Outbreak of the war
End of the war

The war takes over the city

Vienna was not a theatre of war, nor did it suffer destruction as a result of the fighting. Externally it changed very little, but the war quite clearly left its mark. War propaganda and patriotic enthusiasm dominated daily life in the city. The euphoria waned markedly as the war progressed and the supply situation became increasingly critical.

The First World War confronted the population of Vienna with a completely new situation at a number of levels. Daily life became an increasing trial, as every aspect and activity had to be planned to the last detail: how and where to get food, what it was possible to eat, how to survive with limited resources. There was a shortage of practically everything, and by the time the war ended the majority of the population was physically and mentally exhausted.

The war also changed everyday political life. The Vienna city council met at the end of September 1914 to retroactively approve a wealth of temporary orders (use of schools as hospitals, emergency plans for trams, etc.). The council was not to meet again until February 1916, and all matters of importance for the war became the responsibility of the newly created ‘Obmännerkonferenz’ (chairmen’s committee). There was thus little system to local politics during the war, although the city retained its housing, juvenile welfare and health departments. The parties agreed to put aside their fundamental differences of opinion until early 1918.

As the war progressed, the mayor and city council became more and more dependent on the military administration, but their responsibilities increased markedly at the same time: recruitment, the welfare of refugees, invalids and surviving dependents, and food supply had also to be financed for the most part by the communities, which placed an extremely heavy financial burden on the city.

The war had both a direct and an indirect impact on the city. The declaration of war on 28 July 1914 was greeted for the most part with euphoric enthusiasm, patriotic parades and demonstrations, accompanied by loud cheering of the emperor, fatherland and army. The press, led by the pro-government Neue Freie Presse, stirred up enthusiasm for the war. Many weekly illustrated magazines devoted themselves to reporting on the war and showing pictures of it. Even at the start of the war, charitable gifts (socks, balaclavas and also food) were organized for the troops as an instrument of propaganda. Patriotic banners proliferated on empty spaces or trees in the city, and on carriages and trains leaving Vienna.

A postcard from 1914 shows Mariahilferstrasse decked out for victory. The departure of the first volunteers was dramatized as a patriotic event. The public space was nationalized and placed at the service of the war, or more precisely propaganda for it. The ‘Iron Soldier’ was erected on Schwarzenbergplatz as an incitement to the Viennese to support soldiers, widows and orphans. After making a donation, inhabitants could hammer a nail into it. In autumn 1915 other wooden soldiers were erected. War propaganda came in various forms as people wore sewn-on badges, pins and cockades. In the ‘gold for iron’ campaign, wedding rings were exchanged for iron rings and gold objects for metal. Collections were organized for practically everything: shoes, clothes, metal, bottles, newspapers, and most of all money.

The war also had a diverse influence on entertainment in Vienna. All balls for the 1914/15 season were cancelled, and New Year’s Eve was a quiet affair. The entertainment industry nevertheless soon had an important diversionary function. The Burgtheater was initially closed but then reopened to show propaganda plays, and politics even found its way into operetta. The most popular film was Wien im Krieg.

Xenophobia of the basest sort was widespread and visible, initially aimed at the enemy but then more and more at the Jewish refugees streaming into the city from the war zones. Slogans such as ‘Serbien muss sterbien’ (Serbia must die), ‘Jeder Schuß – ein Ruß’ (a Russki with every bullet), ‘Jeder Brit – ein Tritt’ (a Brit with every hit) were taken up with enthusiasm. An important aspect of the propaganda was the indoctrination of schoolchildren, and the ‘school front’ became a significant part of the ‘home front’. This reached down to toys, and war games were widely distributed.

Information and propaganda became intermingled. While a group of industrialists led by Julius Meinl launched a peace initiative in late 1915 to end the war, the Viennese film producer Count Alexander (Sascha) Josef von Kolowrat-Krakowsky started his weekly newsreel, Sascha-Kriegswoche. At the same time, exhibitions began to provide information on the military and economic situation, for example in the Trenches and Navy Show and in the war exhibition at the Prater in 1916.

Translation: Nick Somers


Holzer, Anton: Die andere Front. Fotografie und Propaganda im Ersten Weltkrieg, Darmstadt 2012

Mertens, Christian: Richard Weiskirchner (1861-1926). Der unbekannte Wiener Bürgermeister, Wien/München 2006

Patzer, Franz (Hrsg.): Das Schwarz-Gelbe Kreuz. Wiener Alltagsleben im Ersten Weltkrieg, Wien 1988

Pfoser, Alfred/Weigl, Andreas: Die Pflicht zu sterben und das Recht zu leben. Der Erste Weltkrieg als bleibendes Trauma in der Geschichte Wiens, in: Pfoser, Alfred/Weigl, Andreas (Hrsg.): Im Epizentrum des Zusammenbruchs. Wien im Ersten Weltkrieg, Wien 2013, 14-31

Seliger, Maren/Ucakar, Paul: Wien. Politische Geschichte 1740-1934. Entwicklung und Bestimmungskräfte großstädtischer Politik, Teil 2: 1896-1934, Wien 1985

Contents related to this chapter


Persons, Objects & Events

  • Object

    War enthusiasm

    This brass kitchen mortar was exchanged as part of a metal collection for an iron mortar as an example of the possible ways of participating actively in the war and showing enthusiasm for it. When the First World War broke out, large sections of the Austro-Hungarian population were gripped by veritable euphoria. This enthusiasm was not shared by all sectors of society, however. It was strong in urban, bourgeois and intellectual circles, less so in the rural and working population.

  • Object

    Mobilisation of the civilian population

    During the "Gold for Iron” campaign, gold rings or jewellery donated to finance the war were exchanged for iron rings. The civilian population was called upon to play an active role in welfare and aid associations and to offer its services for the fatherland. Women and children collected clothes and blankets for the army and hospitals, and materials like wastepaper and iron for recycling. They knitted and sewed, and these "Liebesgaben” or charitable gifts were sent to the front to provide emotional encouragement to the troops.


  • Person

    Julius Meinl II.

    During the four years of the war Julius Meinl II militated in favour of a negotiated peace, amongst other things through the Austrian Political Society founded by him.

  • Object

    For peace

    The face on the 1000-schilling note is Bertha von Suttner, probably the most famous representative of the Austrian peace movement. During the First World War there were lots of people and groups who followed her example and protested against the war and in favour of peace. Although they had little influence, their advocacy of peace was particularly courageous in view of the prevailing and controlling censorship.

  • Person

    Alexander (Sascha) Kolowrat-Krakowsky

    The film pioneer Alexander Kolowrat-Krakowsky was appointed director of the Film Office in the War Press Headquarters in 1915. As a result, his company, “Sascha Filmfabrik”, founded in 1910, became the central film production unit in Austria Hungary.

  • Object

    Shortages and poverty

    When the population reacted to shortages of bread and flour in January 1915with panic buying, the Kriegs-Getreide-Vekehrsanstalt [Wartime Grain Trade Department] introduced ration cards. Individual quotas were determined and handed out on presentation of bread and flour ration cards. But even the allocated rations became more and more difficult to supply, and the cards became worthless.

  • 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.

  • Object

    The foreigner, the adversary, the enemy!

    To popularise the greeting “Gott strafe England” [“May God punish England”] and the response “Er strafe es” [“May He do so”] it was printed on posters, badges and postcards. The idea was to promote patriotism and hatred of England. Right after the start of the war, animosity and mutual attributions of blame by the two sides were manifest. Xenophobia was officially encouraged as a sign of patriotism. This singling out and denigration of the enemy was designed to strengthen solidarity and justify the country’s own war policy.


  • Development

    Daily life on the (home) front

    How was daily life at home and on the front between 1914 and 1918? Was the life of a middle-class woman similar to that of a worker? Did officers experience warfare in the same way as other ranks? Or were the experiences of the population at home and the soldiers at the front too individual and diverse for generalisations?

  • Development


    Around the turn of the century anti-Semitism entered the political agenda and became part of the ideological programme and guiding principle behind political activities. It was based on an ideology that stigmatised Jews as “different” and as a threat to society. During the First World War, anti-Semitic agitation abated initially underthe domestic “truce”, but it heated up again as the war failed to take the desired course.