Medusa's Mirror: Studies in German Literature

By August Closs | Go to book overview

IV
Austria's Place in German Literature

Und was euch so entzückt mit seinen Strahlen, Es ward erzeugt in Todesnot und Qualen.

GRILLPARZER

WHEN GERMAN LITERATURE is spoken of, few are aware of the prominent part played by Austria in its formation, not only in modern times but more especially during the Middle Ages. The traditional picture of the 'gerütlich' -- happy-go-lucky -- Austrian has given rise to the proverb: 'In South Germany beats the German heart, in Berlin the German brain.' But Austrian history and literature tell another story. They were not created by dreams and tender melancholy alone, but also by noble deeds. Placed between East and West, Austria and especially Vienna has been the stage of many a mighty conflict.

Two thousand years ago, Vienna (Vindobona) was a Roman fortress. It was here that the royal philosopher Marcus Aurelius wrote his essay Ad se ipsum. Following the disintegration of the Roman Empire, the ravaging tide of the fierce Huns swept over the land, and after the death of their leader, Attila, the Ostrogoths, Langobardic tribes and later the Avars settled temporarily on the fertile soil of the Danubian valley.

It was, however, Charlemagne, who in his struggles with the Hungarians, first founded the so-called Ostmark (Eastern Marches) which constituted the germ of the later Austrian Empire, and from the end of the tenth century onwards the famous dynasty of the Babenberger, under whom the Austrian Minnesang lyric flourished, made Austria the protective gateway to the East. In 1273 the Hapsburgs came into power and held it for nearly seven hundred years until 1918 and the breakdown of Austria after the first Great War.

Vienna was destined to become a world-centre of culture.

-83-

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