09/09/2012 10:09 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The 'Third Man' Museum And Other Viennese Oddities

When I'm researching in Europe, the challenge is to stop my in-the-street work while there's still enough time to input what I 've learned, and then fine-tune the writing. From the first day of this trip, back in early July, I've been in a hole. I'm still digging out, as I've had so much fun traveling that it's been impossible to completely keep up on the writing end of things.

With a hard-working crew of editors back home -- and a publisher awaiting their work -- I am but a happy cog in a wonderful guidebook-creating wheel. And if I miss a deadline, it'll mess up a lot of people. With my Vienna text due this week, I've finally finished those chapters. Here are a few major new additions:

The Third Man Museum

The Third Man is a classic film set in post-WWII Vienna. There's a fascinating museum dedicated to the film and the story it tells (open only Saturday afternoons). The movie still plays regularly in Vienna -- or you can see it before coming to town.

This is not just another movie. The British Film Institute voted The Third Man "the best British film ever produced." It's set in 1949 Vienna -- when it was divided, like Berlin, between the four victorious Allies. (After the war, Austria was divided between the U.S., France, Britain, and Russia until 1955.) With a dramatic Vienna cemetery scene, coffeehouse culture surviving amid the rubble, and Orson Welles being chased through the sewers, this tale of a divided city rife with smuggling and under the threat of Soviet rule is an enjoyable, two-hour experience. The movie plays at Vienna's Burg Kino (€8, in English; 3-4 showings weekly -- usually Friday evening, Sunday afternoon, and Tuesday early evening; a block from the Opera at Opernring 19,


Immediately after WWII Vienna was divided among the victorious allies into four zones -- like Berlin. That created lots of intrigue which made for a thrilling movie: The Third Man.

The Third Man Museum is the life's work of Karin and Gerhard Strassgschwandtner. They have lovingly collected a vast collection of artifacts about the film, Vienna in 1949 and the movie's popularity around the world. (In 1999 Japan voted it the best foreign film of all time.)

Third Man fans will love the quirky movie relics, but even if you are just interested in Vienna at the start of the Cold War, this is worthwhile. Sections cover the 1930s when Austria was ripe for the Anschluss, the reality of 1.7 million "DPs" (displaced persons) in Austria after the war, the challenges of denazification after 1945, and candid interviews with soldiers. As a bonus, the museum also gives a fascinating look at moviemaking and marketing around 1950. Don't be shy about asking for a personal tour from Gerhard or Karin (€7.50, Sat only 14:00-18:00, a long block south of Naschmarkt at Pressgasse 25,, Facebook: thirdmanmuseum).


Gerhard and Karin Strassgschwandtner share their passion for The Third Man each Saturday at their museum.

Otto Wagner's Postal Savings Bank

The Austrian Postal Savings Bank, built from 1904-1912, offers a fascinating look into the society as well as the architecture of that age. This was a bank for working-class people. The very concept of a postal savings bank makes storing your hard-earned income less intimidating for laborers than the palatial banks of the 19th century. The bank's design makes the service it provides feel almost sacred. Wagner believed, "Necessity is the master of art." He declared, "What is impractical can never be beautiful." Everything about the design -- so gray, white, and efficient -- is practical. While it's textbook "form follows function," the form is beautiful nevertheless. A product of its age -- so giddy with advancement -- the building dignifies the technological and celebrates it as cultural.


Architect Otto Wagner helped kick off the 20th century in Vienna with a radical building housing a radical new concept: a bank for people who weren't rich.

Study the sleek, yet elegantly modern facade: Angles high above -- made of an exciting new material, aluminum -- seem to proclaim the modern age. The facade, with unadorned marble siding panels held on by aluminum-capped bolts, gives the impression that the entire building is a safety deposit box. The interior is similarly functionalist. The glass roof lets in light while the glass floor helps illuminate the basement. Fixtures, vents, and even the furniture fit right in -- strong, geometrical, and modern. The main building is open to the public and still functions as a savings bank. In the back, a fine little museum is dedicated to the architect Wagner with a slideshow providing a visual review of his work (free entry to main building, museum-€6, Mon-Sat 9:00-17:00, just off the Ringstrasse near the Danube Canal at Georg-Coch-Platz 2,

In 1914 the Habsburg Archduke Franz Ferdinand took a trip to Sarajevo in Bosnia to assert his family's reign on that hard-to-rule corner of Europe. He was assassinated in this car, setting off World War I.

The Museum of Military History

While much of the Habsburg's empire was built on strategic marriages rather than war, a big part of Habsburg history is military. And the Heeresgeschichtliches Museum, a.k.a. HGM -- built in 1860 by Emperor Franz Josef as an arsenal -- tells the story well with a thoughtful motto (apparently learned from the school of hard knocks): "War belongs to museums." You'll wander the wings of this vast museum practically all alone. On two floors you'll see a rich collection of artifacts and historic treasures from Empress Maria Theresa to military genius Prince Eugene to Franz Josef. I found the 20th-century section particularly interesting. It includes an exhibit on Sarajevo in 1914 (with the car Archduke Franz Ferdinand was riding in -- and the uniform he was wearing -- when he was assassinated).


Before Hitler brought the swastika to Austria, the country was ruled by Engelbert Dollfuss, a dictator whose fascist symbol tried to be swastika-like.

For WWII buffs, there's a look at Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss (and the pre-Hitler Austrian fascist party), the Anschluss when the Third Reich absorbed Austria, and the devastation of World War II (€5, includes audioguide, daily 9:00-17:00, located inconveniently outside the Ringstrasse, a 10-minute walk behind the Belvedere Palace near the new Central Station at Arsenal Objekt 1,