Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 15. Nr. August 2004

5.9. Austrian Writers and the Unifying Aspects of Cultures
HerausgeberInnen | Editors | Éditeurs: Donald G. Daviau (Riverside)

Buch: Das Verbindende der Kulturen | Book: The Unifying Aspects of Cultures | Livre: Les points communs des cultures

Hermann Bahr and Cultural Border Crossings

Donald G. Daviau (Riverside)


It is well known today that the European Union strongly emphasizes the major role of culture in the endeavor to unify European and Central European nations. UNESCO has for two years been preparing a large volume of essays under the title "Das Verbindende der Kulturen," as a concrete step in demonstrating the variety of ways in which culture contributes to fulfilling the aims of European unity. The European Council joins these organizations in publicizing the idea of cultural diversity in unity. Slow as they have been in coming, these are all positive steps to be welcomed. If, however, the leaders of the EU had been better informed about literary history, they could have speeded up their cultural goals and would not have had to reinvent the wheel, so to speak, for the entire program, which they have so slowly and hesitantly developed over several years, had already been anticipated, organized and implemented more than a hundred years earlier. This early advocate of the benefits of transnationalism and multiculturalism was the Austrian author Hermann Bahr (1863-1934), who made supranationalism and the importance of culture for bringing about mutual understanding between nations and peoples a basic feature of his program of modernity, which he introduced in 1889 and devoted his life to implementing and publicizing with incredible success. In the following I wish to outline his ambitious program and the significant contributions of this forgotten cultural and political pioneer, whose ideas, once considered too advanced for the world, now belong to the mainstream of European thinking.

Bahr began his career in politics and was being groomed both by Viktor Adler and Engelbert Pernerstorfer for a seat in Parliament as soon as he reached the required age of thirty.(1) However, during 1889, the year he spent in Paris exposed to European culture, he conceived the idea that in fact literature and the fine arts were more important than politics to the life of a nation and its people: "In Paris bin ich erst für die Kunst erwacht. Für die Kunst an sich. Kunst als Weihe. Kunst als Sinn und Gehalt des Lebens. Und auch gewissermaßen as Ersatz der Religion."(2)

The time spent abroad also had a second major influence, for his travels over the years to Germany, France, Spain, North Africa, Italy, England, Russia, Yugoslavia (Dalmatia) and Greece expanded his horizons and turned him into what he termed an "Austropäer," a dedicated Austrian who envisioned his country as an integral part of a United States of Europe. Impelled by his ambitious idealistic desire to help develop a new humanity and animated by his discovery of the importance of culture, Bahr conceived a comprehensive program under the heading "Die Moderne" for the purpose of creating a culture in Austria. By this he meant a culture which was not just superficial adornment and decoration, but one that played an essential role in the life of every person as a lifestyle. There should no longer exist a separation between art and life. The arts should be meaningful to one's life in the sense that the environment, home, furnishings and utensils should all be integrated, harmonious and beautiful. The idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk, devised by Richard Wagner for his operas and taken over by director Max Reinhardt, among others, for the theater, Bahr now applied to the other arts as well. For example, he adopted the idea of blending arts and crafts, advocated by the English artist William Morris, but one example of how he freely borrowed ideas from other countries to raise the level of culture in Austria to European standards.

In addition to his many cultural discoveries in Paris, which Bahr hastened to publicize in Austria and Germany, another basic formative experience in his life during his year in Paris was his discovery of the pronounced national feeling of the French, based on their common pride in their tradition. In his view, this shared perception of nation endowed all French citizens with a sense of security and freedom, in which each individual could develop his or her own personality. Bahr missed this unifying feeling in Austria entirely, and it became part of his program of modernity to create this sense of national unity through the development of a meaningful common culture: "Und ich, wieder von Östreichs elend sprechend, zeige daran, wie wir füreinander völlig zu Barbaren geworden sind, die einer des anderen Sprache nicht mehr verstehen. Es fehlt jede Verbindung zwischen den einzelnen Gruppen der Bildung, welcher Zusammenhang allein es doch ist, der Cultur ausmacht -- wir haben extreme Bildung einiger weniger und extreme Verkommenheit."(3) To carry out his cultural program, Bahr, the publicist extraordinaire, beginning in 1889, unleashed into the German-speaking world a steady stream of articles in newspapers, journals and books, heralding all of the newest literary and artistic trends and tendencies occurring in other countries. In 1894 he founded his own newspaper Die Zeit in Vienna, together with Isidor Singer and Heinrich Kanner, so that he would have a forum for his program without the interference of outside editorial control Through his travels, experiences and personal contacts, which no other Austrian writer of his time could emulate, he could confidently and authoritatively inform his readers about the necessity for modernizing literature, art, music, theater, dance and acting and also present the models of the ways to accomplish these changes on the basis of contemporary European and Scandinavian precedents. He wanted and accomplished nothing less than a Nietzschean "Umwertung aller Werte," and as a result his contribution to helping usher Austria from the 19th into the 20th century cannot be overestimated. He thought and worked in terms of a European perspective and helped motivate and guide Austrian writers and artists in every field to elevate the quality of their respective arts, so that Austria, which at that time was still considered "Halbasien," could rank with the best of European nations and take its place within the European framework. Austria within the framework of a united Europe served as his vision and as the motivation for all of his endeavors throughout his life.

Having learned in 1887 from the German Foreign Minister in Berlin of Austria's greater importance to Germany as a separate entity, preserving its uniqueness,(4) Bahr became an early believer in an autonomous Austria, independent of Germany. He also expanded on this basic idea and always championed the importance of maintaining the difference and diversity of all nations and peoples, while at the same time sharing artistic and intellectual achievements, exactly the program of diversity within unity promoted by the EU. To convey this central point in his conception of transnational relationships and European unity, Bahr conceived the metaphor of nations as flowers forming a bouquet:

Da geschieht es einem auch, daß, bei bester Auswahl schönster Blumen und ihrer Vereinigung, doch zur vollen Wirkung etwas zu fehlen scheint, bis irgend eine verächtliche, geringe Blume, die wir sonst gar nicht achten, indem sie ihre geringe Farbe hinzufügt, das Ganze erst zur Vollendung bringt. Um jedem gerecht zu werden, dürfen wir ihn nicht für sich ansehen, sondern müssen die ganze Nation als einen Garten und uns dann fragen, ob er darin fehlen würde.(5)

Bahr also applied this same principle to individuals within a nation in his effort to persuade Austrians to overcome the hostility between Vienna and the provinces, for "in kräftigen Nationen jeder den anderen zu brauchen fühlt, auch den Gegner."(6) He also invited the assistance of the provincial writers Peter Rosegger (Steiermark) and Hugo Greinz (Tyrol) among others to run a series in Die Zeit in 1897 under the heading "Die Entdeckung der Provinz" as further support of his efforts to create unity in Austria. Finally, he applied this idea to Austria and the countries of the Monarchy, which he felt were not respected or treated fairly by the government. His attention to the Eastern lands and territories, criticizing the Austrian government's neglect of them, distinguishes him as one of the few who showed such concern at that time:

...als guter Europäer hielt ich darauf, den Wienern nicht bloß die Kenntnis norwegischer oder dänischer, portugiesischer oder indischer Dichter und Denker, sondern auch unserer böhmischen, polnischen und kroatischen Brüder zu vermitteln. Ja, solche Vermittlung, geistige Verbindung, womöglich Vermählung schien mit recht eigentlich der Beruf der österreichischen Deutschen.(7)

Bahr's program of modernity developed gradually in clear stages between 1889 and 1906, always with the basic goal of developing a meaningful culture in Austria, as can be seen in the following brief overview:

  1. The introduction of the idea of modernity as a lifestyle, based on the idea that one must be prepared to develop constantly to stay abreast of the continuously evolving world. To remain modern means to adopt relative in the place of absolute values and, like an Impressionist, to rely on the senses rather than reason for the perception of the constantly changing outer reality.
  2. The acceptance of modernity means to overcome the separation of art and life. Culture must become a meaningful component of the existence of individuals and play a central role in the life of the nation, such as he believed to see in Greece in the age of Pericles.
  3. To raise the cultural level and achieve the higher niveau that he sought, Austria needed the contributions of all its gifted people in all artistic fields. Hence the many "discoveries" he made of new talent at all levels of ability and his willingness to help and encourage young artists.
  4. His publicizing of the leading figures in the arts from other nations to serve as models and to make Austria more receptive to the thinking and achievements of the outside world, including the developments in the Eastern countries of the monarchy.
  5. Under the influence of Emile Zola Bahr works to overthrow Berlin Naturalism by introducing French literary Decadence into Germany and Austria, leading to the new literary style, a synthesis featuring free will, psychology and emphasis on the senses instead of determinism. Maurice Maeterlinck is held up as the model of the new style.
  6. Bahr's attempt through his journalistic writings to educate the public to awareness and understanding of the new developments in the arts
  7. The campaign he mounted to fight against anti-Semitism, which he called the narcotic of the masses.
  8. The effort to combat every form of censorship.
  9. Bahr's support of Max Burckhard, Director of the Burgtheater in the 1890s, not only by advising him on the introduction of a modern repertoire as well as of a new style of acting, but also by informing the public of these innovations to pave the way for their acceptance.
  10. Bahr's encouragement of the Secession and again his publicity to prepare the public for the new style.
  11. His support of the journal Ver Sacrum by serving on the editorial board and by his contributions.
  12. His support of the Wiener Werkstätte, which carried out his recommendation to blend arts and crafts.
  13. His public defense of Gustav Klimt, who had come under severe attack in 1901 over his ceiling paintings for the University of Vienna.
  14. His public defense of Gustav Mahler, director of the Vienna opera, who had also come under attack.
  15. Bahr's mediation of the ideas of the architect Josef Olbrich to gain understanding for his design for the Secession building and his plans to build an artist colony in Darmstadt under the patronage of the Grand Duke of Hessia.
  16. His insistence that Austrian literature and art were indigenous and autonomous and not a subcategory of German arts. He believed that the "Vienna novel" was a distinct genre.
  17. The encouragement of reciprocal relationships between writers and artists in Austria and those in Europe, in order to integrate Austria into what he hoped would one day be a United States of Europe.
  18. Bahr's efforts to create a sense of unity within Austria and develop reciprocal relationships with other nations.

An essential aspect of Bahr's concept of modernity was to encourage Austrians to cease role playing, to overcome their fear of revealing their true selves in public and their flight from life in general, by becoming "real" people (wirkliche Menschen). In his view, a real person was one who was independent-minded and was not led by the crowd or intimidated by outside authority. In his view, to call someone a Mensch was the highest accolade one could bestow. Such individuals were intent on developing themselves to the maximum of their potential. This idea also included sexual freedom as well as the concept that life was more important than art, the theme best enunciated in Dialog von Marsyas (1905). His emphasis on the priority of life over art resulted in 1903 when a serious illness brought him close to death. The urging of people to seek self-fulfillment and become independent-minded grew out of his increasing exasperation over the government's backward policy of maintaining the status quo and the concomitant hostility toward progress in Austria. One can trace this theme in such works as Der Franzl (1900), a play about the Upper Austrian dialect poet Franz Stelzhamer, whom Bahr considered the embodiment of a real person, in Der Krampus (1902) and Sanna (1905), showing how the older generation dominated and crippled the younger, in Der Meister (1904), showing the inhumanity of a man who lives by reason alone, in Der arme Narr (1906), depicting the conflict of Hugo Wolf and his brother, to show that the poor fool is the one who feared living his life, not the artist who lived life to the fullest, and in Die Andere (1906), portraying a woman who struggles to find her real identity. These plays demonstrate with ascending bitterness how life in Austria distorted and destroyed people. This anti-Austrian tendency culminated in the angry book Wien (1907), in which Bahr describes how historically the Habsburg rulers always maintained their control over the country by forcing the people to deny their real selves. They were required to maintain an artificial persona that accorded with the government's refusal to allow freedom of expression or any voice of dissension or criticism.

Bahr's contribution to the modernization of the other arts is as important as that to literature. His early reviews of International Art Exhibits called attention to the leading English painters, including the Pre-Raphaelites in England and Italy as well as the French Impressionists. He particularly praised Whistler from America as "Der Meister aller Meister." For the most part in Vienna he was working with good friends, who either shared his views or whom he could influence. For example, Bahr could persuade Klimt to break away from the Vienna Künstlerhaus, which dominated Austrian art with its traditional Historicist approach, and establish an independent Secessionist group with modern ideas and an international outlook. He also urged that foreign artists be invited to join the organization and exhibit in Vienna, while Austrian painters, in turn, should exhibit in other countries, just as in literature such a reciprocal arrangement existed. In the same way Bahr served on the board of the Secessionist journal Ver Sacrum.

Bahr's enthusiasm for the English "Arts and Crafts" movement of William Morris and Charles Rennie McIntosh caused a young wealthy entrepreneur, Fritz Wärndorfer, to implement this trend in 1905 by founding the Wiener Werkstätte, which in 2003 celebrated its 100th anniversary. The outstanding example of the arts-and-crafts movement in Austria is the Palais Stoclet, an extraordinary artistic achievement of a totally integrated home, which the artist and architect Joseph Hofmann built in Brussels, where it still stands as a museum today.

To the same degree Bahr influenced his good friend Max Burckhard to modernize the repertoire of the Vienna Burgtheater as well as the style of acting and lent important assistance by writing articles preparing the theatergoers in advance for the new techniques they would see. He did the same to educate the public about the new techniques and styles of Secessionist paintings, even devoting time to guide groups of people around the exhibits personally and explaining the new art. He made it a lifelong practice to promote young talent, each individual on his or her own level, because he believed that Austria needed all the artists it could develop to create a strong environment of culture. In his view, Austria could not compete with other nations industrially and economically, but it could compare favorably in terms of culture. This belief of Bahr's has served as the basis of the Austrian cultural policy since World War II and remains the view of the current government.

Other disciplines also joined in this transnational movement to learn from Europe. For example, Freud and Schnitzler studied psychology with Charcot in France, and Ernst Mach, who demonstrated that the human ego, like the world, was in flux rather than fixed, was also influenced by French scholars. So too were Ludwig Wittgenstein and Josef Redlich influenced by their time spent studying and teaching at Oxford University in England.

With his conviction developed in Paris in 1889 that the arts were the path to the future and that Austria's destiny was as part of a united Europe, Bahr mediated and publicized over the years the most important artists in all fields and the latest cultural trends from Denmark, Norway, England, France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Russia and America. He helped spread awareness of, among many others, Henrik Ibsen and Björne Björnson from Norway, Georg Brandes from Denmark, Hauptmann, Holz and Thomas Mann from Germany, Barrès, Baudelaire, Bourget, Huysmans and Zola from France, the generation of young writers in Spain, D'Annunzio from Italy, Otakar Brezina, Jaroslav Kvapil, Joseph Svatopluk Machar and Thomas G. Masaryk from Czechoslovakia, Milan Begovic from Dalmatia, Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, Ellen Smyth, Maurice Baring and Wickham Steed from England and Walt Whitman, Edgar Allen Poe, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau from the United States. Throughout his essays and reviews he featured Shakespeare, Goethe and Dostoevski. He furthered the careers of many young writers and artists by personal encouragement and by publicizing their works. He encountered the actress Eleonora Duse in St. Petersburg, and his enthusiastic review resulted in an invitation for her to perform in Vienna, where her international career was launched. He promoted Isadora Duncan and her new, natural style of dancing. He introduced discussions of Japanese performers and plays into his writings. Reciprocally, through translations and reviews of his works as well as through personal connections Bahr was also known in these other countries. His program of modernity served as the basis of similar movements in the 1890s in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Dalmatia.

Among other accomplishments Bahr is credited with introducing the literary movement of Decadence to Germany and Austria, thereby contributing to the overthrow of Berlin Naturalism. Under the influence of Barrès's culte de moi and Huysmans', A rebours, the primer of Decadence, Bahr had adopted this style as one of his poses in the early 1890s but considered it only a transitional phase and dismissed the movement by 1896. In his view Decadence served primarily as a corrective to Naturalism, and he correctly predicted that the synthesis of the two trends would produce the new literary style he called "Nervenkunst" -- Maurice Maeterlinck served as his model -- with greater emphasis on the senses. In general, Austrian writers, more attuned to French literature than German, never adopted Naturalism but preferred Impressionism. Another productive idea of Bahr was the suggestion to Max Reinhardt in 1903 that they develop a Baroque outdoor theater in Salzburg. Reinhardt brought the idea to fruition after World War I together with Richard Strauss and Hofmannsthal, but Bahr who was living in Salzburg at the time, was not invited to participate. The Festival has grown today into a major international event, important less for its artistic events than as a place for jet setters to see and be seen.

Thus the program of modernity, with Bahr as the catalyst, mediator and publicist was from the beginning a European, not a homegrown Austrian phenomenon. The arts and ideas have never been respecters of national borders and have always moved freely throughout the world. But never before in Austrian cultural history had one man undertaken to create an awareness of the greatest artists and artistic achievements from so many other countries. The significance of his role in bringing these influences to Austria and in modernizing Austrian culture in all forms clearly makes him the central figure in the cultural life of Austria at the fin de siècle around 1900. What Vienna contributed was the presence of a core of young writers, artists, intellectuals and journalists, who were open to new ideas and new thinking. The result was the most important period in Austrian cultural history and, in terms of its lasting influence, possibly in German cultural history per se.

Not to be overlooked in this unparalleled flowering around 1900 is the significant role played by the salons of wealthy and influential people such as the Gomperz family, the Tedescos and Bertha Zuckerkandl, among others. These social gatherings, often international, enabled the free exchange of information among the elite from all disciplines and from various nations. Bahr always stressed the idea that artists and intellectuals formed a unified group above any national boundaries. It served as an important incentive to young talented people that artistic success made possible access to these salons, to association with the wealthy and the titled, thus bridging to some degree the rigid hierarchical structure of Austrian society.

Through his successful cultural program Bahr helped to join Austria to the West again. I say again, because historically the Habsburgs had once been a major presence in Europe, holding the Spanish crown, a kingdom in Belgium and dominance in Germany by serving as the leader of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. The Monarchy was supranational by definition, and until the 19th century the Viennese court preferred to speak French or Italian rather than German. By 1867 all of these European possessions and titles were gone, although the Habsburgs still controlled a Monarchy, consisting of a loosely amalgamated group of countries and territories that stretched from Lombardy in Northern Italy, including Venice and Trieste, to Dalmatia, Czechoslovakia, Bohemia and Galicia in Southern Poland and from Hungary to the borders of Switzerland and Germany. The Habsburgs attempted to create a sense of nation in these countries by mandating the use of German and by imposing Catholicism on the people, two unpopular requirements, which festered in the people and prevented any sense of unity or loyalty or any feeling of common nation. The Habsburg emperors of the 19th century, Franz I and his son Ferdinand together with their Chancellor Metternich until 1848 and then Franz Josef until 1916, followed backward policies, which led directly to the dissolution of the Monarchy following World War I. Their policies and treatment of their subjects were intended to develop a sense of nationalism, and in this goal the Habsburgs succeeded. However, the national feeling they created by their treatment of the Central European countries was a reactionary desire within the people for self-determination within their own independent nations, not for allegiance to Austria. Hence it was not a difficult decision for the American president Woodrow Wilson to demand that in terms of the Versailles Treaty the Monarchy be broken up and each entity given its independence. Bahr's writings such as Dalmatinische Reise (1909), Austriaca (1910), Schwarzgelb (1917) and his published diaries are filled with critical commentaries about the failures of the Austrian bureaucracy in ruling the lands of the Monarchy, particularly the policy of keeping these countries poor and backward in order to make them easier to control.

Throughout his life, beginning in his student years at the University of Vienna 1881-1883, Bahr carried on a campaign proclaiming the need for greater progressiveness in Austria. Having witnessed the benefits of the developments in England, France and Germany, he railed in his writings against the backwardness of Austria, which lagged behind the leading countries of Europe because the ruling house, through its policy of maintaining the status quo, stifled initiative within Austria and throughout the Monarchy. By 1906, however, when his ideas were taken for granted, he found himself so much out of step and under attack that he left Austria to take a position as theater director with Max Reinhardt in Berlin. His temporary discouragement can be seen in the following comments:

Alle die Dinge, die mich interessieren - Kampf Europas mit Amerika, Vereinigte Staaten von Europa, Machs Zerstörung des Ichs und Mauthners Zerstörung der Sprache; Leben und Kunst als bewußte Illusion, gewaltsam "stilisiert" - wird hier gar nicht verstanden und warum hier gekämpt wird (Los von Rom, Los von Ungarn, Judenfrage) kommt mir absurd vor. So nütze ich mich ab und werde nervös, verärgert, krank.(8)
Ich will nämlich, daß der Österreicher von seiner angstammten Art aus an Europa teilnehme, während sonst der, wer sich als Österreicher fühlt, Europa fürchtet, und wer europäisch gesinnt ist, Österreich verleugnet, ich habe also alle gegen mich, mit meinem Traum vom neuen Österreich, den wohl erst unser Proletariat erfüllen wird.(9)

And so his prediction has actually come to pass with the vote of the Austrian people to join the European Union and now with a number of the former countries of the monarchy also ready to become members.

Despite the fact that he departed from Austria for two years, he soon regained his normal buoyant optimism and felt satisfied that he had succeeded in implementing his program of modernity, despite all of the opposition. In particular he believed he had succeeded in developing an indigenous Austrian literature:

Ich habe meinen Begriff der Kunst durchgesetzt als die höchste Äußerung eines sich in einem ekstatischen Moment zusammenfallenden Lebens (sowohl beim einzelnen als dann bei der Nation), während vor mir in Östreich Kunst oder Literatur, kurz das Schöne immer nur als ein Nebenbei, eine Zutat, eine in den liberalen Berufen in müßigen Stunden betriebene Liebhaberei empfunden und geübt worden war, und als etwas exotisches, das man eigentlich draußen viel besser mache und das wir nur "schadenhalber" nachahmen müßte (!), genau nach den "fremden Regeln. Historisch nachzuweisen unter Josef, wo unsere Literatur als "Nachhall" der deutschen Klassischen entsteht, an Schreyvogel, wo sie ein Experiment eines einzelnen nach seinen Weimarer Erinnerungen ist. Grillparzer wie Anzengruber haben ja, so lange sie lebten, nie gewirkt.(10)

Indeed, by 1906 Bahr's program of modernity was so entrenched and so generally accepted that no turning back was possible. No counter force from the conservative ruling house and the Catholic Church could any longer restrain the progressive forces in all fields from the arts to the sciences. Thus it is one of the ironies of Bahr's life that he capitulated temporarily, weakened by his near fatal illness in 1903 and weary of the struggle against outside attacks, at a time when his program had been fully and successfully implemented beyond any expectations he could reasonably have anticipated.

Leaving Austria did not mean giving up his role as a goad and spokesman for a better, more vital country. Since Bahr no longer had his newspaper Die Zeit to air his views, he began in 1906 to publish a weekly column in the Neues Wiener Journal under the heading of Tagebuch, in order to provide readers with a viewpoint on issues and problems with which to compare their own opinions. His aim was not to inculcate his readers with his ideas but simply to provide a stimulus to cause people to think out their own positions on important matters affecting them. He was not seeking followers, but rather it was always his aim and ideal to contribute to the development of self-assured, independent-minded people. He felt that Austrians lived inhibited lives in isolation, that there was no shared sense of nation such as he had observed and felt in France. His diaries were his conscious effort to try to create a sense of unity among all the people, which meant overcoming the division that existed between Vienna and the provinces. Except for a hiatus for unknown reasons from 1911 until 1916, he continued to publish these diary entries weekly until 1932. They were collected and appeared annually in book form until 1928. However, the volumes for 1927 and 1928 were destroyed after they were printed for unknown reasons. In these diaries as well as in his many essays, he continued to comment on cultural as well as social and political matters from everywhere, for in his later years he began to expand his horizons ever wider to a global perspective. Above all, he devoted more and more time and effort after World War I to popularizing the idea that he had held ever since his year in Paris in 1889: a United States of Europe.

To accomplish this goal and to create mutual understanding, it was imperative that Austrians learn about other countries, a task to which Bahr remained committed to the end of his life. Other countries also needed to become better informed about Austria and Germany, and he also set an example in this regard. After World War I he began to devote considerable attention to England, because he felt it held major importance for Europe and yet was largely unknown to the German-speaking world beyond a few clichés such as that the English were a nation of merchants.(11) One of his good friends in England, the composer and author Ethel Smyth, who had excellent connections with the highest government circles in Germany, informed him that even the leading officials were abysmally ignorant of England, English thinking and English character. He heard the same from his best English friend, Wickham Steed, an expert on the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, who spent several years in Vienna as correspondent for the London Times. Accordingly, Bahr attempted to remedy this situation with commentaries filled with information about English literature and other arts as well as with insights into English society and politics. In addition to his voracious reading and English friends, a most important source of information about English life and manners was Josef Redlich, the Austrian Minister of Finance during World War I, who became a recognized expert in the field of International law and taught at Oxford and at Harvard University in the US. Bahr's correspondence with Redlich is one of the richest sources of information about Bahr's political thinking during his later life.(12) Bahr himself was well known in English theater and intellectual circles. He made a number of personal acquaintances during the during the several months he spent in London in 1910, when he had accompanied his wife, the opera singer Anna Mildenburg, who was engaged for the Spring and Fall opera seasons at Covent Garden. Bahr was given the sobriquet of the German Bernard Shaw, although he good-naturedly argued that Shaw, whose acquaintance he had made, should be called the English Hermann Bahr.(13) A number of his plays were performed in English theaters, usually with favorable reviews in the London Times. Two of his collections of essays, Summula (1921) and Sendung des Künstlers (1923), were also reviewed along with Dialog vom Marsyas (1905) and two volumes of his diaries, 1917 and 1918.

Because of his reputation as one knowledgeable about German and Austrian affairs, Bahr was invited in 1920 to contribute a series of commentaries to The London Mercury under the title "Letter from Germany." Although not mentioned separately in the title, coverage of Austria was included in these contributions. Then as now Western countries usually subsumed Austria under Germany. The 19 letters that he wrote, each discussing three different topics, indicate what authors, books and historical events he felt would best provide relevant insights into the cultural, intellectual, social and political life of Germany and Austria in the 1920s. Bahr's letters were evidently greatly valued, for the editor constantly urged him to contribute more often. Unfortunately, despite the encouragement, the series simply petered out in 1930, because Bahr, for unknown reasons, simply failed to send any further columns.

Everything that he had experienced, read and accomplished up to 1918 prepared Bahr for what became the major event in his later life, for the discovery that dominated his later thinking and became the capstone unifying all of his activities and writings: his encounter with the Austro-Bavarian Baroque tradition, as presented by the prominent literary historian Josef Nadler in 1918 in the third volume of his pioneering work Geschichte der deutschen Literatur nach Stämmen und Landschaften. To the time of his death in 1934 Bahr never wearied of repeating the importance of the baroque for Austria.(14) In his view, the significance of this movement, as he had learned from Nadler, extended far beyond its importance as an art form but had enormous political implications for Austria and for Europe. Although Austria had been reduced to a fraction of its former size and grandeur, the Baroque idea, as interpreted by Bahr, endowed the country with new meaning and central importance in the context of a united Europe:

Unsere Sendung ist, Brücke zu sein. Brücke zwischen Nord und Süd, und aber auch Brücke zwischen West und Ost. Wir östereichischen Deutschen sind auserwählt, Nordsüdler zu werden und Westöstler. Jene Brücke haben wir geschlagen, Nordsüdler sind wir, das Barock ist unsere höchste Leistung. Nun ... haben wir noch einmal ein Barock zu leisten, jetzt ein westöstliches. Und ist in hundert Jahren einst auch dieses westöstliche Barock getan, dann steht uns erst noch ein drittes Barock bevor, ein das nordsüdliche mit dem westöstlichen verbindendes, aus beiden erwachsendes, beide nun erst ganz erfüllendes und beide noch überstehendes, das europäische Barock, nach welchem geistigen Alexanderzug Österreich erst vollendet oder doch wenigstens für eine Zeit in Ordnung und Ruhe wäre.(15)

In typical fashion Bahr kept this idea of Austria fulfilling its destiny as the bridge unifying East and West, North and South before his public. Like Faust, who could anticipate his dream of a free people on free land, Bahr could foresee Austria, whose strength he saw in its ordinary citizens, becoming the country that he always envisioned and therefore enduring in the future, as he predicted in his final novel Österreich in Ewigkeit (1929).

Like the European Union, Austria also forgot Hermann Bahr. Thus the slowness with which the country recognized the growing importance of the Central European countries, despite the later efforts of such writers as Gjörgy Sebestyen and Milo Dor after World War II to call attention to them. In 1918 Bahr had tried to alert the Austrian government to the importance of gaining influence in the Eastern nations before other countries, particularly Germany, moved in and seized the initiative to capitalize on the business opportunities there. Austria moved slowly, as was its usual practice, but in recent years under the direction of Erhard Busek, the former Austrian Vice Chancellor, greater efforts have been made to create a base of operations and to develop business relationships, which have proved to be meaningful and profitable. These cooperative ventures will develop increasingly in the future, as the ten new Eastern countries, most of them former states of the old Austrian Monarchy, become official partners in the European Union in 2004 with all the rights and benefits of membership. Thus Bahr's idea of a second Baroque movement linking East and West will come to full fruition. The only difference is that the first North-South Baroque wave was cultural, while the second is primarily economic. However, where economics lead, the cultures will follow, especially since UNESCO and the European Council are both pressuring the EU to increase substantially its budget for cultural initiatives from its present miniscule allocation.

The visions of Hermann Bahr, who advocated that every individual should be provided with the conditions for maximum self-development and self-realization, and that every culture can be enriched by interaction with other lands, are rapidly becoming a European reality today. He even foresaw globalism, predicting that the time would come when people would transcend all national borders and become citizens of the world.(16) One of his recommendations involved the establishment of a world newspaper, in which each country could present itself to the others.(17) He could not imagine the Internet, the World Wide Web or even television, which through stations like CNN and NBC have to some extent made his suggestion a reality by routinely disseminating world news globally.

Because Bahr, like Hofmannsthal and Schnitzler and others of his literary generation, dealt with fundamental aspects of human nature and human existence, his program of modernity is just as alive and relevant today as it was at the time he conceived it. So, too, is his design for a United States of Europe. Unfortunately the messenger, if he has not been killed, has at least been stilled. Instead of being celebrated as the central figure of his generation for his significant role in the cultural development of Austria, as he once was by Eduard Castle(18) and every other reputable critic of the time, Bahr has been almost completely forgotten, judging by the little Austrian scholarship devoted to him in the last decade and by the complete absence of any mention of him in the media in Austria or Germany on the anniversaries of his birth and death. It would be fitting now if his reputation could be revived, so that he could receive the recognition he deserves for his ideas, which are presently helping usher the European Union into the 21st century just as a century ago as "Die Hebamme der neuen Kunst" he assisted in bringing Austria into the 20th century.

© Donald G. Daviau (Riverside)


(1) Cf. Donald G. Daviau, "Hermann Bahr and the Radical Politics of Austria in the 1880s," in: D.G.D. Understanding Hermann Bahr (St. Ingbert, Röhrig Verlag, 2002, pp. 48-68).

(2) Hermann Bahr, Adalbert Stifter. Eine Entdeckung (Wien: Amalthea, 1918), p.15.

(3) Hermann Bahr, Tagebücher, Skizzenbücher, Notizheft, 1901-1903, edited by Moritz Czáky, Vol. 3 (Wien, Köln, Weimar: Böhlau Verlag, 1997), p. 414. Henceforth cited as Hermann Bahr, Tagebücher.

(4) Hermann Bahr, Selbstbildnis (Berlin: S. Fischer, 1923), p.186.

(5) Hermann Bahr, Tagebücher, Band 3, p. 92f.

(6) Ibid, p. 413.

(7) Hermann Bahr, 1918 (Innsbruck: Verlagsanstalt Tyrolia, 1919), p. 252.

(8) Hermann Bahr, Tagebücher, Band 3, p. 410.

(9) Hermann Bahr, Das Hermann-Bahr-Buch (Berlin: S. Fischer Verlag, 1913), p. 17.

(10) Hermann Bahr, Tagebücher, Band 3, 1901-1903, p. 410f.

(11) Cf. D.G.D. "Hermann Bahr and England with Special Reference to his 'Letters from Germany,' in press.

(12) Fritz Fellner, ed. Dichter und Gelehrter: Hermann Bahr und Josef Redlich in ihren Briefen, 1896-1934 (Salzburg: Neugebauer, 1980).

(13) H. F. Rubinstein, "The German Bernard Shaw," in: The Forum (March 1915), pp. 375-379.

(14) Cf. "Hermann Bahr, Josef Nadler and the Baroque," in: D.G.D. Understanding Hermann Bahr, op. cit., pp. 353-374.

(15) Hermann Bahr, 1918 (Innsbruck, Tyrolia, 1919), p. 253.

(16) Hermann Bahr, 1919 (Leipzig: Tal, 1920), p. 97.

(17) Ibid, p. 84.

(18) Cf. "Die neue Generation um Hermann Bahr," in: Nagl, Zeidler, Castle, Deutsch-Österreichische Literaturgeschichte, Vol. IV (Wien: Fromme, 1937), pp. 1649 ff.

5.9. Austrian Writers and the Unifying Aspects of Cultures

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