Austria Museums Day 2

We mentioned the palaces in the last post. The most famous palace that is the must-see, hot ticket item is Schonbrunn. Even with our pass you still have to get a timed entry ticket so you have to arrive early. The problem is it’s on the outskirts of town, and the museum pass does not include public transportation. It did include free use of the Hop On Hop Off buses. The problem is that the bus doesn’t start running until after 9 and Schonbrunn palace is already busy by 8. See the problem? We opted to skip it, still having a strange taste in our mouths after visiting the Hofburg.

What could we have possibly been blowing off the world famous Schonbrunn for? The Military History Museum, of course. We did give the Hop On Hop Off bus a chance, and it was pretty interesting. It played classical music and told us interesting facts about things along the way. But it was incredibly slow, we could have walked there faster. The Military History building alone is beautiful although it’s not one of the 62 former palaces. It’s in an old military complex but the building was built specifically to be a museum. The entryway has 56 marble statues of Austria’s most important military leaders.

You head upstairs and the whole ceiling has painted frescoes of major military battles. I hate to say it but we had already seen and photographed so many frescoes we didn’t think to do this one.

The whole upstairs had two rooms to choose from. The first room had the Thirty Years’ War and Turkish/Ottoman Invasions, the Spanish War of Succession, Austrian Succession and some more Turkish wars. The Thirty Years’ War room had one of the only remaining Turkish uniforms and parts of the Turkish commanders tent found after a battle. There was a paper written in the 1600s that had the battle plans for Lützen, the man carrying it was mortally wounded and you could see the blood stains on it still. It’s amazing that paper survived at all.

Bloodstained letter from 1632, Turkish uniform, Turkish tent

The other room chronicled a lot of Maria Theresa’s work with the military. She was apparently the only Habsburg who wanted the Austrian military to fight better than it looked.

This was all in one side of the building, on the other side in another room there was the Hall of Revolutions (mostly French), the last Ottoman War, Austro-Prussian War, and probably some more. It was the one time we looked at things without any idea of what we were looking at. The informational papers did their best but they can only explain so much to people who haven’t even heard of some of the more obscure Austrian wars. We enjoyed looking, reading and learning a lot. We particularly liked seeing instruction manuals/handkerchiefs that had to be translated into 10 different languages (including Polish, Czech, Italian, Slovakian, German) to accomodate all the ethnicities serving in the Austrian army.


Downstairs was organized the same way, two big halls on either side. The first hall was appropriately World War 1 (you can guess what the other hall was). The World War 1 section began exactly how you would think it would:

The very car Franz Ferdinand and his wife were shot in. The very uniform he was wearing (with blood stains) and the very lounge he died upon. The whole room talked a lot about all the effort that went into the assassination attempt and how it went down. The whole rest of the World War 1 section was a giant circle and you ended up walking back out through this same room on your way out. It was interesting to see how you felt about it at the beginning versus the end.

It didn’t do a great job talking about how it went from Franz Ferdinand to an all out World War but it took the whole war itself month by month to talk about all the battles and technological advances. It had a piece of a bunker from Brussels that had been shelled and what it looked like afterwards. It had a small trench you could walk through and a lot of trench art – religious icons or flowers made out of old shells or bullets. There was downtime, after all. They profiled how important the animals were and had horse gas masks. There were childrens toys/propaganda and commemorative plates to get/keep everyone excited about the war. In the end, though, the whole room circled back to videos of all the dead, dying, injured and insane. 37.5 million casualties caused directly by the war. 7 million people maimed (blinded, mentally unstable, or with amputated limbs). 250 people died an hour. There were memorials that had been carved or created on the spot that they brought into the museum so you could feel the pain of them losing a fellow serviceman. There were, of course, black and white videos of fields and fields of dead.

The demolished bunker. A large howitzer. The handguns used to assassinate Franz Ferdinand and one of the windows of his car. An evocative painting.

And then, you got to circle back and see Franz Ferdinand’s bloodied shirt and think oh shit, that is basically* how it started. 1 man and woman shot dead in their car, 4 years later 20 million dead, 21 million wounded.

*basically. The trigger to and almost the final thing in a long string of things. 

We’ve been to probably 15 World War 2 museums, memorials and informational things in Germany (specifically Berlin). We even have a book that would take us to the very parking lot above where Hitler’s bunker had been. But we had never been to any World War 2 things in Austria, it was certainly different. There was not a lot directly said while the German history teaches it as a source of shame that cannot be ignored. The Austrian one felt a little tiny bit vague about their involvement. There was only one Jewish star and some papers. They did have a lot more flags and uniforms than we’ve seen in any German ones. It was really interesting to see their take on it (more interesting would be Budapest).


We had lunch then walked to the Belvedere museum. It was one of the former palaces converted into an art museum. It had a lot of Austrian artists and was organized by theme. Many art museums are laid out by year or style of art. This was organized based on home life, or Jewish artists processing the war years, or landscapes. This was a fun way to organize a museum because there might be different art styles in one room but all the pieces were portraying the same thing – melancholy or innocence. It was the first place we went that was overrun by Asian Tour Buses (capitalized for effect). They can kind-of fly into an area, take a thousand pictures and then be on their way. Our technique is usually to just park and wait for them to fly through but waves and waves just kept coming so we never caught a break.

Something else we enjoyed that many Austrian art museums were doing was offering a little cheater’s guide. On the side of some pieces (but not all) there would be a tidbit of information to draw your attention to a clever use of shadows or lighting. Some were really nice because they could tell you stuff you never would’ve known. In a painting of children looking at something (which you cannot see) it actually told you it was a picture of their dead mother. It changed the way their faces looked once you knew that. As another example “On Corpus Christi Morning” – this painting. The helpful little sign pointed out that the family didn’t have enough money for nice clothes so some children were crying about being left out of the festivities. I hadn’t even noticed the girl crying and hadn’t thought about having to dress nice (or not go at all) back in the day. Thanks signs.

In the summer it has world famous gardens. It was still pretty in the winter and had a nice view of the skyline. 

We walked home in the dark, we were very close to going to the Albertina (another art museum). So close, in fact, we went in but there was a line to enter (we already had our pass/ticket). We were already pretty overwhelmed from the Belvedere tourist rushes we decided to just call it quits.

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