Outbreak of the war
End of the war

The idealized leader and monarch Emperor Karl in film – Christian, family-oriented, uniformed

After the death of Emperor Franz Joseph, the new young emperor and his wife became the focus of Austro-Hungarian film propaganda. The idea was to enhance their popularity and communicate calm, harmony and security amid all of the chaos.

After the death of the old emperor in the middle of the war, his successor Karl and his wife Zita became the symbols of hope of the Monarchy. On 30 December 1916 the new Emperor of Austria was crowned King of Hungary in Budapest (Coronation Celebration in Budapest, 27–30 December 1916, A 1916). The ceremony confirmed the basic pillars of the supranational state: the compromise between the Austrian half of the empire and the lands of the Crown of St Stephan. The crown appeared literally to be too big for its wearer, and when it slipped, some observers took it as a bad omen. Karl, who had been kept away from important government business and military decisions until then, was thought to be weak. For the time being, however, the celebration was seen as a way of weakening the independence of the Magyars, at least until a peace treaty was signed.

The film propaganda focused on the young emperor, who was shown as a loving father and Christian but also as supreme commander of the military. He was presented, particularly when the war was going well, as the highest representative of the Monarchy and army. Emperor Karl himself strengthened this impression when he appointed himself Supreme Warlord in 1916. Although decisions were normally made by chiefs of staff and in particular by the powerful German alliance partner, the responsibility as far as the public was concerned was with the dynasty and its head.

The longer the war lasted and the more the losses, shortages and hunger were felt by the population, the more the film propaganda attempted to portray normality amid the chaos. In the film Our Emperor (A 1917) Karl is presented as the ruler of all his subjects. He is given ovations wherever he goes in the empire. He is a military ideal, the ‘first Austro-Hungarian soldier’, who visited ‘his’ troops in the field, showing a popular and human face. The idea was to communicate that all was well with the world, as represented by the emperor and his wife – friendly, jovial and almost down-to-earth.

Translation: Nick Somers


Leidinger, Hannes/Moritz, Verena/Moser, Karin: Österreich Box 1: 1896-1918. Das Ende der Donaumonarchie, Wien 2010

Rauchensteiner, Manfried: Der Erste Weltkrieg und das Ende der Habsburgermonarchie, Wien/Köln/Weimar 2013

Contents related to this chapter


  • Aspect

    War and art

    Many artists, intellectuals and writers welcomed the outbreak of the First World War. They saw it not as an apocalypse but as the opportunity for a change for the better. As such they joined in the patriotic fervour of the first weeks and months of the war. What motivated them not only to devote their artistic energies to the fatherland but also to take an active part in the fighting? How were anti-war sentiments articulated by artists? What other forms of relationship were there between art and warfare during and after the First World War?

  • Aspect

    Guiding the masses

    Guiding the mood of the masses was an important aspect of warfare during the First World War. Considerable information and communication work was carried out to persuade the population of the “true facts”. All areas of life were influenced by propaganda in a way that had not been seen hitherto: reports in the newspapers, posters on the walls, even teaching material in schools now communicated controlled information. What methods and media were used? How did the various warring nations attempt to influence public opinion? What was communicated and how effective was the propaganda?

Persons, Objects & Events

  • Object


    All Quiet on the Western Front was released in 1930. It was the film of Erich Maria Remarque’s novel of the same name about the experiences of a soldier during the First World War. Remarque’s book and the film adaptation are classic anti-war statements. Alongside the patriotic, glorified heroic epics and “authentic” documentation of service for the fatherland, this was just one way in which the First World War was portrayed in literature and films – a medium that had come into being only twenty years before the outbreak of war.

  • Object

    Depicting the war

    The photo by Alexander Exax shows a scene in the trenches in Galicia in 1915. The title “im Feuer” [“under fire”] gives the impression that the picture has been taken in the middle of the action. Dynamic photos like this were typical of the pictorial iconography of the First World War. The illustrated weeklies were among the most important distribution media, but there were others: exhibitions and posters, picture postcards and cinemas collaborated with private picture agencies and the official propaganda to provide a visual depiction of the war.

  • Person


    The wife of Karl I was regarded as the extremely energetic mastermind of the dynasty.

  • Person

    Karl I.

    The last Emperor acceded to the throne in 1916 and reigned until the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy in November 1918.


  • Development

    The Habsburg myth – the dynasty before and after 1918

    The Habsburg-Lorraine dynasty formed the ideological basis for the Habsburg Monarchy, since the existence of the multi-ethnic state was primarily a product of the dynastic history of this ruling house.

    In the latter days of the Habsburg Monarchy, Emperor Franz Joseph personified the imperial idea, although towards the end of his sixty-eight-year reign he was reduced more and more to an abstract symbol, a kind of father figure. His death in November 1916 left a vacuum at the head of the dynasty, which his successor Karl could no longer fill.

  • Development

    National politics in the multi-ethnic empire

    At the start of the nation-building era, the Habsburg empire was a breeding ground for the development of national concepts for the peoples of Central Europe. Later, the state framework of the Dual Monarchy was seen increasingly as an obstacle to full national development.