists slain in Iraq. I see Otto von Habsburg, who, after all, having published so many newspaper articles, was also a journalist. I’m there, and realize that my own engagement with him is a kind of journalism. We speak about the dangers of journalism and the freedom for us to exist.
CHAPTER XXV JERUSALEM
• Symbolically, the journeys of the Archduke, Herbert Hinkel, and mine are united in Jerusalem. After my visit to the Archduke at Villa Austria in 2005, when we established that he had been the beneficiary of a transit visa in Bordeaux by my friend’s grandfather, the diplomat Eduardo Propper de Callejon, which allowed the Imperial Family to escape ahead of the approaching Nazis, I put the Propper family in touch with the Archduke. It turns out they had been campaigning for years with the Holocaust Memorial Authority in Israel, Yad Vashem, to have their patriarch honored for the Jewish lives he saved at the border to Spain in June 1940. The Proppers’ case was somewhat thwarted by the fact that they had no testimony from a living witness. It turns out Otto von Habsburg was the only such known living witness. Based on the glowing letter he wrote to the Proppers in this regard, the Yad Vashem ultimately honors Eduardo Propper de Callejon as a Righteous Person Among Nations in 2008. I travel there with the family for the event. The Archduke and I have a rich exchange of letters surrounding this event.
• I climb my way to the top of a building near to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I’m there because atop the building is the most curious icon in all Jerusalem: it is the Crusaders’ Cross of Jerusalem–in light bulbs, like a 1930s movie house marquee. It is the cross from the coat-of-arms of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, established in 1099 by Godfrey of Bouillon, Duke of Lorraine. The Habsburgs, that is, the Habsburg-Lorraine Dynasty, which is the official name of the family, therefore always claimed the title of King of Jerusalem among their 50-odd imperial and royal titles. Otto von Habsburg, therefore, is regarded among legitimists as titular King of Jerusalem. For Hinkel’s part, when he died, he was buried in his cape as a knight in the Order of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem, with that cross emblazoned across the cape, where it remains in his coffin in Upstate New York. For three persons, Habsburg, Hinkel and me, who love the presence of history so deeply, there it was over me on a rooftop in Jerusalem in light bulbs.
CHAPTER XXVI ANNUNCIATION DREAM INTERLUDE
• Seventh Habsburg Dream, Los Angeles, January 2005, in analysis with Dr. Michael Pariser, Los Angeles, 2008. My uncle’s boyfriend, Eddy (Eduardo), a young Latino from the under-class neighborhood of Boyle Heights in Los Angeles is murdered by his brother. Eddy’s death causes me nightmares at the time, but then I dream that Eddy was a Habsburg. (Here the connection to Habsburg-ruled Spain and Mexico is obvious.) And I dream that he was the last heir, which means my uncle is his heir and because my uncle has no children, I am the ultimate heir to Habsburg. There is an elaborate procession of women draped from head to toe in mourning black and they descend from a mountain of trails switching back and forth from a high clerestory window in a warehouse down toward my uncle and me, because we are the next heirs.
CHAPTER XXVII EPILOGUE
• In the early morning of July 4, 2011 the Archduke died at the age of 98 years, 7 months. His seven children were present. As told to me by a daughter of Otto von Habsburg, it was a very personal and private death, but one with symbolic gestures to the dynasty. For weeks the family gathered, knowing death was imminent. His daughter, Archduchess Michaela, tells me, “My father was Emperor till the moment he died.”
• The family reveals plans for a period of mourning lasting two weeks, in which period elaborate funeral ceremonies would be celebrated on epic scale beginning in the town in which he lived, Poecking, then Munich, Stams Monastery in the Tyrol, Mariazell Basilica in Styria, Vienna, Budapest, and finally Pannonhalma Monastery in Hungary, where the Archduke’s heart is interred in an urn. The totality of the obsequies quite possibly comprise the most elaborate of any person in the Western world in at least the last couple hundred years.
• News of Otto von Habsburg’s death is covered in nearly every American newspaper, but no footage of the extraordinary imperial-era funeral on television. I am unable to attend the funeral, although I had a plane ticket booked for it. Instead I watch the five hour televised ceremony in Vienna via the internet, where Austrian television streams it live. One thousand invited guests attend the funeral in St. Stephen’s Cathedral, including the Austrian President and many European heads of state. 10,000 persons line the streets of Vienna to watch the cortege make its way over one kilometer to the Imperial Crypt, in a ritual enacted for his ancestors for the last several centuries.
• The funeral ceremonies are so epic in proportion that it is as if more than this individual is being mourned–the lost world of the monarchy appears to be buried with the Archduke. There will always be Habsburgs and therefore aspects of their legacy will exist as well, but now it is really over, with the death of the last crown prince
• A month after his funerals, two of his grandsons, one Spanish-American, the other Spanish, visit Los Angeles with their girlfriends. They are on the requisite European tour of the West: Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Yosemite, San Francisco, Pacific Coast Highway, Los Angeles. We spend a day together in downtown Los Angeles. Both grandsons are in their mid-20s. I already know Marc, the American Habsburg (who also grew up a bit in Spain) from our visit to Sarajevo, and subsequently from when he joined me on my journey to find Hinkel in Florida. The other grandson, Gabriel, whose mother is also a daughter of Otto von Habsburg, is the son of a Spanish duke, a grandee. Nonetheless, both are dressed in shorts, flip-flops, and t-shirts. They look and behave like any other “guys” their age, whether European or American; they are perhaps more Facebook than Habsburg.
• In New York, I meet with Marc’s mother, Michaela von Habsburg. She is very much the daughter of the Archduke; she is every bit the daughter of a king, not just a rich tycoon, and not a prince, but a king, or, I perhaps an emperor. There’s a regal quality about her and it’s not just good manners, it’s the tone of command in her speech. On the other hand, she is a very loving person, embracing and warm. She regales me with her insight as one of the seven children of the Archduke. She says Habsburg as they have known it is finished, the empire is long gone and her father is irreplaceable.
• On the other hand, the House of Habsburg is large–there are hundreds of persons now bearing the name Habsburg, and there are branches of the family who lead “royal” lives, who are still connected to reigning royal families through marriage and therefore still stand on the ceremony of their imperial and royal titles.
• On that note, the family pins their hopes on the newest heir, Karl’s son Ferdinand. Ferdinand is the product of an interesting marriage in the House of Habsburg and one which created quite a scandal in the family. His mother is the highly visible Francesca von Habsburg, born a Baroness Thyssen von Bornemisza from the immensely rich German-Hungarian industrialist family of that name. The marriage is completely against the Habsburg House Laws because it is not an equal “royal” marriage—it is rather a throw-back to the late 19th century unions between the American nouveaux riches with European aristocracy—but Otto approves it, nonetheless, because he knows in order for the dynasty to survive, future generations will need the money. It’s a fairly brilliant dynastic stroke—even if it means breaking “house laws” and thereby ties with his four infuriated brothers.
• The world of Otto’s generation of Habsburgs is so old-school and so crusty–even more conservative than the Windsors (the Habsburgs are imperial, after all) that by comparison the Thyssens appear almost like parvenus and they’ve been treated as such by many of the Habsburgs. By American standards the Thyssens are serious “old money,” on par with the Fricks, Dukes, and Vanderbilts, but by Habsburg standards they’re just rich. In short, Francesca von Habsburg, for the most part has never fit into the fold of the dynasty, but she may be its beacon of good fortune—aside from just money. As a collector of contemporary art, she’s influential in that world and also as a philanthropist. She brings a cool factor to Habsburg which they’ve never had and her son, Ferdinand, is the next heir. He’s a very conscientious boy, an accomplished race car drive (rich man’s sport), very aware of his role as representative of the dynasty, and it’s clear he’s being groomed to be a political Habsburg. Michaela von Habsburg says he is the “pride and joy” of the family and their next big hope.
CHAPTER XII MEETING THE HABSBURG
It was in the context of his political identity that I first met the Archduke, and I did not embarrass him with use of his imperial and royal titles, but addressed him as Herr Dr. von Habsburg, which is the only way I have ever addressed him. I had a letter of introduction to him in the summer of 1991, when I was 21 years old, and I was to meet him in Brussels, the capital of the 16th and 17th century Habsburg-ruled Netherlands, in between his sessions at the European Parliament. We met at the Parliament itself, a poor-looking building of the 1960s–gray, plain, and brutal. It so happens I love the strangling brutality of modernist concrete architecture, what is, in fact, called Brutalist—the kind that is so naked, so simple—not plain—that it almost seems primordial. My maternal grandfather was the president of a decent banking concern in the provincial region where I grew up and when I was a small child, he hired a talented Swiss architect by the name of Pierre Berlusconi to design the bank headquarters and all the new bank branches, of which there seemed to be many, some of them outcroppings of strip malls anchored by a Thrifty’s discount store, or other times right along 19th century Main Street, where these constructs reminded the townspeople that there was an even more radical modernity in the wider world than the corner gas station. They were all done in massive blocks of concrete and glass, which I always found so arresting and beautiful. The European Parliament was nothing like the artful Brutalist constructs of my rural childhood—it was just a sad building for functionaries; the furniture was no better and it all reminded me of a third rate airport, or given the context of the setting to meet the last heir of the Holy Roman Emperors, it now reminds me of the film Orlando, in which Tilda Swinton, as the 16th to 20th century time-traveler, enters her last scene in a lifeless London office tower with the usual metal blinds and fluorescent lights—befitting white collar drones lacking in what Germans call spitzfeingefühl, an acuity of taste—after just having watched her for the better part of the movie in the most sumptuous of settings imaginable, from gilded river barges to tented feasts on frozen ponds and audiences with the sultan in Constantinople. As in the film, when confronted by the cheap and plain version of modernity, there is a certain rush of, so this is where things arrive? From Elizabethan sublimity to Orwellian office-blocks? From the voluptuous curls of the Flemish, Spanish, Italian, and German baroque—all under the patronage of the Habsburgs—to this dour seat of political exchange and power, itself not worthy of a regional bank branch in the Central Valley of California? But such a thought didn’t really settle in until after I had met The Habsburg, because as I came up the gallery, there he was at the other end, flipping his wrist for the French cuff to disappear into the sleeve of his suit jacket as he clicked his heels and walked toward me. In such a moment one isn’t pondering the incongruities of aura, image, and history—such that Orlando and the Habsburgs belong on sedan chairs in candle-lit palaces—because as one watches the film and as I walked up the gallery, it was as if one could take all the imaginary film clips between the 16th and 20th centuries of Orlando and of my Archduke, and this would be just another clip, another moment such as the grooves on a tree that eventually form rings, which would make perfect sense as a vein relating to all the others, so that the person experiencing this film or this reality while walking up a gallery of the European Parliament in Brussels knows that Orlando merely has an appointment with someone behind a desk—as she once had received Queen Elizabeth I, who arrived by flotilla with heralds singing her greatness in advance—as the Archduke also knows that Felix Pfeifle from Modesto, California, by way of UC Berkeley, would arrive in that gallery at half past two the 14th July, 1991, and that we would sit at two chairs similar to those in the lobby of a college dormitory, even if he was once hoisted by legions of medieval-clad noble magnates into a gilded carriage for the coronation of his parents in Budapest, the 31st December, 1916, to be precise, a memory of the 20th century not unlike the 16th century scene conjured in the film Orlando.
For many Europeans, such a moment at the Parliament is not the leap in imagination we Americans have to make, since every day Europeans may shuttle from their ancient homes, whether a farmhouse, garret apartment, or castle, to contemporary surroundings, some inspiring, others not. Every day there is some Italian prince or count who rolls from his 17th century bed and passes along frigid corridors under portraits of ancestors who may have been Borgias, Farneses, Gonzagas—or any other now long-defunct dynasty—to have an espresso in the kitchen while glancing at the news on his laptop that rests upon an 18th century kitchen table, then to enter his Fiat and drive to a day job in some entirely nondescript office complex on the outskirts of Rome.
Perhaps, though, it’s the bookends of this encounter that surrounded the event of meeting The Habsburg that are also of interest, because if we are going to indulge in something so seemingly remote as an epilogue of Habsburg history, we must as well indulge in the peculiar tributaries that lead us there. As I had told Herbert Hinkel in my letter from Berkeley in early 1991, I would spend the summer holiday in Bavaria, but somehow that shifted to the western-most Austrian state of Vorarlberg, against the borders of Liechtenstein and Switzerland—in any case I was determined to be in Europe for that summer, no matter the place. I had secured a summer internship in the law offices of an Austrian friend’s father, Herr Dr. Piccolruaz, within a valley amid the magnificent Alps. The house in which my friends lived had property that backed onto the Westbahnstrecke, the western rail line stretching the entire length of Austria, if even the house was removed several hundred yards from it, and beyond which one could see the Alps rising practically just footsteps beyond the tracks, as it may have seemed. The house was interesting, because it had been built by Frau Piccolruaz’s father, who was some kind of postal worker. I don’t remember to have heard them say he was the postmaster, a title that would ring bells in Austro-German—such a coveted provincial position—and perhaps explain the quasi-villa like presence of the house. It was, at once, both an enormous house and yet not a villa, nor a farmhouse (renovated to look like a villa, as is the current fashion). In any case, postal workers in the United States never had it so good as apparently some of their Austrian counterparts. Strangely, when I arrived, my friend’s parents, the Piccolruazs (a typically Austrian name because of its non-Germanic origin, in this case Romanisch/Italian), were on an excursion to Italy for another two weeks, so without any work at the firm, I safely ensconced myself as the pampered houseguest, allowing Patrick’s mostly irritated older sister to cook for us, while I indulged that summer’s affinity for the 1970s band Supertramp, amid which, while I listened one late afternoon to them with giant ear phones on in Dr. Piccolruaz’s leather arm chair, Patrick’s younger sister saunters into the room saying, stupefied, but with a slight tone of mockery in her annoying high-pitched German, “Felix, the phone is for you, it’s the Sekretariat Habsburg,” which immediately conjured a number of ironies, not lost on anyone in the household. Namely, we’re in the Republic of Austria in the year 1991, where the Habsburgs aren’t acknowledged to exist but for the profit of the tourist industry; I’m from a California town called Modesto, and we are—as the call comes in—in an even more provincial town called Bludenz, which may sound like nothing extraordinary to an Anglophone, except that in German slang the word idiotic, borders on a likeness of Bludenz: bloede. Young men from Modesto, California “summering” as it were, in Bludenz, Austria, ought not to be receiving calls from a “Sekretariat Habsburg”; it’s entirely outside the realm of possibility, rather like a boy from outside Rennes, France receiving a call in the 1950s at his hosts’ in Boise, Idaho–completely out of the blue–from Eleanor Roosevelt’s social secretary; it never happened. Had I even been at the castle of aristocratic Austrian friends, in a political environment more kindly disposed toward the idea of Habsburg, the call may have been an equally acute surprise, because even they wouldn’t expect to get a call from The Habsburg,, the chief of all Habsburgs, since in 1991 memories of the grades of separation between members of the All-Highest Imperial and Royal Family and the aristocracy, that is, the multi-layered “second estate,” actually still existed–perhaps like it still did in England, too, when Lady Diana Spencer, daughter of one of England’s most ancient and glorious families, was plucked, as if “from the people,” to become the Princess of Wales. I take the call and proceed to book an appointment with the Archduke—“Dr. von Habsburg”—for 14:30 on the 14th of July in Brussels and I’m not sure on which point the family was more dumbfounded: that I had just arranged such a meeting—as if I had long been in touch with the Habsburgs, about whom they had been programmed in school not to consider beyond 1918—or that I had just arrived eight days previous and was supposed to be working in the family law firm rather than crossing the continent for audiences with fallen royalty. Clearly, I thought, everyone, including Herr Dr. Piccolruaz—once he returned from Italy—would understand that this was a higher calling and that I would have to make my way to Belgium, when in reality it probably struck everyone as a wayward expedition, at best.
One can take the boy out of the palace, but one can’t take the palace out of the boy; this because, despite our surroundings at the European Parliament, I could not help but feel the deep veins of history in the Archduke, the breath and touch of the ages being expressed in nearly every gesture and utterance; the sovereign was in full form. It’s more obvious on a building in Florence, for instance—one sees the Pazzi Cappella and thinks wow, such history (as American tourists are heard to say) and inside one sees the rub of time on the place and one has the most vague reassurance—terribly difficult to grasp, perhaps by way of ancient particles floating in the air—of departed souls in one’s presence. In any case, one can verify for oneself in such a place that everything in it, more or less, has endured the course of centuries. Sitting across from the Archduke, although in the setting of his identity as a modern politician, I suddenly—and I don’t exaggerate—sense the portraits of his ancestors, Charles V, Louis XIV, Maria Theresa, Marie Antoinette, Franz Joseph—because I realize his body language is theirs or must be what theirs was like. One doesn’t sense this in Queen Elizabeth II, for instance—or any other reigning European monarch; they are “different”, yes, but one doesn’t feel transported in time by their presence. Today’s monarchs actually walk and talk like relatively contemporary persons, whereas the Archduke does not. His gestures are like those of a marionette, his arms stabbing at the air while talking, his head cocked at a queer angle—bobbing about as if disconnected from his body at the shoulders, which seem to be strait-jacketed in an immobile woolen uniform—and his eyes fixed on something in his imagination, but otherwise looking emptily at me, perhaps over and beyond me at another moment in his life, possibly even the future. It is a body language no one could cultivate on one’s own, not even an actor like Erich von Stroheim, and it certainly bears the imprint of centuries, dating back at least through the Rococo period, if not beyond and to the legacy of the ultra-stiff etiquette of the Spanish Habsburg Court during the early Baroque Counter-Reformation. His manner of speaking German, which we speak off-and-on together there, in addition to English and French, since we are in Bruxelles, is the highly nasal dialect spoken only by Habsburgs and Austro-Hungarian aristocrats before the Second World War in Central Europe and is named after the ochre yellow palace in which he lived as a child, Schönbrunner deutsch. The combined effect of his puppeteer-guided gestures and his commanding manner of speech, with a bass register, which is laden with outbursts of, Certainly! C’est cert! Certainement! Ja, freilich! Of course! To be sure! Absolutely! Absolutement! Absolut! is startling to me, for I had come that day to know The Habsburg, a dynamic human being with a storied past, but I was greeted—warmly and graciously, of course—by a Wilhelminian caricature, or Franz Josephinian, to be more specific. The green parrot plums rising sixteen inches above his head, as if he were about to march through the palace square for Corpus Christi celebrations, were all but there in reality. I could see it all flashing through my memory of Habsburg festivities in photos and paintings.
In my democratic American way, I wanted to form a human connection with this person, but it was much more like a royal audience, the privilege of which would have been denied someone like me just 73 years before, during the Archduke’s childhood, since with no known European aristocratic ancestors (with the possible exception of my grandmother’s family, the possibly–somewhere–baronial Kenyons), I would not have been presentable at court with the requisite 16 quarters of noble ancestry to enter an audience with the emperor (who on earth would?), although I would have found my devices even then, it is likely. Granted, now 20 years later I appreciate the anthropological significance of the Archduke’s ancien régime demeanor, such that I could feel like I was at Versailles being greeted by the king, himself, despite our armless foam-filled chairs, but between the seemingly quixotic manner of this royal wind-up doll, there was the European parliamentarian at play as well. When the Archduke wasn’t exchanging the expected banal pleasantries of a royal, the kind one hears when the cameras and audio zoom in on the Duke of Kent at Wimbledon, as he congratulates the champions on behalf of the Queen—“A fantastic match. You must be exhausted.”—the Archduke spoke with a political voice, offering some insight to his breadth of knowledge and understanding, but mostly cloaked in regurgitated facts and stories, his own quotes of which one could have already read in journals or books on him. in German, French, Hungarian, or Spanish. He was like the senator one meets, who has a formulaic response for everything, according to his campaign objectives and party line, buffeted in this case by a roughly 1000 year tradition of majestic manner. Through the first few times I met with the Archduke it was this battery of royal and political armor I encountered, and as my divined path to know The Habsburg implied, there was an essence to this man which I was yet to discover—and was determined to discover.
As we rose from our dorm-room seats to conclude that initial meeting in Brussels, I had forgotten that I had not eaten since that morning, nearly eight hours before, when I had used the very last of my change for the entire trip to buy a Belgian waffle at the train station—since I mismanage money wherever I go—but, luckily, I already had my return ticket for the night train back to Austria. In the train that night I settled into a compartment with a German girl, Corinne da Fonseca, with whom I immediately struck up the liveliest conversation. Although it was pre-internet, and she was a complete stranger, we quickly establish that we have mutual friends, by way of one of her friends on an exchange in Berkeley, where I was studying. She asks why I am visiting Brussels, since why would a young, seemingly plugged-in American in Europe think to venture to Belgium? I explain that I had been there to meet with a Member of the European Parliament, which makes her even more curious, since her parents are both diplomats and heavily engaged with the parliament, and the only reason for her to visit Belgium. Eventually I explain that it is Otto Habsburg whom I had met (one is not to use the “von” in circles where the “von” goes without saying), whereupon, being precisely the sort of Habsburg-type European, German with a Portuguese surname, “based” in Brussels, Corinne says, nonchalantly—although with interest and without the tone of mockery of my provincial bourgeois Austrian friends, “Tja, Habsburg—my father knows him decently; they’re often engaged in various matters. How was he?” We have a rollicking good time on the train discussing everything from the coastline along Big Sur to European politics and the legacy of the Habsburgs in Belgium, that is, when Belgium mattered in the world by way of Bruges, Antwerp, and Brussels. We bid each other good night and fall asleep in the compartment, only to be brutally awaken by a conductor exclaiming that we are in the wrong section of the train—and that our segment (bound for Bucharest) has separated from the section in which we were supposed to be traveling (to western Austria), at the previous stop, through which we have slept. The conductor hurriedly explaines that we could get connecting trains but would have to leap from the train instantly and wait at the station there—Wurzburg. We comply, but doing so like somnambules and rushing from the train.
We laugh at the slight mishap, but as we re-group, I can not find my train ticket. I throw everything down and begin to search through pockets and baggage (I always carry an over-abundance of baggage), but the ticket is missing. It becomes evident that the ticket is somewhere on the train now bound for Bucharest. I enlist the support of the station attendant, who picks up his receiver—there are no mobile phones, of course—and dials the receiver at the next station to stop the train and look in my compartment for my ticket. At the next station the conductor finds no ticket, and at least a few stations after that, but I insis that it must have fallen under the seat as I vacated the train. Finally, at Regensburg a conductor finds my ticket, but in order for me to travel forth, I would have to wait for the ticket to be returned by another train coming to Wurzburg. By this time it is already day-break and, very hungry (not having eaten since the previous 24 hours, if even then it was merely a waffle), I dare to step into the “Bahnhofsmission” (“train station mission”) a charitable Red Cross-type organization situated within the train station that advertises: “Sometimes life slips from control—and then people need help.” Dressed like an upper-bourgeois European youth of 21, I enter the mission and explain the situation and ask, therefore, whether they wouldn’t be able to afford me breakfast. The director on duty, a genteel German woman volunteering for the morning, eyes me with suspicion—probably finding it inconceivable that a strapping blond boy dressed better than her own sons could find himself in such a situation, unless I have been partying all night and think nothing of making a mockery of her charitable breakfast table (although insofar that this is provincial Wurzburg, that was an unlikely scenario)—but she grants me a place at the table, because ultimately I am a “stranded” foreigner, if even she and I are the only two persons in the room who could speak German. The rest of the room is filled with tables of Romanian refugees, who are part of the ongoing escape of the post-1989 revolution that overthrew Ceaucescu. Since the Bahnhofsmission is so kind in giving me some nourishment, I volunteer to take a number of the refugees to the various bureaucratic departments around town, which they need to access with their documentation. We go from one office to the next—the specific likes of which I don’t remember, possibly doctor’s visits, some kind of passport control, etc.—getting all their stamps, since Europeans at that time still loved stamping everything, as if they had some sort of fetish with the mere roll of the stamp coming over and then pounding the imprint so as to make it official, final, and irreversible. There were three boys about my age whom I was shepherding around and although we could scarcely understand each other through their broken German, we have a good time together, eventually making it to the famous baroque Archbishops’ Palace near the center of town—truly one of the finest examples of the German baroque, replete with frescos by Tiepolo. Having no money for the entry ticket, we slip into the formal French-style gardens and all proceed to lie down for a siesta on the carved stone park benches.
When I arrive back to Austria, Dr. and Mrs. Piccolruaz have not yet returned from Italy. Since they’ve been gone, and since people in those days didn’t waste precious resources on personal international landline telephone calls several times a day, or even several times a month, they’ve been unaware of my trip to Brussels. When I tell it to them, they are much more concerned with the fact that I ran out of funds—for which they say I could have easily rung the law firm (the “Kanzelei”) to wire more—than any interest in the fact that I’ve with the last Crown Prince of the dynasty that ruled their country for over 600 years. To that, Mr. Piccolruaz only says, “I see.” Even if deep in his soul he might find my excursion interesting and special, as a self-respecting citizen of the Republic in 1991, obliged to maintain the image of everything modern and democratic–as if the person of The Habsburg could only spell feudal irrelevance, if not controversy–he could not allow himself to express anything but bemused disinterest toward his misguided houseguest.
CHAPTER XV KNOWING THE HABSBURG, PART I
Recently, a friend asked me the current age of the Archduke and when I told him 98, he was astonished and wondered the secret of his longevity. The question was salient, because when I set out to know The Habsburg, 21 years ago, it was largely to discover the essence of his survival in this world—the nature of it, the structure of it, the historical underpinnings of it. As I came to know him and as he came to reveal to me, more and more openly, his life was characterized, in fact, by survival. It turns out there is the path of his survival, which he has related to me in great richness, but there are also the origins of that ability to survive, emanating from his ancestors and residing in, I realized, as my friend posed me the question—the French Revolution.
The long road of survival for the Archduke, like that of almost every European born before the First World War, begins, most obviously, the moment his own grand-uncle was assassinated in June 1914, but in order to make it to the beginning of Otto’s story, I quickly understood with him that we would have to start with the present and begin meandering into the past. Even before meeting the Archduke, it was fairly clear from his letters to Herbert Hinkel, to his movements since the Second World War, since his publication of hundreds and hundreds of political newspaper articles and thirty books, since his long run as a Member of the European Parliament, that the Archduke is not someone who dwells in the past. He has a rich appreciation and understanding of history, to say the least, he’s the Chief Habsburg, after all, but he does not indulge nostalgia. Because the standard belief is that Habsburg history ended in November 1918, most people, particularly journalists, ask him only of his royal past, from the time of the empire, when he was a small child, and then perhaps into his early adulthood, when a restoration was still possible–”What was it like to be a prince?” The usual questions. He doesn’t abide this, because although he may come across at moments as the phantom of a royal past, he has an individual psyche apart from his identity as a Habsburg tribal chieftain and he has a clear personal will—as opposed to a merely self-effacing dynastic will—which means he will consistently steer conversation along contemporary lines and on topics of relevant political importance, or, as he once quipped to me, toward “the task at hand.” Quite simply, in his graciously polite way, he insists on being acknowledged and appreciated as a living being with something to contribute to the political order of the day and the future—and not to be taken for a quaint relic, like so many other royals were of his era or even 1980s pop stars in post-modern culture are today, who are only welcomed on stage again as long as they perform their stock hits.
Fortunately for me, I had a fairly accurate sense of this before I even met him, without having read about it explicitly, so the first several times I visited with the Archduke I gained his trust by relating to him on that level he appreciated most, one of serious discourse on any number of contemporary political topics of the day. For instance, when I met with him that first time, in 1991 in Brussels, we spoke exclusively of contemporary political urgencies, such as Yugoslavia dissolving into civil war and Croatia, Slovenia, and Bosnia-Herzcegovina—former Habsburg dominions—as they were on the precipice of a disastrous reprise of World War I. And, likewise, so it was, for example, during that relatively recent visit with him in Sarajevo, 2007, the Archduke speculated on the chances of Barack Obama to win the Presidency. And from the present, as was typical with him at that point in our engagement, we could start backing into the past, so long that the most pressing and relevant topics of the day were covered first, with perhaps some references to the future—such as also in Sarajevo, 2007, whether the UN was going to acknowledge Albania’s independence (which they did one month thereafter). From Barack Obama we could shift to the near past with reference to his favorite U.S. President during his lifetime—which began when President Taft was in office—Ronald Reagan. Naturally, with me, an American, he delighted during multiple exchanges in bringing up his giddy appreciation of the President he believed dealt the death knell to the Soviet Empire, which was ironic, considering it was another U.S. President, Woodrow Wilson, who more or less finished off the Habsburg Empire with his 14 Points, including the point on self-determination of nations (i.e. dominions under the Habsburgs angling for independence). I never saw the Archduke so excited—thrilled like a youth and nearly jumping from his seat—when he spoke of Ronald Reagan and particularly on that day in Sarajevo. I didn’t like Ronald Reagan’s politics, so I never returned the Archduke’s enthusiasm, but I always smiled politely, knowing that the Archduke hailed Reagan for his tough stance against the Soviet Union in the last years of the Cold War, to which even I can acknowledge now certain value. By lunchtime in Sarajevo, as we sat with his grandson, his personal secretary, and two Bosnian teenagers privileged enough to be invited to lunch with the Archduke, the topic of conversation somehow turned to Che Guevara. The Archduke, sensing immediately our collective fascination for Che—with the exception of his secretary and now my friend, Eva Demmerle, who was protesting the very thought of this murderous revolutionary—said, “I may be the only person here old enough to have met Che Guevara.” Indeed, he was the only one old enough—by at least 50 years—which he knew, of course, and was playing for comic effect. So, with the exception of Ms. Demmerle, we all leaned forward in awe that the Archduke once encountered the legendary Che Guevara and he said, “Yes, indeed, I was in Mexico, 1955, in a restaurant. The Castro brothers were there, too, but Mr. Guevara was the one who attracted all the attention. ” Ms. Demmerle grumbled that she could not understand the cult-like hero-worship that follows this “murderer”—and let’s be straight, she’s right, he was a murderer and not even, at times, a mere killer for a good cause—but the 95 year old Archduke did understand: Che Guevara was mythic and sexy—no matter his transgressions. After lunch the Archduke took his grandson and me to the bridge where his grand-uncle was assassinated.
This was the pattern of our encounters and it was during my visit with him in 2005 at his Villa overlooking Lake Starnberg, outside Munich, where I had been once before, that he finally doffed his imperial and political armor and spoke to me at length about some decisive moments in his life. His house, Villa Austria, also known as the Kaiservilla, is situated near the lake in a posh area populated by German luminaries—TV, film and cultural stars—which, the Archduke, later explained, is the legacy of a 19th century Wittelsbach duke, a distant relation of Otto’s, who was passionate for the arts and started a sort of arts colony around his castle, just down the hill directly on the lake. Turning up the driveway to the Villa Austria, tall linden trees line either side, giving the property one of only two grand gestures. To the left is the curious, completely unassuming middle-class house next door, which practically abuts the driveway, with a large picture window for its inhabitants to view their imperial and royal neighbors passing back and forth. In America we would never see such a juxtaposition, where, even if it occurred, such as in a wooded and hilly enclave as this, the proprietors of the grander domain would do everything possible to screen away their modest neighbors–or most probably they would just buy them out of sight. One notices the house next door and the outcropping of shacks around it—like on a farm—because the curve in the driveway obscures the dull yellow back façade of the house, a four-story structure perched atop a knoll, which lends it an imposing presence. It’s a classic late 19th century Germanic villa, a solid square block that says, “mansion”—or “(small) mansion.” In essentially bourgeois fashion it also says from the 19th century, “success” and “respectability”–such villas of this era are to be found all across Europe with regional variations. Although it’s in essentially good form, the house also expresses that someone of at least “old money” lives there, since it’s in no way pristine—such as would be the case with the newly rich, who would go about ensuring that the paint is always fresh, that the garden is a delight of perfectly manicured presentation and every thread on the rugs inside is properly in place–and that the 50 -year old rusted, broken-down merry-go-round sitting in a bed of overgrown grass just opposite the entry is disposed of, if not fully restored and turned into a “vintage” garden folly. As one turns to enter the front of the house, one sees ahead, just peeking above the other side of the knoll, a long back house in stained pine clapboard with no windows–that I recall, at least–basically a modest garden house or guest house of some sort, where the Archduke’s mother, the Empress, lived off and on through the years, an anomalous structure which the nouveau riche would also not go in for. Sovereignty is more a spiritual and mental matter than a material one at the Habsburgs, if it isn’t already clear. A tattered exterior red runner, upon which sits a watering can and an urn of not particularly attractive flowers—chrysanthemums available at Home Depot or the like—leads one to the front door, through which is a dark, wood paneled entry, where one feels already in a very different world—somewhere between an alpine chalet and a feudal castle, with all the little heraldic devices here and there and royal 19th century water color portraits . On the other hand, dark and heavy wooden clad interiors are not at all unusual for a house of this era–yet, this seems somehow different. Before being led into the salon, one glimpses to the left the kind of dining room I had seen in houses like this before, also wood paneled, not ceremonial, but large enough for distinguished (bourgeois) family occasions, dotted with the trappings of quotidian life, such as the toaster oven lodged between various potted house plants and flowers—including orchids—strewn across the built-in credenza under the windows. It’s familiar to me as a Germanic or Central European room arranged by someone of the same generation as the Archduke; I’ve seen it in everything from my friend’s grandmother’s villa–designed by Albert Speer in Mannheim–to more modest apartments in Vienna, or even the house of a Hungarian emigré in Berkeley. It’s a domestic sensibility of that generation that seems to cut across class lines, although it becomes more cluttered the lower one goes, particularly where doilies, cheap porcelains, and table cloths are concerned.
On this day, I suppose we have the good fortune of Ms. Demmerle to be absent, insofar that there is only a secondary secretary on duty and she is not nearly attentive as Ms. Demmerle, who, as royal chamberlain—as it were—protects Otto von Habsburg’s time and energies punctiliously. There is also a cook and maid coursing through the rooms, but it is the Archduchess Regina, Otto’s wife, who comes in and sets down a tray of drinks and treats for my talk with the Archduke in the salon. I had never met his wife so when I do, I stand up and announce my name, putting out my hand (since in Europe a man offers the hand first), but when she shakes my hand and only lookin at me with a vague smile—and that same empty, although fixed gaze of her husband—as if to say, “Oh, yes, indeed,” but she says nothing. I’m not aware of what protocol I’ve broken to engender this silence and, later, I even ask her grandson, Marc, and he doesn’t know either, but clearly I’ve not done something quite right, but some indication might lie here, in the recollection of one writer’s first visit to the Villa Austria in the early 1960s–already after Otto von Habsburg has renounced his rights to the throne:
Many people had told me stories of the eeriest fuss with which the remains of the once iron-clad court ceremony was still upheld here. Count Degenfeld made visitors vividly aware of the practices of the household: Wait to speak until spoken to; discuss only themes to which Otto refers; leave the sitting room backward toward the door–a nearly impossible feat, since the door to the sitting room was up three steps! From one room that, with its filing cabinets looked rather like the registry of a large warehouse, popped an elderly gentleman. Dr. Heinrich Degenfeld-Schonburg–Count Degenfeld. He shook my hand, led me to a large library and said, ‘Have a seat please, the Herr Doktor will be here momentarily.’ Nothing more was said. (Andics biography)
“Nothing more was said.” In fact, nothing at all was said. In that very house, a bourgeois villa, remnants of the Spanish etiquette at the court of Charles V still played a role in what may seem like a long time ago to me, born after Mr. Andics recorded this first visit, but to the Archduchess, who was 80 years old at the time, it is the manner in which things have been done most of her life. I’ve met three of her grandsons and I can scarcely imagine any of them would have known precisely how to navigate the mine field described by Mr. Andics without Count Degenfeld’s careful instruction. But, then again, perhaps I was right on track–with no one in the immediate vicinity to announce me, I announced myself–since what would she think of a stranger standing in her house who doesn’t speak–and then upon her silence I wait for her to speak. The Archduchess quickly dispenses with the awkward moment and starts chatting with me in German. She asks, “I hear you’re to discuss a project regarding Franz Joseph?” I say, “Oh, no, rather a project regarding Dr. von Habsburg.” “Oh, really?” She pauses, “Now why would you want to do that?” (As if her husband hasn’t amounted to a hill of beans, although she is displaying a certain amount of wry wit and self-deprecation on behalf of the Archduke.) Matching her tone, I respond that I thought Dr. von Habsburg might have some interesting insights, possibly. She says, “Well, then, suit yourself.” As if to say, “But I can’t see why you would waste your time. . .” I smile coyly.
The Archduchess Regina was born about the same time as Queen Elizabeth II, a Princess of Saxe-Meiningen, so she belongs to a younger generation of royalty than her 12 years older husband. Her body language is more like that of Queen Elizabeth’s, in fact; again, different, marked by rarified gestures, but more familiar to us today than anything from Otto’s generation, where the body language is so clearly bound in a baroque past. On the other hand, the Archduchess, who has since died, sort of hovers there, speaking with me like a materialized phantom, engaging with me in a friendly and humorous way, but her eventual mortal absence was is distinctly present.
She disappears and I take the time alone in the salon to explore the room, although I have been there before. I hadn’t previously noticed the copper bust of Otto as Crown Prince, as a four year old, on which the front reads, simply: OTTO. The piano, which must not see much action, is littered across the top with family photos, the way every private aristocratic salon in Europe is. Then there are the ancestral portraits—one huge painting by Winterhalter circa 1832 of the young Emperor Franz Joseph on the lap of his mother, Archduchess Sophie, looming in massive gilt framing over the sofa. Another portrait of the fantastic Empress Elisabeth, the Archduke’s great-grand aunt, the Princess Diana of her day, whose beauty and glamour eclipsed that of any other royal, but whose life ended tragically when she was assassinated by an Italian anarchist in Geneva in 1898. In Vienna, at the Imperial Crypt, her legend is kept alive by the numerous people who continue to set flowers at her sarcophagus. She looks at the viewer, from within the swirls of late 19th century neo-baroque framing with her famous head of flowing hair, like a Mona Lisa. On the other side of a large double doors leading to the library there is a portrait of Otto’s mother, Empress Zita—a pleasant-enough painting, but for the fact that she was not the wife of a provincial industrialist, which the painting seems to convey, but then the villa and its furnishings are more familiar to the grande bourgeoisie of the late 19th century. The Archduke proudly told me once that it was an Australian opera singer who had it built–as if the association opened a neutral zone which would allow for a crown prince to inhabit a dwelling without aristocratic pedigree; had it been built by a manufacturer of sewing machines, say, I imagine the Archduke may have passed on the place.
The architecture and decor have no trace of feudal grandiosity, such as the castles and palais still inhabited by some of the European nobility, even some Habsburgs. Nonetheless, this house seems, perfectly, to suit the Archduke; it’s entirely unpretentious, but dignified and just large enough to have accommodated the Archduke’s family of seven children and some live-in staff. The only indication that a prince lives there is the scores of ancestral portraits and silver-framed black-and-white photographs of regal relations.
Now settled onto the fauteuil offered to me, I hear the familiar sound of the Archduke’s step as he approaches the door. The door swings open and as rapidly is shut behind by the Archduke, who looks up from behind his large spectacles, as if yanked up by an 18th century puppeteer and, with a sincere burst of “Gruess Gott Herr Pfeifle!” he does a vague click of the heels—than announces his embarkation for anywhere—and advances toward me as an army officer might have during his childhood, whereby I stand at attention, almost clicking my heels, too, and say, “Gruess Gott Herr Dr. von Habsburg!” After coursing through the usual pleasantries of where else I might be travelling on the occasion of this visit (because surely I wouldn’t waste my time coming all the way to Europe just to see him, he would imply, modestly, along the lines of the Archduchess’s utterances), he sets straight into the most obvious matter of international importance on that day, the 5th September, 2005: the detainees at Guantanamo Bay. “Deplorable,” he says, as if already exasperated by the notion of it. “I, I really can’t imagine how President Bush can justify such an operation—awful—it’s a violation of the (sic) human rights. They’re neither prisoners of war nor criminals? Just detainees? With no rights to see the case against them? It’s not a civilized conduct of war.” Knowing from our previous visit in 2003 that Otto initially had supported the American cause in Afghanistan and Iraq I note, “Yes, well it appears to squander good will toward American foreign policy.” “Exactly,” he sighs.
But I am firstly curious about his correspondence with Herbert Hinkel, whom, in part, I’ve used as a pretext toward meeting with the Archduke again, to shed some light on the mound of letters and Christmas cards I had inherited, to walk on the path Hinkel never did, himself. On those occasions when I would take visitors on a tour of the Imperial Shrine at my domiciles stretching between San Francisco, New York, Paris, and Los Angeles, invariably I would hear the question, “But why would the Archduke write to him?” A plausible question, indeed, since some may see nothing more than a mere awestruck fan in Hinkel, because that is what we know in pop culture today (a question also presupposing that anyone exalted who would bother to write such a character would surely need something worthwhile in return), but a most interesting question given the events surrounding the first letters from the Imperial Court to Herbert Hinkel.
Otto von Habsburg, having read Hitler’s Mein Kampf, well knew that the independence of Austria became ever more threatened, the stronger Hitler’s Germany became. Already in 1934, just one year into his Chancellorship of Germany, Hitler supports a Nazi Putsch against the Austrian government of Engelbert Dollfuss, which results in his Dollfuss’s death by assassination in his office of the former Imperial Palace. The New York Times speculates that “There are strong reasons for believing that Anschluss (Austro-German union) would result in war and that is the true reason that caused Nazi Germany to draw back after the Vienna putsch failed. . . But a restoration of the Habsburgs could also mean war if it took place without previous agreement of the successor governments of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.” By 1936 the New York Times reports as to whether the feeble, although authoritarian regime of Kurt von Schuschnigg, will fall to Hitler or yield to the Habsburgs, to whom the regime is openly disposed. The Temps of France reports: “It must not be forgotten that the maintenance of Austrian independence is above all an international question that cannot be practically solved without the concurrence of all the powers interested in the consolidation of the peace of Central Europe.” Yet both Hitler and the Habsburgs continue to grow in influence, Hitler from his seat of power where he is already building his war machine from Berlin, and the Habsburgs from exile in Belgium, whose monarchist movement has not only the tacit and sometimes even fully open support of the Schuschnigg government in the Republic of Austria during the mid- to late-1930s, but whose numbers rise continually. Earlier in the year of Hinkel’s first letter from the Habsburgs, 1937, the police in Vienna report on the monarchists’ foremost objective: “The Iron Ring (the Austrian monarchist movement) is determined to unite its members in the understanding that the rehabilitation and full independence of Austria can only be reached through the legitimate Ruling House (of Habsburg).” (p. 125 Demmerle) The Habsburgs posit the survival of Austria as dependent on their restoration, even if it begs the obvious question of open international debate to the chaos that would bring and the almost guaranteed invasion by Nazi Germany. Nonetheless, the monarchist movement grows throughout 1937, partly with the support of the Schuschnigg government, which has legally restored many of the Habsburgs’ vast properties to them and has rescinded their status as exiles, to which the letter of the 19th January, 1938 to Herbert Hinkel refers explicitly. The Archduke and the Empress, however, do not visit Austria so as not to raise international alarm. Just before Hinkel receives this second letter, at the end of 1937 the Archduke meets secretly with Chancellor Schuschnigg for the last time, pleading with the Chancellor to restore the Habsburgs to the throne, as it is painfully evident to Otto von Habsburg that the Chancellor hasn’t the courage, nor the resolve to withstand Hitler. Short of that, he challenges Schuschnigg at least to remove Nazis from his government and to replace them with Social Democrats (Socialists) (p. 129 u. 130 Demmerle), which the Archduke, even though the avowed enemy of Socialists, has been arguing for several years, seeing in them a natural—and substantial—democratic counterweight to the Nazis. Schuschnigg demures on all accounts, holding, as usual, his cards incredibly close to himself, almost until the Annexation itself, which the New York Times has noted.
Nearly one month after posting a letter to Herbert Hinkel in New York City, Hitler makes his first act of open aggression on the Austrian government and forces Chancellor Schuschnigg to legalize the Nazi party in Austria and to re-organize his cabinet for the pleasure of Germany, whereupon the Archduke makes the boldest move of his young, 25 year old life, convinced that the battle for Austria is at stake, that the last hour is at hand and written on the wall, he writes to the Chancellor of Austria:
Austria’s enemy through an unexplained act of brute force has succeeded in pushing your government into a situation full of menace, which perilously undermines our further resistance. Should you feel that you can no longer resist the pressure from German or extreme nationalist circles then I would you, whatever the situation may be like, to hand over the office of chancellor to me. I am firmly determined to go to the utmost to protect the people and the state and am convinced that the nation will respond. The situation being such that lengthy negotiations with other powers concerning a restoration of the monarchy can not be contemplated, I will ask for it under the circumstances. I would only ask you to hand over the chancellorship to me. (Brook-Shepherd, p. 183)
Essentially, as we now know the monumental strength of the Nazi military, with its ability to flatten the armies of many countries within the span of just days, the Archduke, on his way from responding to a letter from a Herbert Hinkel in New York City, offers himself for sacrifice and slaughter by beseeching the Chancellor of Austria to hand power to him, which he has admitted, so, sitting with the Archduke, I asks him, “Of course, part of the reason I am here, as you know, is because of this wonderful archive of letters from you which I inherited from Herbert Hinkel.” “Yes, of course!” The Archduke thunders.
“Well, do you remember him?” And I give him some background on Hinkel history, knowing that despite the Archduke’s flawless memory near his 93d birthday in 2005, that there are thousands of such persons he has to keep regulated in his mind.
“Yes, of course. But mostly through correspondences. I may have met him once or twice—I think it was in the Chicago area.” It certainly was not in the Chicago area and it’s almost certain that the two never met. Swinging his arms in the large sweeping gestures to which he’s accustomed, he adds, “Yes, but you see there were so many, so I don’t know exactly how we met, but I knew him quite well by way of the correspondence more than by anything else.” I continue, “Well it’s nearly 60 years of letters that I have—starting in 1937 and 1938 were a couple of the first letters, and what I’ve always thought was so fascinating about the letters and when they started was that Herbert Hinkel at that time was a 15 year old boy and his parents were of Bavarian descent—not Austrian—and so he writes you these letters and it’s a striking period, because he receives a letter from Count Trautmannsdorff in January / Feb 1938 and meanwhile at that time you’re leading up to one of the biggest crises in European history. I’m thinking about the anschluss in 1938.”
“Yes of course, March 11, 1938.”
“And well at that time it’s amazing to me that someone from your Court in Steenockerzeel had the time in the midst of this crisis to write to someone like Herbert Hinkel.”
“Yes, well you know we have always kept the principal, that when somebody greets you in the street, you have to greet back, and the letter is like that.”
As I grew to know the Archduke more over the next several years from this “audience,” I also grew to appreciate his response and how obvious it was. Of course, my mother had taught me this, if even it was mostly predicated on the telephone, such that anyone who calls deserves a call back (and promptly), but his comment struck me as so touching in an era when, as we sat there together in 2005, society had shifted from written letter correspondence to email correspondence and instant messaging—and there was not yet the light touch of terse responses via texting, Facebook, etc., instant messaging having become in the meantime nearly obsolete—when we would be so lucky to hear back from anyone at all, ever.
The Archduke continues, “You have to answer, you know it’s a strange thing, if you see the development that nowadays few people answer their letters anymore, but it is a simple question of courtesy that when somebody takes the trouble to write to you, you have to write back. . . and unfortunately this is getting lost increasingly.”
We’re so fortunate when we hear a response to our messages that go into voice mail and digital ether, and at some point we’re probably all guilty of being those who “ignore” the inbox, because it’s so easy not to respond, so easy to remain silent when someone greets us in whatever electronic format that is done. And yet I should think there are very few persons out there who, greeted in the street, would pass and say nothing at all, the way there were fewer persons in the past who would receive a letter by post—after someone had taken the time to write it by hand, or put it through a typewriter, and affix a stamp to it—then to have the gall not to respond at all.
“Especially with the newly freed countries. It’s very significant.” He refers then to the peoples of the former East-bloc countries liberated from Soviet and Communist oppression in the early 1990s, “I am very much struck because from my political activities I have many letters which I answer as much as I can, I think pretty well, pretty much 100 percent, and for instance, right now with this new wave of political persons, I of course continue to answer letters, and how often I now get letters from people to whom I say, ‘I can’t help you in this or that other thing,’ and they reply to me thanking me for the simple act of having responded to their letters.”
“That is very kind,” I say. “Yes, because people in Central Europe are accustomed from the Communist times that they are looked down upon (and that the powers that be) don’t answer.”
In former times, one simply called it “good manners,” but the Archduke’s simple, yet now exotic program of reciprocity seems like genuine “noblesse oblige,” especially since he implied the “duty” of it. So it was established early in this conversation that the Archduke’s relationship with Herbert Hinkel, the mere fact of his Court’s response—because no letter was originally generated on the Archduke’s end, with the exception of Christmas cards—was an act of noblesse oblige. I suppose to some people that cheapens the correspondence; there isn’t an equal exchange here in any form. From a cynical perspective, Hinkel doesn’t really mean anything to the Archduke, he’s just another “duty” to discharge, since one owes such formalities to one’s “subjects.” Yet it’s not so simple, the Archduke was no more obliged to continue responding to Herbert Hinkel’s letters from 1937 till Hinkel’s death in 1994 than Hinkel was writing the letters from a mere “obsession” for the Archduke: it’s more than that. After all, a real aristocrat has no problem making it clear where another stands in his orbit—passive aggression is a middle class virtue—and the same code that dictates that the Archduke must respond to each and every letter addressed to him also puts him at liberty to dismiss someone like Herbert Hinkel summarily, to say at some turn, in polite language, thank you for your letter, but you bore me and you’re dismissed—go away. Contemporary man, hiding behind his send button on email or texts, would simply ignore a Herbert Hinkel, not knowing what to do with him, because Hinkel is not his equal and seems a bit goofy. This the Archduke did not do, because his code of human behavior is that tight, I could see—and it was my explicit objective, after all, to learn such insights of his world view—and I thought, as we had just started our conversation that day, that this is a good man, his respect for his fellow humans is simple and deep; the Archduke sensed correctly that Hinkel was a sincere and genuine person and he hung onto him, no matter Hinkel’s worldly value to His Imperial Majesty or Highness–and judging by the walls of correspondence in boxes piled high in his archive, the Archduke has no shortage of Hinkels to reassure himself of Habsburg support in the world.
Of course, this was all leading back to the vein of historical context I had begun by mention of the time at which Hinkel’s letters to the Archduke began, “Well, in any case, if I may go back to that moment where Herbert Hinkel was a teenager. Hitler had a plan for Austria to invade, which he called Operation Otto.”
The Archduke spares no detail in recounting, 70 years later, what transpired between Hitler and him to incur the Fuehrer’s wrath already by 1933, when the Archduke was merely 20 years old. “You see Hitler was always interested in taking Austria. He hated the Habsburgs from the beginning, because as he wrote in Mein Kampf, incidentally, the Habsburgs were friendly with the Jews, friendly with the Gypsies and so on, because you see that notion of a multi-national empire was something entirely opposite to his idea of blood and race and so on. So that is, so you see from the beginning, we were for someone like Hitler a symbol of what was most disliked and most detested.”
Now in a time when it may be difficult to imagine the Habsburgs as having any real consequence in global politics after the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the collapse of their empire four years later, it may likewise come as a surprise that Hitler—such a central and obvious power of the 20th century, who is remembered in every text book—should bother to mention in his seminal book a now mostly forgotten dynasty, but the Archduke does not exaggerate and he does not flatter himself with the idea that the notion to occupy Austria was tied fairly directly to Hitler’s deeply layered disgust for the Habsburgs, because Austria meant Habsburg. Per law promulgated by the Habsburg Holy Roman Emperor Francis II in 1804, his dynasty’s name henceforth is to be Austria, such that the dynasty and the country are as one, thus codifying something already regarded by tradition for centuries—the Habsburgs are the House of Austria, the Casa Austria, la Maison d’Autriche, Das Haus Oesterreichs. Hitler hated the Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy in which he grew up, because he hated the heterogeneity the Habsburgs had made of it, and when he came into power in the mid-1930s, the Habsburgs were a much greater threat to Hitler than the Socialists who had ousted them during the November revolution of 1918 and if, perhaps, that’s not to be believed, Hitler’s military plans to invade Austria by force, should it come to that—which it did not, since the Austrians laid down their arms—was in fact called Operation Otto. (site source, Demmerle will do)
Although for over 50 straight pages in Mein Kampf Hitler denounces the Habsburgs and their empire at every turn, in one long seething, maniacal, paranoid rant given to circular logic and historical contradiction—such as is consistent with the rest of his tome—he only comes unglued and perfectly familiar to us in one sentence in reference to Austria-Hungary:
This conglomerate spectacle of heterogeneous races which the capital of the Dual Monarchy presented, this motley of Czechs, Poles, Hungarians, Ruthenians, Serbs, Croats, etc. and always that bacillus which is the solvent of human society, the Jew, here and there and everywhere—the whole spectacle was repugnant to me. The gigantic city seemed to be the incarnation of mongrel depravity. (p. 106)
Daily, Hitler writes, his “aversion to the Habsburg State” increased, because the Habsburgs were traitors to the German nation, “anti-German,” in fact, desirous of transforming their once Teutonic empire into a Slavic state and in some cases, such as through the aegis of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, plotting to overthrow German populations in various parts of the Empire, such as Czech-dominated Bohemia. The Habsburg Empire is a case study on failed empire to Hitler, because the naturally selected dominant race, the Germans and the Germanic House of Habsburg, lacked uniformity in their dominance and let rise the voice of inferior Slavic peoples, who, given the obvious opportunity to strike against this weakness of racial resolve, justifiably rebelled, “If a government uses the power in its hands for the purpose of leading its people to ruin, then rebellion is not only the right but the duty of every citizen.” (p. 107 verify) The layers of tragic irony here could occupy one for pages, especially when considering the outright inferno to which Hitler subjected his own Teutonic people in the latter half of the Second World War, but in Hitler’s opinion, the Habsburgs’ abandonment of pure German dominance in their empire (something more or less already in affect since the early 16th century) was justification for their ruin, since, “Generally speaking, we must not forget that the highest aim of human existence is not the maintenance of a State of Government, but rather the conservation of the race.” (p. 107 verify) While Otto von Habsburg is correct, his Dynasty was generally “friendly” and culturally liberal in its disposition to subject ethnicities, there would scarcely be a Czech, Croat, Pole or otherwise, then or now, who could possibly believe Hitler’s assertion that the Habsburgs subverted the privileges of Germans in the realm to the Slavs. In any case, suffice it to say, as the Archduke pointed out to me, that the Habsburgs and Hitler had very different notions of “empire,” the former rooted in the ancient example of the Romans and steeped in a culture of peoples, the latter a purely race-based affair.
“Then came the fact that I had done something to antagonize him at the right moment, that is to say just before Hitler became chancellor he was still a politician . . . I was at the time in Berlin finishing my thesis on agricultural affairs and since I could not go to Austria, I went to Berlin where they had a wonderful institute on agricultural science . . . and so there was a big library there, and so I found many of the things I couldn’t get from Vienna, so I spent there several months and I talked to everyone in politics there, because I was just as interested politically then as I am now, and the result was that I knew practically everybody in the Reichstag from the President (Hindenburg) on down, and then one day when I was to leave, my mother advised me that it would be courteous to visit the Hohenzollerns.”
Naturally, a Habsburg would call upon his imperial counterparts in Berlin, the former ruling family of the German Empire and Kingdom of Prussia—the heirs of Kaiser Wilhelm, the Hohenzollerns.
“Well, I did, and at that time they still lived at Potsdam. So I went and made a round of visits and included amongst these Hohenzollerns was Prince August Wilhelm, who was a Nazi member of the Prussian Parliament and he received me in the Nazi uniform—something I already didn’t like,” as he grimaces greatly and gestures to me as if to say, “What is one to do?”
“But never mind, and then he said, ‘The Fuehrer wants to talk with you.’” At which point the Archduke shrugs and frowns all over the place and scratches his head, with complete earnestness, of course, but in his particularly theatrical way, calculated for effect.
“So I wasn’t feeling so well when he said that, because I was thinking, why does the Fuerhrer want to talk to me? and I remembered one thing: in the last free campaign for the Presidency Hitler was a candidate against Hindenburg, and he got a great deal of the conservative vote via the Crown Prince of Prussia, of Germany—the Kronprinz—who had said he would vote for Hitler. And I realized in a fraction of a second, that was obviously exactly what he wanted, because I was a Kronprinz from the other side and so to facilitate his way, it would be. So I said to Prince August-Wilhelm that I was not there to make political visits, which was a perfect lie, because I had seen everybody but the party leaders.” The “perfect lie” Otto purrs and roars almost like an enormous feline in his drawing room.
“But with the Fuehrer no, and that I would not do. And I left, but a few days later through the President of the Reichstag, who was then Hermann Goehring, came the second person to me with an invitation and my answer was exactly the same, and of course from that time on Hitler hated me terribly.”
Although this tale is well known to those familiar with the life of the Archduke, this is a story about Hitler we’ve not known and yet we can imagine that the Archduke’s rejection of him was one of the worst insults in his life, since there is already well known speculation that his rejection by Vienna during his youth, and the fact that he was roundly not accepted for studies at the prestigious and avant-garde School of Applied Arts left him feeling snubbed, probably as a provincial rube in the great city, for which he reserves tremendous and aforementioned vitriol in Mein Kampf. And here, just on the eve of Hitler’s siege of power, when he has already seduced the people of his adopted nation, when he already has descendants of Frederick the Great at his beck and call, even dressing in Nazi uniform and saluting him like idiots, just as he’s about to convince himself that nothing will be denied him in his quest for European domination—in a path already laid out for him 140 years prior by Napoleon Bonaparte—the heir to his homeland’s “All Highest Imperial House”, which is how the old monarchy referred to the dynasty, the noblest of all royals on the continent, the “Kronprinz,” the 19 year old Archduke Otto, denies Hitler not merely the opportunity to reduce the Habsburgs to his Central European puppets, such as he has done with the almighty Hohenzollerns of Prussia, but the Archduke denies him the pleasure of even shaking hands altogether. Twice the Fuehrer tried to bring Otto von Habsburg before him and failed. Napoleon, by contrast, who in his day was equally repugnant to the established elite of Europe—perhaps even more so than Hitler since he was the first such character on the stage of European politics whereas by the time of Hitler, with yet other low-class totalitarian lunatics emerging all over the place, such ogres may have seemed a sad fact of modern life with which one simply had to reckon, as now is certainly the case—eventually, though, Napoleon had the pleasure of not merely meeting the Habsburg emperor of his day, but also of being a guest in his palace and marrying his sacrificial daughter, Archduchess Maria Luisa, who was forfeited to become Empress of the French and mother of Napoleon’s heir. And how, Hitler must have wondered, was Napoleon any better than he? They were both from forgettable provincial backgrounds, although Napoleon came from an established noble family and Hitler did not, to put it lightly—the Archduke calling Hitler a “power thirsty prole.” Hitler and his program were good enough for the Hohenzollerns and a host of German royals and aristocrats, but they were not to the liking of his homeland’s “All-highest Imperial House”—not even enough to warrant a simple hand shake whereby Hitler could work his magic charm upon the very young Crown Prince, at which the Fuehrer excelled. Surely we can imagine, therefore, that all of this was going through Hitler’s paranoid and psychopathic mind and must have been a stinging rebuke from the young man meant to be his emperor, something–a fury–he must have internalized, since he would not want to reveal to anyone that the Archduke’s lack of esteem for him mattered; that wrath revealed itself with time anyway.
Matters only get worse for the Archduke vis-à-vis Hitler in 1933 when not more than a couple months later, a fire broke out in the Tyrolean town of Erl, which destroyed the concert hall. The Archduke explains to me that it was immediately suspected that the Nazis—specifically the illegal Nazi party in Austria was behind the fire—which he believed to be the case, and so he wrote a letter to the Mayor of Erl denouncing the terror of the Nazis and their influence in Austria and, “Well, at that point, I was really hanging out the window.” (It turned out he was wrong about this—the fire had not been set by Nazis.)
That was only 1933 and Hitler’s scorn toward Otto von Habsburg bears itself through the beginning of the War, emerging especially after the Archduke committed yet another public act to provoke the Fuehrer. During the heated negotiations of late 1937 and early 1938, when Herbert Hinkel received that letter from the Archduke’s Court, in which Count Trautmannsdorff pleaded that, “Help, God, that soon also the gravest injustice against the Imperial and Royal Family will be extinguished and that my August Sovereign soon can return to the Throne of His Imperial and Royal ancestors,” the Archduke writes the letter to the Chancellor of Austria, beseeching him to resign from power and allow him the chancellorship. The Archduke says to me that it was for this reason that Hitler issued a warrant for his arrest, as the Archduke intoned the importance of an armed resistance, “You see I was always on good terms with Schuschnigg, but there was one point on which we disagreed fully—you see the question was if the Germans decide to attack and take Austria should the Austrians fight back. Schuschnigg was against fighting. He had been very courageous in his own resistance, but he said it was so hopeless and that I shouldn’t do it. I was however of the opinion that one should have done it. And so there’s this big difference, and when you see this letter, published by the Nazis, by the way, there was this big difference of opinion which was the origin of this whole warrant and so on, although the resentment existed from before.”
It seems instead that is not the direct cause for the arrest warrant and that other of Otto’s transgressions against the Nazis are more directly responsible, because the New York Times, at least, does not report until the following year, January 26, 1939:
The newspaper Wiener Neueste Nachrichten today violently attacks Archduke Otto of Habsburg, citing a letter from him to the then Chancellor, Kurt Schuschnigg, dated February 1, 1938, following Dr. Schuschnigg’s meeting with Chanecellor Adolf Hitler at Bertesgaden. . .
The Austrian newspaper, which calls the Archduke ‘Otto the Frustrated, Otto the traitor,’ says that he expressed anti-German sentiments and displayed fanatical clericalism. Archduke Otto allegedly wrote that “of course our cooperation with the Western powers must be kept a secret as long as possible.’ It is alleged that the reply from Dr. Schuschnigg said that ‘it is now too late to adopt such a course.’
The letter to Schuschnigg is dated the 17th February, 1938, but in any case there is no evidence that Hitler’s government was aware of this letter as early as April 1938, when they issued the warrant for his arrest. The cause could probably as easily have been the following incendiary letter to the Parisian paper, Le Jour, which Otto von Habsburg wrote denouncing the Nazi government’s aggressions:
At the moment when Austrians were preparing to show the world their will for independence through a referendum, the German Empire invaded and annexed Austria by force. In my role as scion of a dynasty that has guided Austria’s greatness and prosperity for 650 years, speaking for the feelings of millions of Austrians—who have the purest and deepest love for their Fatherland—I declare the most stringent protest against the aggression by the Germans, to which Austria has fallen victim. . . In the name of the oppressed people of Austria I appeal to the conscience of all peoples for whom the words freedom, peace, and justice are not empty words. I encourage them to support the Austrian people in their determination to recover independence. (Demmerle, site p. #)
Rather instead it was the Archduke’s further provocation on the 29th March, 1938 in the Petit Parisien, in which he encourages Austrians from afar not to take the annexation without resistance, to which the Nazis respond on the 20th April, on the Fuehrer’s birthday, announcing the warrant for the Archduke’s arrest for “high treason” with, “Warrant for the Arrest of Otto von Habsburg; The Habsburgs’ degenerate offspring—a fugitive criminal”:
The Austrian Ministry of Justice has ordered the arrest of Otto von Habsburg on charges of high treason committed on the 29th March, 1938. Since Otto von Habsburg is out of the country, a warrant has been issued. The fact of high treason is thus: “Otto von Habsburg has encouraged foreign powers to attack the German Empire and the Country of Austria. . .
All this happened within the months surrounding Herbert Hinkel’s second received letter from the Archduke in 1938. The restoration of properties to the Habsburgs, mentioned in the Hinkel letter, is rescinded the following year by the leader of the German Empire’s government in Austria, Arthur Seyss-Inquart, who re-confiscates the properties, a law that has remained in effect to this day. At the end of March the Archduke already relieves all members of the monarchist movement, “The Iron Ring” of any loyalty to the cause of his restoration, because the Nazis begin arresting its members on the first day of the Anschluss. Among them are Otto von Habsburg’s cousins, Duke Max and Prince Ernst of Hohenberg, the sons of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Prince Ernst survived the war, but died as a direct result of the many years he spent in concentration camps, only somewhat more fortunate than some of the other high-profile monarchists in Otto von Habsburg’s inner-circle, among whom at least four were executed by the Nazis, including Baron Hans Karl Zessner-Spitzenberg, who is the first Austrian to die in a Nazi concentration camp in Dachau already on the 1st August, 1938, just nearly five months after the Anschluss. The upheaval caused by the annexation of Austria fundamentally changes the Archduke’s life and that of his dynasty forever, setting them on a course of pure survival until they are able to escape from Europe during the Nazi terror. Eventually the Archduke and most of his family take refuge in the United States and I had read that it was at the invitation of President Roosevelt, about which I was curious to ask him the day as we sat in his salon. Namely, we might have forgotten that one certain source of the demise of his family’s empire was the entry of the Americans into the First World War, when President Woodrow Wilson issued his 14 Points, of which Point 10 was a direct attack against the Habsburg Empire, “The peoples of Austria-Hungary, whose place among the nations we wish to see safeguarded and assured, should be accorded the freest opportunity to autonomous development.“ Therefore, I had long wondered how the Habsburgs had reconciled with the American government such that President Roosevelt would invite the Archduke to the United States to meet him, which I had never seen explained in text.
“Well I had been just before,” the Archduke says, reminding me that before he and his family settled in the United States for the war, he had been to America for reasons other than fleeing Europe, which is reported heavily in the New York Times with articles announcing, “Otto Obtains U.S. Visa: Archduke Is Expected to Fly Here From Lisbon This Week,” “Otto Denies Political Aims Here,” “Archduke Otto at Lisbon,” “A Habsburg Seeks His Fortune Here,” the last of which, on March 3, 1940, reports:
Few among all these hundreds of thousands of young men who have in these past 500 years crossed the Atlantic seeking to amend their shattered fortunes have seemed engaged on such a forlorn hope as Otto von Habsburg, known for the present as the Duke of Bar (his traveling alias).
The ancestors of this tall, thin youth sat on the great imperial throne of Austria when Columbus was setting out to that new continent to which he has now gone. Conquering and civilizing America must then have seemed an even more hopeless problem than does now to the Archduke’s followers the problem of how to restore independence to his country and put him back on his ancestral throne. Yet these young men who preceded him across the Atlantic did unbelievable things, and this uncrowned emperor’s supporters see no reason for being discouraged about what he and they can do.
“Yes, that visit was on the invitation of Roosevelt and that was the consequence of complete accident, let us say so. I was at that time in touch with two of the powerful resistance organizations at the time—namely the Church and the soldiers. And so I had been in contact with them quite a bit. And the leader of the Church (resistance) was a Jesuit priest called Father Monkelmann, and he was staying in Holland in an extraordinary monastery which was surrounded on three sides by German territory. . . and it is through this that I was informed through this church contact, that there is a very important document for me and they wanted to get it to me, and we should try to see how.”
“At that time I knew a Count of Limbourg-Stirum who had a hunting lodge just on the German border of Belgium, surrounded on three sides by the Germans, and at that time there were still no barbed wire, so through a rendezvous with that priest and myself and that person—whom I didn’t know—and in came a very young priest who later became very famous, who became Bishop of Regensburg . . . He brought to me a large document. Hitler had a meeting of the top leadership of his party where he explained to them exactly with dates his plans for attacks on different places.
“And I was back in Paris and I saw (U.S. Ambassador William C.) Bullitt and I showed it to him and he wired it to Roosevelt and that is how Roosevelt then sent to me the first invitation, because he wanted to speak to me, when suddenly everything that had then been said (in the documents) was now playing out.”
“I have never found out, and that of course I’ll probably never find it out anyhow, that is, who was it in the top Nazi echelon who gave this information to the church on exact what Hitler was doing.
“And so that was my first visit to the United States–I had returned from the United States just a few days before the German offensive had started in may nineteen hundred and forty. We knew approx when it would start and so I returned from us at that time.”
It still surprises me to recall that the invitation of the President was not the Archduke’s actual flight to freedom, rather just an exploratory journey, because when he returned to Europe, within weeks he was already fleeing with his family—and thousands of others—from the Nazi war machine pressing across the Continent beginning in May 1940. In fact, the Archduke is back from his American sojourn less than a week, when, celebrating the 48th birthday of his mother, the Empress Zita, at Hams Castle in Steenockerzeel, Belgium all the alarms of a German invasion are ringing. The Belgian Minister of Defense telephones the family to inform them of the danger and Prince Felix of Bourbon-Parma and Luxembourg, the Empress’s brother and husband of the Grand Duchess of Luxembourg, notifies the Archduke that the Nazis plan to kidnap the Grand Duchess upon arrival and that they have to evacuate immediately. Already early the next morning the Grand Ducal children, Otto’s cousins, are at his castle and the entire household flees just ahead of the Germans, who bomb the castle and destroy everything the Habsburgs have left to them in exile, including, one presumes, Herbert Hinkel’s first letters to the Archduke. Hitler’s occupational representative in Belgium, Rudolph Hess, who would later be tried for war crimes at Nuremberg, issues orders entitling German soldiers to “shoot to kill” Otto von Habsburg and his brothers, all of whom, nonetheless, evade the Nazis.
The Archduke continued, with his arms and his extremely long hands thrusting from his corporal theater, “You see the last time I had contact with the Americans in Europe was the day before Paris fell. It was an interesting evening. I was in Paris and Clare Booth Luce came through Paris en route to Switzerland and Clare Booth Luce was staying at the Ritz and I was in contact with her, and so she invited me to come dine with her at the Ritz on that evening. It was the last evening in Paris—it was one of the extraordinary moments. I had my brother Carl-Ludwig and it was that night that the government had already fled, when Paris was already half a dead city and half a fleeing city.” The Archduke says this, as he waves his arm slowly and gracefully through the room, as if he were guiding a paper airplane.
“And I had decided that I would not leave until I was sure that all my groups were safe, and that was a quite a big thing, but I decided it had to be done. It was one of the most incredible days of my life—evenings of my life—because also it was a beautiful day.”
“Oh, right, because this is in May or early June of 1940, so this must have been a spring day,” I add.
“A beautiful spring night. It was so extraordinary. You see Paris was already dead, approximately, when you passed through the, through the Place—“
“Vendôme,” I finish, as he pauses.
“Vendôme, before you get to the Ritz. You could hear the sound of your shoes on the walls, because there was nobody, but you had the whole time the lights of the guns, because Paris was surrounded on three sides. And we had that dinner; it was incredible, because incredible things happen. Clare and the American Ambassador, and one or two other persons were there, and we had that dinner in the court of the Ritz and their service was absolutely as it was before; the servants were all in their uniforms—it was something, you know—a picture of contradictions. It was a wonderful evening and that was my last contact with the Americans at that time.”
This leaves a deep impression on me, picturesque–the glow of bombardments reflecting off the buttery sandstone of the buildings on Vendôme, the tranquility of that plaza, deserted, in relief against the rage of the German war machine; the last moments of civilized life juxtaposed with the starburst arrival of the barbarians and their signatures, one above the other in the guest registry at the Ritz, now protected in a secret vault and inaccessible to “anyone,” I was told, by the manager of the Ritz, when I stayed there in 2008 and inquired about this. For the Archduke it could have been a very different scenario, perhaps, had he accepted the invitation of dinner to the Goehrings back in 1933 and therefore opened himself to a dialogue with Hitler—an unthinkable scenario for him, of course, but one that arose. And to what degree would civilization continue to fall with the Germans invading Paris? At that point in 1940 Germany already occupied Austria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland and now, apparently, France, too would fall, much to the Archduke’s surprise, who had used Paris as a relatively safe haven.
With that recollection, Otto countenances a shift in our relationship. He wants to tell me much more—I don’t even need to ask the questions. It is a beautiful September day over Lake Starnberg outside Munich, the house is quiet on what seems like a holiday and suddenly it is as if the Archduke relaxes entirely, decides that we have all the time we should like, and that we could really just sit there and chat freely.
He looks at me especially kindly, ponderingly, and says, “Well, I could tell you so many stories, they are all uninteresting, they are of the past, including some with super natural things, prophesy.” Then with mischief in his eye he says, “I tell it to you rapidly.” “A Long time before the war I was in Paris with my uncle Prince Sixte de Bourbon and with my uncle Felix. Prince Sixte was living in Paris and we were sitting there talking and he told us that there was a woman in Paris who was making the most extraordinary predictions and that when one was there, she was reading one’s future from the hands. My uncle Felix of Luxembourg hated such sort of performances, but my uncle Sixte, who had no cynical view of it, and knowing Felix wouldn’t like it, he just introduced it.”
“Well, we went to see that woman and then my uncle Sixte arranged that my uncle Felix was to be read upon at that time and at first, she said something which he considered as a grave insult, and that is, ‘Well you are a strange person because I can’t locate you: you are a man and you are a woman,’ because he was the husband of the Grand Duchess and he was basically in a woman’s job—so he already disliked it there. And she said, ‘You know you are going to have a very stormy period and one day I see you walking in a rose garden. And it is the day when your eldest son—in this case Jean, who was later the Grand Duc—is exactly up to the altitude of your shoulder and your wife is up in a house above with some people in dark clothes, and you are of one opinion and your wife is of one opinion. And there will be a discussion between you and wife and you will go down to the rose garden, because she throws you out from the place where she is with these people in dark clothes, and you go furiously back and forth, and then you decide yours and your people’s future, because if you stick to what you want, you and your family will be saved, if you don’t, you will all be lost.’”
“And that was years before, that was 1932 or 1933. I had forgotten completely and when then came this whole catastrophe in 1940 and there was this castle, La Monzie-Montestruc, at the side of Bordeaux, about 70 km from Bordeaux, and that was where the Luxembourg government was established (in exile), and I was—we were first in the center of France near Moulin at the place of my uncle Xavier. But then I was called by Georges Mandel to say that they would go by boat to Morocco to continue the resistance and that I should come, so, he was still Minister (of the Interior) at that time, but wasn’t by the time I arrived near Bordeaux. . . .
“I was circulating more than anything else around the area when we arrived the morning in Bordeaux and afterward went to the chateau–my mother was already there. Then the afternoon near sunset my uncle Felix was down in the garden. It’s a beautiful castle, with a rose garden, and he walks with my mother and then later I walk behind him, he’s going ahead, and suddenly, the only person who remembered, was my mother and in a calm voice she begins to repeat the words that had been said to him by the fortune teller, and that brought him to react, and so Luxembourg was saved through a curious and indirect way.”
Wrapt with his tale, and not wanting to miss a detail, I ask, “And so what was his perspective, what was Prince Felix’s decision? –because the Grand Duchess and he were to be of two opinions on something.”
“To return, you see the King of Belgium had capitulated and the Luxembourg government wanted to capitulate. The Grand Duchess was in agreement with them and my uncle was not,” he explains.
“Oh,” I exclaim, drawing it together, “So the government were the people in black suits around the Grand Duchess and your uncle was the one who put his foot down.” “Who then resisted, yes.” Satisfied with the weave of tales he has brandished me, he reflects, as I look at him, rather dazzled, and he concludes, “It’s a beautiful story—strange story, but such strange stories do happen, and especially in exceptional times.”
The journey with the Archduke just between the clandestine meeting at the Count of Limbourg-Stirum’s hunting lodge, to the flight from his castle in Belgium, to the Ritz, and through the Rose Garden was already quite thrilling, but a whole other portal would open when he reaches Bordeaux in his story, where I knew he would encounter the grandfather of a friend of mine in Los Angeles.
In American culture there are fundamentalist Christians who always seem to think we are in the “end times,” that the signs of descent into an irretrievable abyss prophesied in Revelations is at hand. The latest Great Recession, on-going wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the specter of radical Islamic terror, the prospect of the world going to war over a conflagration emanating from the Iranian nuclear threat directed at Israel, which would surely involve the United States, who would then require its allies in the United Nations to rally out our side—the signs of moral decay seen in senseless mass shootings, something almost routine in this country, the dissipation of the “American Dream” through the auspices of our “socialist” and “radical,” “left-wing” President (himself perhaps not even a Christian, but an Islamist!), according to the right-wing tea party propagandists (so many of whom are fundamentalist Christians), would all seem to assure such persons that the end is near, but we’ve seen incomparably worse moments in civilization and were there any brief moment in modern history, where Western Civilization, appeared on the precipice of complete disintegration, it would be the month of June 1940, and located precisely in Bordeaux, France. It is there that at least over one million refugees streaming from all around Europe, but most particularly from Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, and the rest of France were aiming to converge in an attempt to escape the continent ahead of the advancing Nazis. It is said that in the month of June perhaps as many as 8 million persons were in flight from the Nazi war machine through the south of France.
It is also in Bordeaux of 1940 that my story converges with the Archduke’s, as if divined by Providence, as if, when he said he had stories to tell me, “supernatural things,” the supernatural element was still (re-)creating the story, which would leave the page between us that day and create a new story, a story that reaches for myriad tangents crossing time, geography, and cultures—a complete sweep between Los Angeles, California, where I write, to 18th century France—and certainly beyond if one would let himself be taken down the rabbit hole of time and connections binding us all together, such that one scarcely knows where to begin, since the beginning of every story really exists infinitely, except that a pending sale at Christie’s auction house in Paris would have to be the point of departure, with its reference to Marcel Proust in the picture.
The sale is at the Palais Abbatial de Royaumont, a very fine late 18th century Neo-Palladian mansion next to the Abbey of Royaumont, which was founded by Saint Louis, the French King Louis XI. Designed by Louis Le Masson, a student of the legendary, Nicholas Ledoux, whose radical futuristic visions still inspire architecture students today, it makes clear reference to Palladio’s legendary Villa Capra “La Rotonda,” sitting there, bold, cubic, at the top of a great flight of steps, serene in its total Cartesian dominance of the manicured landscape far beyond it’s blond gravel surrounded base. It’s truly a French historical landmark, being one of the few châteaux in all the country that is so thoroughly neo-Classicist, rather like a temple and more in the manner of certain English precedents, such as Chiswick House, and certainly so clearly in the Roman tradition weaving up through Palladio. Since an auction of the house’s entire contents are the task of Christie’s, they spare no name in referencing all the personages even remotely associated with the place, including Tsar Paul I of Russia and King Gustavus III of Sweden, who visited Royaumont in the 18th century, but not the palace, itself, rather the monastery on the property as guests of the Abbot, Louis XVI’s own chaplain, who later had the palace completed for himself in the inauspicious year of the French Revolution, 1789. By 1923, the Baron and Baroness Fould-Springer purchase the residence from the industrialist family that has owned the entirety of the Royaumont properties since the beginning of the 20th century. Christie’s duly notes that a relative of the Baron Eugène Fould was the Minister of Finance under Napoleon III and that it was the Fould family, largely, who financed the construction of the Eiffel Tower, as evidenced by the stamp of that name on each main iron cast.
From here the historical research of Christies goes awry, if even in an almost irresistible and necessary way to place the palace in the most illustrious context of 19th and 20th century French culture, by naming Marcel Proust as a regular guest at Royaumont:
The Baron and Baroness Fould-Springer divide their time between their Parisian residence on Avenue d’Iéna and the Abbey Palace where they hold celebrations. Among the many guests are Marcel Proust as well as the couple’s nephew, Charles Ephrussi, founder of the Gazette des Beaux-Arts, who apparently is the source of inspiration for the writer’s character of Charles Swann in À la recherche du temps perdus [In Search of Lost Time].
Although M. Fould’s friendship with Marcel Proust is documented in a sheaf of letters donated to the City of Paris by his daughter, Baroness Elias (Liliane) de Rothschild, and although the Fould-Springers indeed entertained Proust at their Paris apartment in the company of the Baron’s kin, Charles Ephrussi, who, notably being 20 years older than the Baron, was not his nephew, but a cousin, they could not have entertained Messrs. Ephrussi and Proust at the Palais Abbatial since both distinguished gentlemen were dead by 1923. Moreover, although M. Ephrussi was a patron of Proust, as both a very rich man and the publisher of the Gazette des Beaux-Arts, which published some of Proust’s stories, and Ephrussi was exceptionally refined and erudite in his aesthetic discernments he is not considered to be the most likely candidate for the towering and mythic protagonist of Proust’s masterpiece, Charles Swann, at least according to the comte de Montesquiou, a famous dandy of belle époque Paris and genuinely the inspiration for the Baron de Charlus, who rejected this notion, although perhaps this came from a place of anti-semitic resentment toward M. Ephrussi, whose biography abounds with the trappings of Swann’s character, most familiar to us recently upon the pages of The Hare with Amber Eyes, whose author is also related to M. Ephrussi–and thereby Baron Fould-Springer. In any case, the stage is set for the sale: it concerns the possessions of people related to the most cultivated reaches of French culture at its very apotheosis surrounding the belle époque, the same people represented on the pages of Proust’s masterpiece, and therefore the most glittering people in modern France, which immediately gives every item for sale an almost mythic provenance, even nearly 100 years after the publication of In Search of Lost Time, even if this connection is based on a lie (because it’s simply not believable that the organizers of the auction were ignorant to the fact that Proust died the year before his friends acquired the Abbey Palace). Nonetheless, when I inquire with the contact for the auction, a young M. de Monceau, I point out that M. Proust has died before the Fould-Springers purchased the house, and he cryptically responds that Mssrs. Proust and Ephrussi were guests on hunting parties at Royaumont, an equally absurd notion since even if these two effete cosmopolites ever joined hunting parties, it certainly was not as guests of the Fould-Springers, who did not yet own the property and, anyway, M. de Monceau is unaware that I had already spoken with members of the family who quickly deny that Proust ever appeared at the Palais Abbatial–I was just curious how Christies would explain this, and that is, then, with another little lie. Moreover, Christies conveniently overlooks the fact that the Fould-Springer family freely joke about the origins of their baronial title, which takes us back to the Habsburg court of Otto von Habsburg’s godfather, the Emperor Franz Joseph. Somehow, M. Fould found himself in an audience with the Emperor, despite the fact that he had nothing near the 16 quarters of nobility for a proper court audience, although he was very rich and married to a very rich Austrian Jewess, Baroness Marie-Helène von Springer, which probably called for special imperial exceptions, since the couples’ families were so useful to the empire and, so the story in the family goes, while backing out of the audience the Emperor dismissed Eugène Fould with, “Auf Wiedersehen Baron Fould-Springer.” One can imagine the aged Emperor’s slight confusion, since this M. Fould, a Frenchman, was married to the daughter of an Austrian and Jewish baron, so forgetting exactly how this gentleman was to be addressed–and since every Jewish millionaire at that point had an aristocratic title–the Emperor settled on “baron,” after which M. Fould became publicly known as “Baron Fould-Springer.” Even M. Fould’s only son, Max, was known for the rest of his life, up through the 1990s, as “Baron Max.” Christie’s, too, clung to the title, as if to gild the lily, even if the family publicly joked about it, such as Liliane de Rothschild, M. Fould’s daughter, did to the Telegraph of London.
Of course the ironic twist to this swirl of historical connections leading us to Bordeaux in 1940 and an as-yet unborn story to emerge between the Archduke and me by way of this Palais Abbatial, is that much of it teeters on the fabrication familiar to us in in Hinkel’s letters, where things are nearly true, not exactly–not a lie as long as someone doesn’t question them–in any case, fanciful embellishments to the reality of history, but then things made manifest because the Habsburg Emperor says so, such as when Herbert Hinkel starts signing his letters in the 1950s, “Baron Hinkel von Muehlbauer” and Count Degenfeld merely replies in the name of the “Emperor” to the “Baron Hinkel von Muehlbauer.” Hinkel was a little more pro-active in acquiring his baronial title than the Fould-Springers, and the Empire was already dissolved, but he had it in writing by the Emperor-claimaint’s deputy nonetheless, which he could have as easily brandished his neighbors in Queens and Levittown as apparently the Fould-Springers did their guests for decades at the Palais Abbatial de Royaumont.
One fact emanting from the Christies sale in the year 2011, is true, however: the sale of the contents of this great house is the direct beneficiary of the actions of a son-in-law of Mr. and Mrs. Fould, Eduardo Propper de Callejon, who was First Minister at the Spanish Embassy in Paris. As the Germans invaded the Low Countries in May 1940 and advanced toward France Propper de Callejon had the astute idea to declare the Palais Abbatial de Royaumont his official residence and, therefore, Spanish sovereign territory in order to protect the premises and its art historical riches, which included several master works from the 14th to the 18th centuries, including a triptych by Van Eyck, who was among Hitler’s favorite artists. Additionally, Mr. Propper arranged for works from the Louvre to be deposited at the estate for safekeeping, which remained untouched throughout the war. Without Propper’s intervention, the Palais would certainly have been liquidated by the Nazis, because it was a Jewish property.
Around the 15th May, 1940, when the Archduke was enjoying the repast at the Ritz, millions of people were in flight toward the south of France, including nearly the entire French government. As with most of the diplomatic corps the Spanish ambassador and First Minister Propper de Callejon joined the exodus from Paris to re-group eventually near Bordeaux, where the Consul General there had abandoned his post. The flow of refugees from the north of France to the south likely constitutes the greatest exodus of refugees in human history. It is estimated that 8 million persons were either in vehicles or underfoot making their way south, including among them, the refugees flowing from the Low Countries, and a solid 25% of the entire population of France, and with them the French soldiers retreating from defeat at the northeastern fronts. Propper’s daughter, Elena, now living in London, describes the mass chaos extending from Paris to Bordeaux, “There were endless groups of people on the roads, trailing mattresses.” Peasants piled their horse-drawn carts high with everything a beast and cart could carry. People stacked their cars with every conceivable object with which they could make haste, pots and pans were tied to radiator grilles, the front fenders and running boards of cars were further used to stack what was left of their homes–photos of the day make these heaps look like depressed traveling gypsy circuses, and in this motley chaos, nearly 100,000 children were permanently separated from their families–to become orphans through and after the war –and 100,000 persons perished along the routes leading to the South of France, victims in plain air of the German Luftwaffe. Film footage from that time and artists’ illustrations depict mass traffic jams, interminable lines of people on foot, and tens of thousands of people converging at the points of entry into Bordeaux, a city whose highest population numbered 270,000 inhabitants in 1921 but suddenly swelled, within the period of one month, to numbers in excess of 1.5 million persons, perhaps even more—something that can not be verified since civic life at that time was crumbling in almost every way. (Bertrand Favreau, Bordeaux Juin ‘40, au jour le jour, p. 1)
In Bordeaux the government and political elite reassembled in hotels and private houses—wherever they could find lodging—throughout the city and already at play was the tension not only of the Nazi war machine bearing down upon the populace with each day, not merely the scarcity of food, petrol, and other vital resources for the bursting number of refugees, French and otherwise, but also the fraying political consensus, whereby many politicians revealed themselves to be defeatists for the French cause and eventual Nazi collaborateurs, such as Pierre Laval, who became Foreign Minister on the 9th June by decree of the collaborationist Marshal Petain. Laval quickly allied himself with the Mayor of Bordeaux, himself sympathetic to a potential collaboration with the Nazis, and had the former Queen of Portugal ejected from her suite at the Hotel Splendide so he could move in. Paul Reynaud, who was Prime Minister as the Germans invaded, and who resisted every offer to admit defeat to the Germans, installed his mistress, Countess Hélène de Pourtales, in the same hotel, and so spent much of his time there as well. Laval would become the first Prime Minister of Vichy France and Reynaud would be arrested and sent to Buchenwald. On one occasion General de Gaulle, who was otherwise not yet a political figure at that point in France, but who would be Under Minister of Defence for approximately 11 days, touched down in Bordeaux, and encountering Marshal Petain at the Hotel Splendide, greeted him and extended his hand, only to have it shaken by the Marshal without a word spoken. The next day, the 17th June, De Gaulle fled to England with other officers rebelling against Petain’s forming government, where they would establish the Free French Army. Another notable figure, Georges Mandel, who had advocated as early as the start of the War in 1939 an offensive position against Germany, and who had become Minister of the Interior for about one month, was at the Hotel Splendide also on the 17th June when he was arrested while eating lunch by a colonel associated with the emerging Vichy government. Mr. Mandel asked that he be allowed to finish his meal before being taken away, but the request was denied. (p. 151 Brook-Shepherd) Mandel had been offered a mode of escape by the British government on the same plane as De Gaulle, but remarked, “"You fear for me because I am a Jew. Well, it is just because I am a Jew that I will not go tomorrow; it would look as though I were afraid, as if I were running away." Upon his arrest he managed to slip a message to his secretary warning Archduke Otto to abandon France as soon as possible. The Archduke recalled to biographers:
This last day in Bordeaux—the last day of Reynaud’s government and the first day of Petain’s—regrettably showed me that the French regime was entirely lazy: in the face of the advancing enemy this outbreak of repelling cowardice; it makes one’s stomach turn. I only met one single real man of character: Georges Mandel. . . When the Pétain Regime had him arrested it was, in fact, at the same hour I was supposed to have had a rendez-vous with him.
The Archduke had been spending his time in the dining room of the finest restaurant in Bordeaux, which stands there to this day, with its grotto-like setting, “Le Chapon Fin,” where all the political elite, from both sides of the French divide, gathered, no matter in what quarters they were staying across town, with the exception of the aging Marshal Petain and General de Gaulle, who was only in Bordeaux for a 24-hour period. The emerging Resistance gathered at the table of Paul Reynaud and Georges Mandel and the emerging Collaborateurs dined at the table of Pierre Laval and the Mayor of Bordeaux, Andre Marquet. The 27 year old Claimant to the thrones of Austria and Hungary met and spoke with everyone at that time, having a somewhat neutral identity, including with Pierre Laval, who was unaware of the Archduke’s anti-Nazi position and revealed to the Archduke his “vision” for a French-German alliance, since both Laval and Petain had rejected the offer by Churchill for a French-British alliance as a losing proposition. Having been warned by Georges Mandel, who was arrested, then escaped to French Morroco, where he was re-arrested and eventually executed by the Vichy government, Otto von Habsburg’s days in Bordeaux were tightly numbered, especially once the Wiesbadenerliste was revealed, as he tells me in the drawing room, “You see at that time when I was in Bordeaux . . . there was a list that was circulated, because when the Vichy government was established, they sent a mission to Wiesbaden for the negotiations, and one of the first demands by the Germans was the condition that 76 persons be delivered to (them) immediately. I was amongst these 76 persons.” However, across France the Archduke had been in touch with refugee groups streaming out of the Czech Republic and Austria.
As he explains to me, “(Before the invasion) I was convinced of the opinion that the Germans could not win against the French, but the French were just weaker than I knew, which is reasonable, but I didn’t see it at the time, after all they had been bled white by the First World War, and that brought the collapse of France, but anyhow . . . I thought the French would hold. Nonetheless for security reasons I had several talks with Daladier when he was Prime Minister about the subject, and that is when he had arranged for the creation of three zones of security: one zone for the Poles, the other for the Czechs, and there was a zone for the Austrians, and in these zones people could rally, find some lodging, find some help, where we could establish the organizations in case France, which I could never believe would come, that the French would collapse. And then of course, it started functioning when the French situation became bad, and you know the French were, very—well, some of them were very awful—but some others were very generous.”
With these camps established around Bordeaux and with thousands of refugees stranded but with the hope of escaping through Spain and out the Port of Lisbon, the Archduke resists an offer from Georges Mandel to join a large number of French politicians on a boat to French Morocco in order to stay and help with the safe exit of especially Austrian refugees. The maelstrom of persons seeking travel papers and visas is complicated with a whole colony of Austrian Socialists and Communists who had gone to Spain during the Civil War there, but who were driven out by Francisco Franco and have since taken refuge in Southern France, but for whom the Archduke wants also to procure a path of exit, nonetheless.
The most colorful and valiant figure in this impending doom, at least as known to us until recently, is the Portuguese Consul General, Aristides de Sousa Mendes do Amaral Abranches, who understands in the moment that the power of his stamp might be the only hope for freedom and survival that these refugees can find, especially considering that in mid-June it is merely a matter of days away that the Germans would arrive and the remaining French politicians are coalescing into a proto-fascist government. Otto von Habsburg describes Sousa Mendes’s role in this apocalypse:
The Portuguese Consul-General was a real hero, who gave vital help not just to us but to the several thousands of Austrians who were concentrated nearby in the area of Lectoure. He was under orders from Lisbon to issue as few visas as possible and to refuse them entirely to certain categories of refugees, including Jews. He simply defied his instructions and went ahead non-stop! (Brook-Shepherd p. 149)
Sousa Mendes was the father of fourteen children and owned a Ford station wagon which he had extended in length in order to ferry the entire family about at once, which he also used to go into the streets in and around Bordeaux issuing visas to those refugees most desperate to escape, which was in flagrant violation of Portugal’s policy not to issue visas to “foreigners of indefinite or contested nationality; the stateless; or Jews expelled from their countries of origin.” (Wikipedia Sousa Mendes) The same stated policy was in place by Great Britain, the United States, and Spain (verify). Nonetheless, as the Germans come closer to Bordeaux, Sousa Mendes redoubles his efforts to issue as many visas as possible by forming an assembly line using his wife, two of his sons, a Belgian rabbi, and two refugees to stamp with abandon. The Archduke and his entourage of Habsburgs, members of the Court-in-Exile, the children of the Grand Duchess of Luxembourg, and others numbering up to 20 persons need these visas, which, due to the obvious visability of the party—and the fact that Otto’s maternal grandmother was born a Princess of Portugal–they manage to obtain. The Archduke begins working with Consul-General Sousa Mendes further to acquire visas for the numbers of Austrian refugees in his orbit, stating for his biographers,
Hundreds of thousands were being pressed into an ever narrowing space, among whom was a great number of refugees from Hitler’s Reich. The French administration was for the most part collapsed . . . Only those with proof in hand of being admitted to other countries could leave France, which was a sheer impossibility amid the reigning chaos. I, myself, had foremost to consider the
problem of the fleeing Austrians, of whom we had in the tens of thousands. People were terrified and discouraged. Their chances of survival were slim; one no longer counted in days, but hours. (Demmerle, site page)
Another complication for the refugees lay in the fact that even if they were fortunate enough to connect with anyone connected to the Archduke or to Consul-General Sousa Mendes, they would need a transit visa to cross Spain in order to enter Portugal. Spanish First Minister in France Eduardo Propper de Callejon’s son, Felipe, recalls the attentions of the Spanish diplomatic corps up to that point being elsewhere, “The French asked the Spanish ambassador, José Félix de Lequerica — my father’s boss — to bring about a ceasefire between the French and German armies. He was asked because Spain was neutral and because de Lequerica had brought Marshal Pétain, the future head of the Vichy government, from Spain, where he had been France’s ambassador, to Bordeaux. While de Lequerica was doing this, he asked my father to take care of other embassy business.”
Meanwhile, in Bordeaux the Spanish Consul-General there had fled with his family and the chief of police telephones Eduardo Propper de Callejon to apprise him of near riot conditions at the consulate, because refugees are bereft and with no one to help them. Felipe recalls, “De Lequerica asked my father to use his judgment, but to keep him informed every night. So my father went to the consulate, opened the doors and sat at a table. He rolled up his shirtsleeves and began attending to people. But then he was told that he could not give visas to anyone without the prior approval of the Madrid authorities.” Which essentially were the same orders issued to Sousa Mendes from Lisbon.
“My father knew there was no time to do this. He consulted de Lequerica and told him, ‘We have to do the same as the Portuguese Consul and issue special visas.’ He began to sign thousands; at one point, my mother and aunt Liliane went to give him food and found him stamping visas with both hands.”
Both Felipe Propper and his sister, Elena, have memories of their mother applying cold compresses to their father’s hands through the frantic process, which includes giving visas to the Imperial Family and thousands of Jews and there was no particular order to this–his diaries demonstrate no ideological conviction or preference in issuing these visas, since even though most of his family were Jewish–his own father had been Jewish–the lives of everyone approaching him were at risk. When the Habsburgs reach the border, they find a Spanish military guard posted there on orders of Mr. Propper de Callejon to convey them to the next train bound for Lisbon.
Just before I had arrived in Poecking, Germany to sit there with the Archduke in his salon on a very fine day, the first week of September, I had been reading very late into the night—it must have been 3 a.m.—the nearly 600 page biography of Otto von Habsburg by Eva Demmerle and Stefan Baier and it was about the events surrounding Bordeaux in June 1940 about which I read, for the second time, when this name “Propper de Callejon” struck me in a way it had not previously. Earlier that year I had been to the shot-gun wedding of my best friends, Benjamin Duke and Tatyana Yassukovich, at one of those wedding chapels in Las Vegas. Our friend Joe Quintero and I were best men, and of the other three guests, there was Ben’s nearly lifelong friend, Philip Propper. Later Ben regaled me with stories of Philip’s cosmopolitan upbringing on Park Avenue in New York, which Philip was eager to disguise, adding that “Phil”, whom I would quickly get to know over the following months, had a second, Spanish surname. . . de C. (de something—I could never remember what the C. was). The next morning I telephoned Phil, because at this point we were friendly, and I mentioned to him that I had read this passage about the Archduke that included the name of an Eduardo Propper de Callejon and I wondered whether this man was of any relation to him. Stunned and almost speechless, Phil said that yes, it was his grandfather, and he wondered how on earth I had chanced upon this information. After explaining that I was planning to meet with the Archduke in a matter of just a week or so, he asked that I telephone his father in New York, Felipe, to tell him the story. Felipe, the son of Eduardo Propper de Callejon, was floored because, it turned out, he had mounted a campaign since ten years to have his father recognized for his humanitarian actions in Bordeaux in June 1940, especially concerning the lives of the Jews the diplomat had saved by issuing those visas, for which he paid dearly by the fascist Spanish government, who ensured that he never advance further in his career. I said to Felipe that I would be meeting with the Archduke on the 5th September and that even though he was already 91 years old, he had a remarkable memory, and that I could mention this connection to him to see what he recalled.
“Ahhh, the Portuguese, you mean?” The Archduke responds to my query. “The Portuguese was a hero!” Sousa de Mendes was heretofore the only acknowledged hero emerging from Bordeaux and one remembered very fondly by the Archduke in a number of published recollections from those June moments. I explain, “No, the Spanish diplomat, Propper de-“ “Ahhhh!” He interrupted, “Propper y Callejon!” “He was very helpful, because he helped at the border—especially with the authorities on the other side.” But, he added, with a wave of the hand, “He was backed by Franco.” I countered, “From my understanding he did this against the wishes of the Spanish government and against Spanish foreign policy.” The Archduke frowns at me in disbelief, “Well, I will tell you, I had arranged it with Franco—officially it was not the wish (of the Spanish government)—but on the part of Franco it was; on the part of the cabinet members it was not, who were from the Falangists, who were therefore undesirable (of allowing Jews into the country), but let us say through Franco I had obtained this. You see, it was a fact that is very little known, but Franco was a Jew, although he was baptized beyond recognition, but his family for six centuries before were one of those Jews in Spain.”
I was unprepared for the Archduke’s detour back to the late Middle Ages and the origins of the Inquisition to shed light upon the likelihood of Franco’s Jewish origins several hundred years hence, but he is probably correct in his assessment of Franco’s family history, since Franco’s last name originally meant “Free of Tax,” which was a status granted to a number of Jews before their exodus in 1492. Nonetheless, he was probably incorrect in assuming that Franco therefore had any special sympathy toward the Jewish refugees and despite Franco’s personal assurances to the Archduke on this account, these only came after the Imperial Family arrived in Madrid for a meeting with the dictator and, therefore, after the fact Eduardo Propper de Callejon had issued the visas against State orders, which I pointed out to him.
Mr. Propper was a significant figure in guiding the Habsburgs through the border of France into Spain, from where they would continue to Lisbon and then to exile in the United States, an act of goodness which the Archduke would publicly acknowledge 66 years later as a result of the conversation I was enjoying with him on that September day in 2005. From Spain the Archduke and his family would continue fleeing to Lisbon, where they were among the very few privileged persons–36 per day–to board the luxurious Pan-Am Clipper to New York. Given their otherwise modest way of life and limited resources, it is unclear how the Habsburgs financed this transport, but in such a dire moment, one can assume various of their royal relations or rich and aristocratic supporters came to their aid. Although while in America the thrones of his ancestors would slip from Habsburg grip forever, the Archduke would not do it without a fight from within the White House itself, and there he would discover another window to a post-royal era.
MARKETS FOR THE BOOK
In Habsburgum should attract an intelligent literary general interest audience where the memoir aspect of the book is concerned. Where the biographical aspect of the Archduke is concerned, it is certain to attract an audience eager for more European history and for more royal history. Since the life of the Archduke touches upon both the First and Second World Wars, it will attract the audiences drawn to these enduringly hot topics. As previously mentioned, the centenary of the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand will have re-stimulated interest in both the First World War and the Habsburg dimension of that event. Not to be underestimated is the international potential for Jewish audiences for two reasons: a large proportion of the Sephardic Jewish diaspora are originally from the Austro-Hungarian Empire—it was very much their “home” before the catastrophe of the Second World War and they were always regarded as the Habsburgs’ most loyal subjects. The movie Sunshine, with Ralph Fiennes, and the recent book The Hare with Amber Eyes, bear that out. The second reason is that events in the life of the Archduke at Bordeaux, 1940, place us directly in the same path as the Jewish exodus ahead of the Nazis and leads us to the Yad Vashem in 2007, when my friend’s grandfather was honored as a Righteous Person Among the Nations due to the Archduke’s testimony, as a result of a connection I facilitated. My connections with the Director of the Holocaust Memorial Authority, Ms. Irena Steinfeldt, are sure, therefore, to open avenues to Jewish audiences around the world.
The online presence of monarchist groups provides a wide swath of potential readers; they are so proliferate that they are almost like rabbit holes leading one to the next. I have already begun establishing ties to the webmasters of some of them and a presence on their blogs.
The British and European markets for this book hold great promise, so the ideal publisher is Anglo-American. Most educated European readers are at ease with English-language books, obviously, and they are also more interested in history; the inside American perspective on a European royal and on European history / culture here is bound to be particularly alluring to the British and Europeans.
The Austrian presence in the United States may not seem evident to most, but it is strong, due to the cultural agenda of the Austrian government at its embassies in Canada and the United States and also its consulates, in addition, most notably to the Austrian Cultural Forum here in New York. I am already in close contact with the consulates in Los Angeles, Toronto, and New York. The embassy in Washington has promoted the related film, FELIX AUSTRIA!, on its website.
Lastly, the most focused audience will come from the popularity of FELIX AUSTRIA!, which is on the festival circuit and promises, by the publication of this book, to have been released in Canada (where we are in talks now with a distributor), the U.S., and possibly Europe. Granted, the reach of FELIX AUSTRIA! will be limited to a rarified art film audience, where it has the potential to establish itself as a quirky and delightful film even among esoteric art house documentaries, such as it already has done at the Hot Docs world premiere in Toronto. With the film comes the obvious platform of its built-in internet presence on its own website—with blog and twitter—You Tube, etc. Through the film I have access to social media “gurus” who are capable of making the book’s presence on the internet sky rocket.
Three recent books, critically acclaimed and commercially successful, bode well for the entry of In Habsburgum onto the market where things fin-de-siècle and Habsburg are concerned: The Hare with Amber Eyes, The Lady in Gold, and The Red Prince.
The Hare with Amber Eyes (Farar Straus and Giroux, 2010)
Edmund de Waal’s dazzling account of the inheritance of a collection of netsuke figurines in The Hare is a remarkably close companion to In Habsburgum—and ally, really. It is the inheritance of these wood and ivory works of art that prompts De Waal, like Pfeifle, to take a life journey to understand every layer of their meandering path through his family, taking him from Proustian Paris, over to fin-de-siècle Vienna, through the Anschluss and the figurines’ postwar flight back to Japan, whence they came in the first place. The book is at once a memoir of De Waal’s journey of discovery as well as a biography of his culturally influential and once vastly rich family. Additionally, The Hare provides rich insight to the culture and history of fin-de-siècle café society, largely Jewish, both in Paris and Vienna. Although De Waal, in his highly literary and intelligent style, eschews clichés at every turn, The Hare, at its core, is a Jewish and Central European epic journey—mostly of loss. In Habsburgum is certain to capture the same readers as The Hare, with its comparable literary tone, the almost Sebaldian paths of discovery, and the cross-currents of fin-de-siècle aesthetics, but diverging onto the Habsburg odyssey of the 20th and 21st centuries through the lense of an American and his American inheritance. Readers of The Hare will want to continue the journey on another track in In Habsburgum.
The Lady in Gold (Knopf, 2010)
This book by Anne-Marie O’Connor, a journalist, tells the story of how a 95 year old Jewish woman in Los Angeles waged a battle against the Austrian government to regain paintings by Gustav Klimt that were stolen by the Nazis from her family after the Anschluss—and she won. The book has been quite popular and In Habsburgum would likely attract Lady in Gold’s readers who want to read more about the fin-de-siècle and yet another dimension of that world, the Habsburg dimension, of which they’re obviously already curious, with its similar tales of loss of fortune, escape, and exile—not to mention the Jewish aspect captured through the events in Bordeaux, 1940, leading to the Yad Vashem in 2007.
The Red Prince (Basic Books, 2010)
The recent success of the biography The Red Prince specifically about the adventures of a svengali archduke, Wilhelm von Habsburg, already serves to put the Habsburgs back on readers’ radars. Here author Timothy Snyder raises a completely obscure Habsburg from a somewhat remote branch of the Dynasty for reflection, giving relevance to Wilhelm’s efforts to secure a place for his family–or at least himself–in the destiny of Central Europe, especially in Poland and the Ukraine, surrounding the collapse of the Monarchy and up through the end of the Second World War. In some regards Archduke Wilhelm is like an amalgam of Archduke Otto and Herbert Hinkel and the book certainly will serve to show the path for the same readers to In Habsburgum, where they will further discover the adventurous evolution of the imperial epilogue, but with the central figure of the Dynasty, himself, who was engaged in more central historical struggles, such as saving Austria from the Nazis and rebuilding Europe through its unification.
Other notable books in the last ten years about the Habsburgs and Otto von Habsburg, in particular, include:
The Habsburgs: Embodying Empire (Viking Books, 1995, 1996, 1997, 2004)
The last successful English-written book about the Habsburgs, in general, is the acclaimed The Habsburgs; Embodying Empire, by Andrew Wheatcroft, first published in 1995. The book is unique for a broad, not specifically academic readership in establishing the centuries’ long imperial agenda of the Habsburgs and their manipulation of artistic symbolism to generate propaganda to support their mission, which is touched upon in In Habsburgum in order to validate the overwhelming gravitas of the inheritance of Otto von Habsburg, only, strangely, Wheatcroft misses what would have been the coup de grâce of his book: how, precisely, the Habsburgs were doing this right till the end of the monarchy through the aegis of Jugendstil artists (he shows none of the abundant imagery to demonstrate this) and how Otto von Habsburg has so clearly continued this mission even after the dissolution of the monarchy and into the 21st century, although Wheatcroft does touch on it lightly in his chapter, “Epilogue.” In reality, In Habsburgum is the epilogue he needed for his book. Also notable about this book is that, despite its success, it seems to miss audiences in two directions: it is rather light reading for scholars of the subject but a bit opaque for the general, even well-educated reader. In Habsburgum, while scholarly at turns, bridges this gap by ultimately providing a personal story.
Uncrowned Emperor: The Life and Times of Otto von Habsburg (Hambledon and London, 2003, 2007)
This is the only English-language biography of the Archduke, which has sold decently in two editions, but has not been critically acclaimed. It is written by Gordon Brook-Shepherd, originally a journalist who came to write several books about Austria and the Habsburgs. His books are all very light intellectually and easy to read. This is a standard biography that unfortunately lacks any particular angle, literary or historical, to make it memorable. Additionally, it’s fairly riddled with historical inaccuracies which made it unattractive to the Archduke, in particular, who gave me his own copy of the biography sent to him and inscribed by the author—the same year it was released in 2003. Reader reviews on Amazon demonstrate a desire to see another biography of Otto von Habsburg in English.
The Danubium – book, 2014.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Felix graduated from the University of California Berkeley, where Humanities study allowed him to focus on the culture and history of the fin-de-siècle Austro-Hungarian Empire, which encompassed the opposed forces of the traditionalist Habsburg court and emerging avant-garde Modernism in the realms of art, architecture, literature, music, and philosophy. In 1992 Felix was the recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship for study at the University of Vienna, where he focused on the works and theory of Austrian architect Adolf Loos. In 1998 received an M.S. in Interior Architecture from Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY.
Trained as an architect and while balancing his own inter-disciplinary design firm, Office of Cultural Design, Felix embarked upon the journey that would become the recently premiered documentary film, FELIX AUSTRIA!, of which he is the protagonist, in addition to being the art director and a silent producer. He lives in New York City and Los Angeles.
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