August 6, 2012
Döbling, Vienna’s promised land
The Jewish Vienna used to be (and probably still remains) a diverse and immense world. Even though brothers should sit together, as the song ‘shevet yachim hamyaha’ suggests, the district I tried to portrait in the article ‘Brooklyn’s only true sister’ was certainly not able to accommodate all the brothers. The richer brothers were always striving to escape the ghetto and become a part of the Austrian nobility. Viennese high society was based in the district of Döbling, located at the foot of the Wienerwald mountains and thus being even geographically higher then the rest of the city.
Döbling was a range of small villages and picturesque hills until becoming a part of the city in the 19th century. While a lower part of Döbling became quite an average Viennese residential quarter, it’s higher areas was transformed in a cottage district, filled with summer houses, villas and mansions of Austrian higher class. Actually the first summer residence in the district was built still in the 18th century for the Habsburg family. The monarchs stayed there for one night and then completely forgot about their relatively compact estate.
Being a residence of wealthy people, some of which coincidentally happened to be Jewish, Döbling was rarely regarded as a part of Viennese Jewish heritage. However, it was always deeply rooted in the city’s Jewish life and became an even more important part of it today. Starting from 2003, the former premises of the Habsburg mansion and surrounding buildings are settled by the Jewish business students of the newly founded Lauder Business School. Coincidentally, in the early 20th century the buildings served as a mental hospital, where famous Jewish psychologists Viktor Frankl used to work. Along with Frankl, dozens of famous Jewish names can be found behind the walls. Behind the gloomy walls of the working class Lower Döbling a closed Jewish cementry can be found, where Theodor Herzl used to be buried until 1948, when his body was transported and reburied in Israel. Behind the impressive fences of the cottage district mansions one finds a former residence of Austria’s legendary Jewish prime minister Bruno Kreisky or one of the houses of Russian magnate Roman Abramovich. Leon Trotsky used to reside nearby as well.
There is still so much more to be found. Many of Döbling residents have their own Jewish legends, Jewish rumors or even Jewish roots. Some of them was carefully collected by Lauder Business Schools students and published on the school’s synagogue website: www.Synagogedoebling.at/jewish-doebling. The source contains a variety of fascinating stories behind the personalities and the places of the district and is not only a surprising and informative, but also a highly entertaining reading.