From our window seat in Tirolerhof Café we could see Albertina Platz (Albertina Square) and its sculptures. Rod and I had breezed past them on previous visits to Vienna but hadn’t examined them closely, but Nath and Sonya were very interested so we decided to take a closer look. We found them fascinating for many reasons, partly because of the history and symbolism attached to them and partly because they remind us somewhat of the work of both Michelangelo and Rodin, two sculptors we admire very much.
Albertina Platz is also known as Remembrance Square and it soon becomes clear why this is so, as it is a walk-about commemorative site. There are four pieces on display that are collectively called the “Monument Against War and Fascism”. Commissioned by the city of Vienna, Austrian sculptor Alfred Hrdlicka designed the Monument, which was dedicated in November 1988, after years of controversial debate over content and location. Some parts of them are made out of granite from the area of the Mauthausen Concentration Camp and they commemorate all those who lost their lives due to activities that occurred during the period of the National Socialism Regime and WW11.
The debate about where to place this monument and whether to have it at all highlighted a recurring theme in Vienna: bury the past, or re-open old wounds? A large part of these historical-political debates are linked to Austria’s difficult situation both before and during WW11, and to the complicated role that anti-semitism has played in Austrian history.
The four separate parts of the monument are spread evenly across the cobblestoned square. Each is a reference to different facets of Austrian history under Nazi control.
The first structure is called the “Gates of Violence”, two large blocks of carved white granite on large stone bases. One block is called Hinterland Front, the other Hero’s Death. The carvings depict chained laborers, civilian victims of war and figures connected to Nazi concentration camps. Recently, two video screens were added to one side of the stone bases. These display footage of persecuted Jewish people and their heckling by bystanders. It is dedicated to all victims of wars and violence.
The second structure, called “Street-washing Jew” is a low bronze figure, which represents a Jewish person being forced to scrub off anti-Nazi graffiti with a toothbrush. This is based on actual history: soon after Austria was annexed into Germany local Nazi party members organized “scrubbings”, when Jews were forced to clean public streets and walls. In 2015, Austrian artist Ruth Beckermann completed the scene by adding laughing spectators.
The next structure is “Orpheus enters Hades”, which shows a male figure emerging from a large piece of limestone. It is dedicated to all the victims of Nazi-ism in Austria but has another direct, and also symbolic meaning. In March 1945, as the Allies bombed the city, hundreds of civilians sought refuge in the basement of an Inn that was on the site of present-day Albertina Platz. The inn was hit, burying the civilians, who were not rescued. The subject of Orpheus is meant to be an ironic symbol: Orpheus descended into Hades to search for Eurydice, but the Viennese did not descend into the cellars to search for those trapped.
Directly behind this is the final structure, a 30-foot tall tablet-like stone, called “The Stone of the Republic”. Inscribed into the stone are excerpts from the 1945 declaration establishing Austria’s Second Republic.
Alfred Hrdlicka (1928-Dec 2009) was an Austrian artist (sculptures, paintings and etchings) who always favored “dark” subjects. Human suffering and repression are the central themes in his work, with references to history, violent confrontations (such as war and revolution with all their horrific violence and cruelty), famous personalities from art and cultural history (such as Richard Wagner, Rodin, Titian, Piet Mondrian), and sexuality.