Sigmund Freud:
Bergasse 19, Vienna

112 pages,
ISBN: 0789302543

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The Comfort of the Encased Man - When Dwelling Becomes Museum
by Diana Kuprel

"[The interior] represents the universe for the private individual. Within it he brings together distant places and past times." (Walter Benjamin)

"All our belongings have arrived undamaged, my collection has much more space and looks much more impressive than in Vienna. It is true, the collection is dead now, nothing is being added to it any more, and almost as dead is its owner..." (Letter from Freud in London to Margaret Stonborough-Wittgenstein)

On a wet May morning in 1938, two months after Nazi troops had crossed the border to incorporate Austria into Hitler's Third Reich, a young photographer named Edmund Engelman was invited by August Aichorn, a co-worker of Prof. Dr. Sigmund Freud, to photograph the renowned psychoanalyst's residence-apts. 5 & 6 at no. 19 Berggasse, in Vienna's 9th district. This was shortly before Freud would leave Vienna, his hometown of seventy-eight years, to settle in London. The decision to emigrate was prompted by a Nazi break-in, and the arrest and interrogation of his daughter, Anna, by the Gestapo. The Brown Shirts were placated with money, for the time being; and the Gestapo did release Anna before she had to use the lethal dose of Veronal she carried with her. But the Freuds realized-sadly, ineluctably-that it was time to get out.

Sigmund Freud: Berggasse 19, Vienna is what it claims to be: "a precious visual chronicle" of the intimate world of the remarkable figure whose name has become synonymous with modern psychoanalysis, and who is an integral and resonant part of twentieth-century European intellectual history. Starting from the street, with a view of the apartment building over whose entranceway chillingly hung a swastika, Engelman carefully worked his way down the worn, ceramic-tiled hallway with its classical architectonic, up the wrought-iron stairwell to the heavy office door with its sign announcing Prof. Dr. Freud 3-4, and through the comfortably cluttered rooms of Freud's office and home. What confronted the eager and brave photographer was Freud's collection of well over 2,000 antique artifacts, leather-bound books, numerous awards, family photographs, his writing desk where he would "anaesthetize" himself "with writing-writing-writing", Anna's consulting room, Aunt Minna's abode with the old-fashioned Viennese porcelain stoves, and, yes, the couch with the armchair in which Freud used to sit during his analyses. Engelman spent two days photographing the interior. Near the end of his session, he unexpectedly encountered a likewise surprised but congenial psychoanalyst at work. Freud agreed to have himself photographed, as did his wife, Martha, and daughter, Anna; these portraits, appreciatively included in this "before the departure" volume, are haunting as they capture the dignity, the strain, the resignation, and the directness of gaze of the subjects. The Freuds left Vienna on June 4, 1938. On January 1, 1939, Engelman was also compelled to emigrate, first to France and then to New York. Freud died in London on September 23, 1939. New tenants took over occupancy of the Berggasse apartments, which in 1971 were designated a national landmark and converted into a museum.

This is a simple, lovely album of black-and-white photographs. The introduction by Inge Scholz-Strasser is clear, informative, and elegantly presented: it provides a moving look into the family life of this icon, a concise overview of his professional career, an unusual portrait of Vienna as a living city, and an elucidation of Freud's complicated relationship to this city. The photographic chronicle is a wonderful mixture of slightly fuzzy (due to the quality of interior lighting) and sharply focused long shots and detailed close-ups of the ornately furnished bourgeois apartments. Each photograph is accompanied by a capsule description, a quote by a major intellectual like Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno, a remembrance by a family member, or excerpt from Freud's letters; these provide the salient details that bring the photographs to life and into context, and add that extra depth to the introductory overview. Finally, there is a touching and dramatic memoir by Engelman as he recalls his excitement about the photographic opportunity and the accompanying danger, the background of anti-Semitism that had now become an active force in Vienna, his deep and abiding respect for his subject, his own dramatic escape from a Europe on the brink of chaos, and his involved search to recover the negatives he had left behind.

This volume is a marvellous keepsake for anyone fascinated by Freud and this period of European intellectual history, and a haunting memorial and visual record of a world that is now as dead as the one-time inhabitant of Berggasse 19.


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