Posts Tagged ‘Karl Kraus’

Third Place The Third Place has just been published in England. To mark its publication, here’s a bit on the inspiration for this novel:

The Third Place is the sixth installment in my Viennese Mystery series, set at the turn of the twentieth century and featuring private inquiries agent Advokat Karl Werthen and his partner in crime detection, the real-life father of criminology, the Austrian Hanns Gross. In this series addition, Werthen and Gross investigate the murder of Herr Karl, a renowned headwaiter at one of Vienna’s premier cafés. As the investigation turns up new clues, Werthen and Gross are suddenly interrupted in their work by a person they cannot refuse. They are commissioned to locate a missing letter from the emperor to his mistress, the famous actress Katharina Schratt. Franz Josef is desperate for the letter not to fall into the wrong hands, for it contains a damning secret. As the intrepid investigators press on with this new investigation, they soon discover that there has also been an attempt to assassinate the emperor. Eventually, Werthen and Gross realize that the case of the murdered headwaiter and the continuing plot to kill the emperor are connected, and they now face their most challenging and dangerous investigation yet.

This novel takes its title from the Viennese saying, First is cafehome, next comes work, and then the third place is the coffeehouse. In fact, much of the inspiration for the writing of this book comes from the Viennese coffeehouse and its history and legends.

At one point early in the novel, Werthen and his wife, Berthe, meet with Karl Kraus, cultural critic, grammar policeman, and word maven of Vienna 1900. Kraus has served as a source of information for Werthen several times in the series, and in the following scene, he provides a possible theory re the murder of Herr Karl:

“Do you know Herr Karl’s last name?” Kraus asked.

Werthen had to shake his head at this.

“I thought not. Though supreme in their leadership at the café, the Herr Ober has no surname. He is simply Herr Karl or Herr Viktor.” Kraus made a dramatic pause, then, “Andric. His name was Karl Jakov Andric.”

“Sounds Serbian,” Berthe said.

“And it is, dear lady. Actually, Bosnian Serb. Herr Karl’s family arrived in Vienna not long after Franz Josef became emperor, escaping Ottoman rule. They were Christians, and only too happy to finally make it to a Christian land. Ironic, however, Herr Karl’s choice of trade, don’t you think?”

cafe2“You mean the Turkish connection?” Werthen said.

“Exactly,” Kraus said, looking at Werthen as a pleased headmaster might gaze at a bright pupil. “The family flees Turkish Ottoman rule only to have the son take up a trade created by the Turks. It is a pleasing story for schoolchildren. The loyal Polish trader Kolschitzky rewarded for his spying services during the Turkish siege of Vienna by making off with bags of coffee beans found in the camp of the vanquished Turks. Beans which only he knew what to do with. And like most children’s tales, it is mostly myth. The Armenians preceded Kolschitzky, but then who cares for the truth when fable is so much more alluring?”

“But what could Her Karl’s ancestry have to do with his death?” Berthe said, growing exasperated at Kraus’s asides.

“This is hearsay, Advokat,” Kraus said, directing the conversation at Werthen in silent rebuke to Berthe–a woman daring to continually badger the greatest intellect of Vienna. “So do not quote me, but from my unofficial café historians I have heard that Herr Karl’s father was something of a revolutionary while in Bosnia, eager, though a Serb, to keep that region independent of greater Serbia. It is said that perhaps his emigration was not stirred so much by dislike for the Ottomans, but for fear of retribution from Serbian nationalists. Perhaps they took out revenge on his son at long last. There are rumors, after all, of a secret organization formed by the Serbian military last year. The Black Hand. Quite dramatic, don’t you think. The purpose of said secret society is assassination.”

Werthen did not bother to write down anything more than Herr Karl’s full name. This avenue of investigation seemed too incredible to warrant exploration.

Kraus touches on many of the themes later developed in The 220px-Jerzy_Franciszek_Kulczycki_11Third Place. But of importance here is his historical aside to the founding of the Viennese coffeehouse. I have long been fond of the Kolschitzky tale, no matter, as Kraus says, its apocryphal nature. He is one of those fascinating footnotes to history who become symbolic for an entire epoch and is also an inspiration for The Third Place.

Kolschitzky was simply one of many messengers who, for a high price, braved the Turkish lines during the 1683 siege of Vienna to tell the relieving army to advance, that the situation inside the walls of the town had greatly deteriorated. Kolschitzky and his servant made a treacherous round trip though enemy lines wearing Turkish garb.

A Pole, Kolschitzky had worked for a time as an interpreter in Constantinople and could thus blend in linguistically with the Turks. Both he and his servant were paid 200 ducats for delivering this life-saving message.

Kolschitzky must have been a master of public relations, for it is his exploits that chroniclers of the siege chose to report, even though there were numerous other such messengers making the perilous journey through enemy lines. Indeed, in the chronicles of the siege, Kolschitzky’s deeds take on a magnitude of importance in league with the commander of the Viennese fortifications, Stahremberg, or the burgomaster, Liebenberg, who died defending the city.

kol1After the Turks were routed on September 12, 1683, by a relieving force of 120,000 Germans and Poles, the spoils were handed out all around. The Turks had taken most of their treasury with them, but among other things left behind were sacks and sacks full of coffee beans. The Viennese had yet to discover the joys of coffee; however, Kolschitzky knew of the wonderful beverage from his time in Constantinople, and he agreed to take these “useless beans” as a further reward for his service to Vienna.

He proceeded to open Vienna’s first coffeehouse, “At the Sign of the Blue Bottle,” and started what has become a Viennese institution, the café, so vital to Viennese life that it is called “the third place.”

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This post continues a series of  personal reflections on Vienna, a city that is my very own Scene of the Crime–setting for my Viennese Mystery series and for much of my other published work.  That this article appears on Mothers Day is purely fortuitous and more than somewhat ironic. Read on to discover why.

For those of you who love to play butterflies or six degrees of separation, the world of Vienna 1900 is no stranger. Going forward or backward in time, you’re pretty likely to hit on a link in fin de siècle Vienna if you’re dealing with someone in the arts, literature, science, or world affairs. From Freud to Mahler, Klimt, and Hitler, the city was an amazing cauldron of cultural innovation (and, yes, in Hitler’s case, destruction) around the turn of the previous century.

At the epicenter of all was the young polymath, Karl Kraus, cultural critic, grammar policeman, and word maven of Vienna 1900. Kraus, a frail-looking man, beavered away for over three decades, single-handedly publishing his magazine, Die Fackel (The Torch). In this journal he took on the hypocrisies of the day, stood up to the rich and the powerful when need be, fought crime and societal stupidity, and generally pissed off everybody. The ultimate aphorist, Kraus termed Vienna 1900 a “laboratory for world destruction.”

In my novel, Requiem in Vienna, I describe Kraus thusly:

“A slight man with a curly head of hair and tiny oval wire-rim glasses that reflected the overhead lights, Kraus dressed like a banker. One of nine children of a Bohemian Jew who had made his money in paper bags, Kraus lived on a family allowance that allowed him to poke fun at everyone in the pages of his journal.”

Kraus frankly did not care who he angered. And sometimes he paid the price for his outspoken views. Once part of the Jung Wien group of writers, including, among others, Arthur Schnitzler–whom Freud termed his double–and the young Felix Salten–later author of Bambi– Kraus soon turned against them. In a famous article, he ridiculed the group’s coffee-house culture and earned a bitch slap from Salten at the Café Central for his words. On another occasion, he took a punch on the nose from an irate cabaret performer who did not care for Kraus’s reviews.

Kraus was most definitely a man of contradictions. On the one hand, he could defend the right of prostitutes to carry on their trade unmolested by the authorities:

“Corruption is worse than prostitution. The latter might endanger the morals of an individual, the former invariably endangers the morals of the entire country.”

At the same time, however, he could write this about women in general:

“Intercourse with a woman is sometimes a satisfactory substitute for masturbation. But it takes a lot of imagination to make it work.”

No one ever said Kraus was likable.

Something of the H.L. Mencken of Vienna, Kraus enjoyed a turn of phrase, enjoyed shocking people. But most of all he enjoyed being at the center of the rippling pool of Vienna 1900’s artists and intellectuals. He was the ultimate filter of gossip in fin-de-siècle Vienna; he knew where all the bodies were buried.

Kraus was also a major celebrity in his day. “I am already so popular that anyone who vilifies me becomes more popular than I am,” he liked to say. Besides the regular publication of his journal, Kraus was also a performer. Again from Requiem in Vienna:

“Despite his slightness of bearing, Kraus had a fine speaking voice. He had tried for a career as an actor as a younger man, but stage fright had intervened. He was said to be experimenting with a new form of entertainment, however, much like the American, Mark Twain and his famous one-person shows. At fashionable salons, Kraus was already entertaining the cognoscenti with his interpretations of Shakespeare and with readings from his own writings. Another of his aphorisms Werthen [my investigator protagonist] had heard: ‘When I read, it is not acted literature; but what I write is written acting.’”

And oh my but he makes one hell of a fictional character. So acerbic, so full of self-contradictions, so full of himself. I am not sure I would have liked to sit down over a cup of coffee or glass of wine with the man–nor he with me, I am sure–but anybody who could quip that “psychoanalysis is that disease of which it purports to be the cure” would have been worth knowing.

(For those who read German, the entire edition of Kraus’s Die Fackel is available free online)

(This post originally appeared on the blog, Murder Is Everywhere.)

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