FROM BLÜMCHENKAFFEE TO
Schools, Identity, and the Birth of the
When the last Allied soldier left Austria in the fall of 1955, Austrians could look back on ten years of profound change.1 Austria had been reborn in the spring of 1945 with the provisional government’s declaration of independence, but from the beginning, Austria was faced with a material crisis and a crisis of identity. In those lean years following the war Austrians drank Blümchenkaffee, coffee so weak one could see through it to the floral designs on the bottom of coffee cups. By 1955, the physical rebuilding of Austria, greatly assisted by Marshall Plan aid, was largely complete, and the shortages of food and fuel were mostly a memory. Simultaneously, Austrian political leaders and educators had laid the groundwork for a new Austrian identity based on a mixture of tradition, Austrian uniqueness vis-à-vis Germany, democratic values, and the myth of Austria-as-victim. The time of Blümchenkaffee was coming to an end. Austrian coffee was now richly brewed, and more and more Austrians could afford to drink Wiener Mélange—strong coffee mixed with steamed milk and often served with sugar and a small glass of water on the side.
The end of the war brought the rebirth of Austria, but the new Austria faced a crisis that went beyond the acute shortages of the immediate postwar period. More than just food and other necessities were in short supply; Austria needed a political, social, and cultural identity that was completely distinct from Germany. It was essential to Austria’s long-term viability and key to attaining political leverage with the Four Powers that Austria rapidly distance itself from its recent association with Nazi Germany. A new Austria had to be invented, and a sense of identity had to be built out of whatever remains of the past were still useful in combination with new ideas. Foremost among these ideas was the Austria-as-victim myth, which had already been propagated by the provisional government in April 1945. The very