Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Last Habsburg

When strolling through Freiburg this morning I noticed a strange flag with a mourning band flying from a bookshop. When I came nearer I recognized the Austrian Imperial banner and had my light bulb moment (mir ging ein Licht auf): The bookseller wanted to remind the passers-by that the last of the Habsburgs, Otto, grandchild of Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I, had passed away on the 4th of July at a biblical age of 99.

Polyglot Otto von Habsburg had lived through the last days of the Austrian Empire, somehow survived the Nazi rule, had nearly become the president of Hungary, and was elected as a German! Deputy into the European parliament where he fought against communism and for a strong united Europe.

My friend Jim took both photos
in particular the one of the shop window diplaying Otto von Habsburg's portrait.

Freiburg had been under Habsburg rule for 438 years when eventually in 1806 Napoleon ordered the Anschluss of the Breisgau to the Duchy of Baden. The Catholic population accustomed to the mild Austrian hand (Vienna was far away!) suddenly felt dominated by mostly Protestant Badeners. It is reported that many a man wasn't ashamed of his tears.

One of the means of integrating the Breisgau into the Duchy was the creation of a reading society (Lesegesellschaft) to marry the Protestant North with the Catholic South as the poet Johann Georg Jacobi then wrote. In those days this society, nowadays called Museumsgesellschaft, united the civil servants coming from Karlsruhe with the local intellectuals. It still exists and now is Freiburg's oldest civic society.

Today little reminds of the Habsburg rule in Freiburg if it's not for some historical buildings sometimes showing the Austrian colours red-white-red, the Vienna cuisine, and the fine bakery.

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