He was born in 1881 in the Austrian city of Vienna, committed suicide in 1942 in Petrópolis (Brazil). Stefan Zweig enjoyed an elegant, privileged, literary life, which he nipped in the bud at age 60 in 1942 with a dose of Veronal in his Brazilian exile when he believed the Nazis had ended his world. The writer belonged to a Jewish family of the high bourgeoisie, industrialists, tremendously wealthy. In his birthplace in the capital of Austria, at Schottenring 14, a building today occupied by offices on the Ringstrasse boulevard next to the Stock Exchange, the capitalist temple that his father directed, only the posthumous trace of a plate.
The high school where he came of age, however, has just turned 150 years old. The Maximiliansgymnasium (the current Wasagymnasium, at Wasagasse 10), where he studied and attended eight years of high school among students who secretly read Nietzsche while he began his famous collection of autographs of artists and writers, was only one street away from the origin of psychoanalysis. At that time a neurologist named Sigmund Freud He opened his practice at Berggasse 19. We don’t know if Zweig ever lay down on his couch (he defined Freud’s therapy as “truth sadism”), but we do know that they became friends over time.
When he became independent, he settled at Kochgasse 8. He was a modern man who spoke on the telephone, wrote on a typewriter, decorated the walls with his photographs, turned on the electric light at night and enjoyed a generous vita sexualis, in his own words. The old three-room apartment is located less than a five-minute walk from one of the most beautiful hidden corners of Vienna: Jodok-Fink-Platz. In this square it seems that it is always sunny. It is the place where the restaurant Il Sestante set up your terrace; the place to eat a pizza in the shadow of the 1713 Marian column and the baroque splendor of the Maria Treu basilica, an act of civilization, a gesture of high culture.
Liebe Gäste! Es freut uns euch mitteilen zu dürfen, dass wir ab morgen den 08.04.20 wieder Pizzen zum Abholen anbieten…
Posted by Il Sestante on Tuesday, April 7, 2020
Zweig was a twenty-something who lived on his grandmother’s inheritance and a monthly salary from his father’s factory where he did not work, but who managed to become an author at the imperial court theater (the prestigious Burgtheater is 15 minutes away). He was also a patriot who fell drugged by the warlike delirium of World War I, but cowardly and intelligent enough (unlike the painter and poet Oskar Kokoschka) to disappoint his mother and escape the trenches: he enrolled in the Literary Group of the War Archive in charge of propaganda together with a handful of elite writers such as the poet Rainer Maria Rilke or Felix Salten, the author of Bambi. He did instruction in the pretty neighboring town of klosterneuburg, where Emperor Charles VI of Habsburg wanted to build an Austrian Escorial on the banks of the Danube, a monument that was left halfway, in a large façade that dazzles as you approach it by road. Near the Kierling sanatorium where a few years later Franz Kafka would go to die.
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When the war ended, he moved to Salzburg, his adopted city. The writer we recognize today was born there. His literary output up to Salzburg—lyrical poems, plays—remains in the shadows. He bought a stately home in the mountains kapuzinerberg, in the sky of the city, and began to write novels until he became the most translated author in the world. He was the perfect host for personalities like Thomas Mann, James Joyce, Maurice Ravel, Arturo Toscanini. For three decades, his house with his garden was the living room of European culture. Today you cannot cross the fence, a few months ago the property was bought by car magnate Wolfgang Porsche for more than eight million euros.
Yes, it can be visited, crossing the Salzach river and passing by the houses where Mozart and Doppler were born, the Stefan Zweig Zentrum. It has a permanent exhibition with the writer’s memorabilia and is a space for academic research into his work. In the historic center you can also arrange a visit to a magical place: the Literaturearchiv Salzburgwhere you are shown Zweig’s journals, galleys and original manuscripts, such as the notebook where he wrote in purple ink the world of yesterday (1941). Although the touch with the paper and the conversation with the archivist are lost, the visit is viable from home. The archive continues to work on digitizing the writer’s personal collection, including his autograph collection, and It has already uploaded almost eight thousand original images on its website.
The Literaturarchiv is on the majestic Residenzplatz. The place that best watches over the memory of the writer is in the scenario that mistreated her the most. Behind the Anschluss —the annexation of Austria to Nazi Germany—on April 30, 1938, Zweig’s books were burned on a humiliating pyre organized by the Nazi teachers’ association. In Sigmund-Haffner-Gasse, a nearby street, there is a new museum dedicated to the works of artists persecuted by Nazism. Exhibitions have been held on the subject, but the Museum Kunst der Verlorenen Generation (Museum of the Art of the Lost Generation) is the first gallery with a permanent collection dedicated to degenerate art. Opened in November 2020, its 400 paintings are from the private collection of Professor Dr. Heinz R. Böhme.
Stefan Zweig had fled four years earlier. A house search by the austrofascist police in search of weapons that everyone knew did not exist convinced him to leave the country. The anti-Semitic threat sent him into exile in London. Then Bath, New York, Petropolis. When he arrived in Brazil with his second wife, Lotte Altmann, the Viennese high school where he had grown up was the headquarters of the Third Reich Administration and its Jewish students were in exile or in concentration camps, their home in Salzburg —“Villa Europa”, for Zweig—it no longer belonged to him and the Nazi coffers had claimed its sale, his books were being burned in Europe. They died hugging. In the photo in the police report, he lies with a well-knotted tie; she, who holds his hands, in a kimono.
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