Act I Scenes 16-17


Field headquarters. Four commanders enter.

AUFFENBERG[1]:    No, gentlemen, out of the question! I’ve no intention of becoming a second Benedek[2] and retreating like he did in ’66, I’m simply not going to let that happen.

BRUDERMAN[3]:    Come on, don’t be so beastly, what about the rest of us? I’ve only lost eighty thousand and they’re already having a real go at me.

DANKL[4]:    They expect me to answer for the seventy thousand I lost.

PFANZLER-BALTIN[5]:    Ignore them! All I can say is attack, I don’t give a hoot! We have to attack tomorrow or we’re up shit creek. Attack is what I’m about, I’d like to know what people are in this world for if it isn’t to die a hero’s death! We’ve got to attack, got to attack – (he succumbs to a seizure)

AUFFENBERG:    Absolutely, absolutely – I agree with your view entirely. I’ve always thought one’s own men should kick the bucket while they’re still fresh. I’m already in the middle of preparations for that. My motto is, nothing works unless it hurts. By the way, I mustn’t forget – the adjutant didn’t remind me again, one has to think of absolutely everything oneself –

BRUDERMAN:    What is it?

AUFFENBERG:    Nothing – a trifle – I have a field postcard to write actually. I’ve been meaning to do it since Lublin[6], but in the confusion of the withdrawal there I completely forgot about it. Just a moment! (He sits at a table and writes.) Now, this will delight him, I’m sure.

DANKL:    What are you writing?

AUFFENBERG:    Listen, ‘At this hour –

PFANZLER-BALTIN:    Ah, he’s spurring on his men – I don’t bother. Haven’t we got machine guns and chaplains for that! Tomorrow we have to attack and that’s when –

AUFFENBERG:    ‘At this hour – ’

BRUDERMANN:    You’re writing an order?

AUFFENBERG:    No, a postcard.

DANKL:    So who are you sending these historic thoughts to?

AUFFENBERG:    Listen: ‘At this hour, when I would normally be relaxing in the intimacy of your establishment, I find myself thinking of you and your staff and I send you my best regards from a far off military post. Yours, Auffenberg’.

BRUDERMANN:    Who’s it to? Field Marshal Krobatin[7]?

AUFFENBERG:    You must be joking!  Riedl, at the Café de l’Euope!

ALL:    Oh, Riedl!

BRUDERMANN:    Auffenberg,  such an old softie. You are, it’s what I love about you. That’s why they can’t put a finger on you for the ninety thousand Tyroleans and Salzburgers you sacrificed. Sacrificed, that’s how they put it.

DANKL:    You know what? Let’s all write to Riedl!

BRUDERMANN:    Well, strictly speaking I really frequent the Opera Café[8] – I’d rather – (he sits and writes)

PFANZLER-BALTIN:    The Café Heinrichshof’s[9] my home from home, I’d rather – (he sits and writes)

DANKL:    Well, it’s so true – I’ve been going in and out of the Café Stadtpark[10] for over twenty-nine years – every day I read the General Staff dispatches there with Höfer[11](he sits and writes)

AUFFENBER (aside):    They all copy me. First it’s my strategy then my intercourse with the rear. Pity Potiorek[12] isn’t here, but he did write me a postcardfrom the Café Kremser[13] and Liborius Frank[14] is at Scheidl’s[15] with Puhallo von Brlog[16]. And Conrad’s[17] getting engaged, no more coffeehouse life for him. They all copy me. I was the first one to have my picture put in the Humorist[18], I was a trailblazer there. That was a change for once – not just endless theatrical lovvies. Now they’ve all been mobilised it’s nothing but generals, so dull, it’s high time a human being put in an appearance again. I was the first to establish closer relations with the press, now everyone’s got his own bootlicking hack, just for the publicity. I can’t wait to see if Riedl will be quick-witted enough to get my card into the New Free Post. Still, I shouldn’t forget, in a week’s time we attack and I really must – what to do Pflanzer, do I launch an attack straightaway or next week?

PFLANZER-BALTIN:    I don’t want to poke my nose into your business, but if I was in your position I’d launch such a storming attack that –

BRUDERMANN:    As your men are pretty much done in anyway, that’s my opinion too. There’s always time for them to recover later. Let’s attack!

DANKL:    Nonsense. He’d be better to hold on for the Emperor’s birthday on the 18th of August[19], that’s if he can’t wait till his ascension day in December[20]. It would make a real birthday treat for the Emperor.

PFANZLER-BALTIN:    I don’t get involved in that sort of toadying. As far as I’m concerned we should attack in the morning, I couldn’t give a stuff!

(An adjutant of Pflanzer-Baltin’s enters.)

ADJUTANT:    Excellency, I most humbly beg to report that the professors are already here to present you with your honorary doctorate.

PFLANZER-BALTIN:    Ah well, let them wait – if it’s heavy they can put it down and get their breath back for a moment. (The adjutant goes.)

AUFFENBERG:    Can we congratulate you too? Which faculty?

PFLANZER-BALTIN:    Czernowitz[21].

BRUDERMANN:    Not so much a faculty, more a professorial chair. Field?

PFLANZER-BALTIN:    Philosophy of course.

DANKL:    Where will you go when you’re discharged?

PFLANZER-BALTIN:    Well, Czernowitz. Not much of a name, but still –

I do have some prospects at Graz[22], the students there have been fighting in my ranks. Unfortunately it could all be skewered because they want to close the place down, due of the shortage of students.

DANKL:    You may be congratulating me on an honorary doctorate before long, from Innsbruck[23].

AUFFENBERG:    Provincial players all of you. I wouldn’t even accept a thing like that. I say: Vienna[24] or nothing! Apropos of Vienna, Riedl will be thrilled to death! I mustn’t forget to remind my adjutant not to forget to remind the courier to remember not to forget and leave the postcard behind!

DANKL, BRUDERMANN, PFLANZER-BALTIN:    That’s an idea, I’ll do the same, it’s always safest sent by courier.

AUFFENBERG:    They all copy me. First it’s my strategy then it’s my intercourse with the rear.



Vienna. The Coffeehouse Owner’s Association. Four proprietors, Riedl[25] amongst them, enter. The others are talking to him vehemently.

COFFEHOUSE OWNER 1:    It’s not on, Riedl, you’re a patriot and an honest-to-goodness businessman, you simply can’t – look, it’s only for as long as the war lasts, you’ll get them back again later –

COFFEEHOUSE OWNER 2:    Riedl, don’t make me so angry, you’re compromising the position of the whole trade when you’re its greatest adornment – you have to do it, whether you like it or not, you just have to –

COFFEEHOUSE OWNER 3:    Leave it, he’ll listen to me. Don’t be so bloody-minded. Are you Viennese? Right! Are you German? Right then!

RIEDL:    But don’t you see how it’s going to look in the next Lehman Directory[26] – I’ve always been the one who had more foreign decorations and honours than anyone in the whole municipality of Vienna and its suburbs, no one’s got an entry as big as mine –

COFFEEHOUSE OWNER 1:    Riedl, I can understand how difficult this is for you, but you have to make sacrifices. Come on Riedl, it would be shameful not to, it would almost be high treason, with so many military bigwigs frequenting your cafe, one of them even with his own table!

COFFEEHOUSE OWNER 2:    In these great times we all make sacrifices, I’ve only put the price of an espresso up to four forty-four instead of four fifty, these days everyone has to make a contribution, however small –

COFFEEHOUSE OWNER 3:    This is crazy, I can’t believe that our Riedl, the celebrated patriot, the Coffeehouse Owners’ Association chairman, commander of the naval veterans – you’ve got to be kidding, Admiral Tegethoff would be turning in his grave if he knew. I don’t believe it! You, the only one of us who’s had a monument put up in his own lifetime –

RIEDL:    That’s right, and I put it up myself! I’m a self-made man through and through – I have poured my heart and soul into my establishment, every time I see that frontage I rejoice at those magnificent reliefs of mine!

COFFEEHOUSE OWNER 1:    Right then, so why do you need the baubles you got from our enemies? You have to take them down Riedl, the lot, even the one from Montenegro, and even the Order of the Liberation of Liberia!

RIEDL:    No, not that one! It’s my pride and joy. Look, I’ve been thinking, in a year or so maybe, I might step down as chairman – no, it’s too much!

COFFEEHOUSE OWNER 2:    Riedl, you have to do it!

COFFEEHOUSE OWNER 3:    Riedl, there’s no choice.

RIEDL:    No more Order of Franz Josef?

COFFEEHOUSE OWNER 1:    On the contrary, you can have that one printed in Lehman’s Directory in bold!

RIEDL (fighting with himself, then with great resolve):   O.K. – I’ll do it! I know what I owe my country. I shall renounce the honours that enemy governments have bestowed upon me, the scumbags! I wouldn’t so much as take back the money I paid for that junk!

ALL:    Hooray for Riedl! – That’s just like Riedl! – Long live the city of Vienna and our Riedl! – Long live St Stephen’s Cathedral and our Riedl, right next door! – God scourge England! – And he will! – Down with Montenegro! – Just bin it! – Riedl, the greatest of patriots!

RIEDL (wiping his brow):    Thank you – thank you – I shall phone immediately and tell them to take it all to the Red Cross. You’ll be able to read about it in the New Free Press tomorrow – (he becomes thoughtful) ‘Here I stand, a defoliant stem’[27].

COFFEEHOUSE OWNER:    Schiller! You see how cultured Riedl is now, he can even quote the classics!

RIEDL:    That’s not the classics, it’s what that egghead from the evening edition says when he loses at poker[28]. Now – (heartbroken) the loser’s – me!

COFFEEHOUSE OWNER 3:    Don’t be so sad, Riedl! Don’t be so sad! What you give away now will come back to you twicefold and thricefold again in the future. And maybe sooner than you think.

(A waiter bursts into the room.)

WAITER:    Herr von Riedl, Herr von Riedl, a postcard, Fräulein Anna said to run over – it’s wonderful – the whole café’s buzzing with excitement –

RIEDL:    Give it here, what is it – (reads, trembling with joyful  excitement) Gentlemen – at this point in time – an historic moment – I have, in my capacity as patriot and honest-to-goodness businessman, received countless demonstrations of devotion from my fellow citizens – also as chairman of the Coffeehouse Owners Association – but nothing like this – no – look –

ALL:    Well what is it?

RIEDL:    The most glorious of my regular customers – the most outstanding of our military commanders – has – in the midst of battle – thought – of me! Hold me! I have to get it – in – into the evening edition –

(All clasp him and read.)

COFFEHOUSE OWNER 1:    Oh, for goodness’ sake, here’s me thinking it was heaven knows what. Why the big fuss? I got a postcard from General Brudermann yesterday – (takes it from his pocket.)

RIEDL:    Stop, this is mortifying –

COFFEEHOUSE OWNER 2:    Listen, what’s the matter with you, you clown – you think that sort of thing impresses me? The day before yesterday I had a postcard from Pflanzer-Baltin – (takes it from his pocket.)

COFFEEHOUSE OWNER 3:    You’re all as daft as each other. As it happens I had a postcard last week from Dankl – (takes it from his pocket.)

ALL (reading simultaneously): ‘At this hour, when I would normally be relaxing in the intimacy of your establishment, I find myself thinking of you and your staff and I send you my best regards from a far off military post. Dankl-Pflanzer-Brudermann.’

RIEDL (exploding):    I don’t believe it! This is plagiarism! Plagiarism! Fraud! You’re a bunch of minnows next to me. I won’t put up with it! I haven’t given back any of my honours yet, I don’t see why I should, and if Auffenberg doesn’t clear this up immediately – I shall keep the lot of them!


[1] Commander of the army in Poland (I n.24).  

[2] Ludwig Benedek (1804-1881), forced to retreat after defeat by the Prussians in 1866.

[3] Rudolf Brudermann (1851-1941), army commander in Galicia; sacked after defeat at Lemberg.

[4] Victor Dankl von Krasnick, count (1854-1941), commanded 1st Austro-Hungarian army (1914).

[5] Karl Pflanzer-Baltin, baron (1855-1925), commander on the Russian front.

[6] In late August 1914 the Austro-Hungarians were forced to retreat from Lublin across the San River.

[7] Alexandre Krobatin, Minister of War. (I n.60)

[8] Café in the Opera House building.

[9] Café opposite the Opera House, on the Ringstrasse.

[10] Café near the Stadtpark, one of the parks created when the Ringstrasse was constructed.

[11] Franz Höfer von Feldstrum (1861-1918), field marshal; he spent the war in the War Office.

[12] Oskar Potoriek(1853-1933), commander-in-chief of the Balkan army (1914).

[13] Café on the Kärtnerring.

[14] Liborius Frank (1848-1935), general commanding the 5th army in the Balkans.

[15] Café Scheidl, on Kärtnerstrasse, opposite the Opera; it is now a Starbucks.

[16] Paul Puhallo von Brlog, baron (1866-1926), general, recipient of the Order of the Iron Crown.

[17] Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, chief of the general staff. (Pro n.75)

[18] Der Humorist, ‘a newspaper for fun, thoughtfulness, the arts, theatre, cordiality’; founded in 1837.

[19] Emperor Franz Josef was born on 18 August 1830.

[20] Franz Josef’s reign began on 2 December 1848.

[21] Czernowitz (Chernovitsi, Ukrainian,) now in Ukraine, though after 1918 it was in Romania; it was always culturally important, referred to as ‘Little Vienna’ and, because it was a centre of Jewish learning, ‘Jerusalem on Prut’ (the Prut is a tributary of the Danube). Franz-Josefs Universitätwas founded in 1875.

[22] Karl-Franzens-Universität, the University of Graz founded in 1585 by Archduke Charles II; it is Austria’s second-oldest university; it ‘outscores’ Czernowitz, being both ancient and German.

[23] The University of Innsbruck originated as a Jesuit grammar school in 1562, though it didn’t achieve full university status until 1669, under Leopold I; still ancient, still German, still outranking Czernowitz.

[24] The University of Vienna was founded in 1365 by Duke Rudolph IV and is the oldest university in the German-speaking world; Rudolph, the first Habsburg duke born in Austria, was also responsible for ‘Privilegium Maius’, a forged document that established Austria as an independent, hereditary archduchy.

[25] As above: Ludwig Riedl, proprietor of the Café de l’Europe.

[26] ‘Allgemeines Adress-Buch nebst Geschäfts-Handbuch für die k.u.k. Haupt- und Residenzstadt Wien und dessen Umgebung’ , ‘General Directory and Business Handbook for the Imperial Capital and Royal Seat of Vienna and Environs’; a version of Lehmann’s directory was published from 1863-1942.

[27] ‘Hier steh’ ich, ein entlaubter Stamm’, ‘Here I stand, a defoliated stem’; from the play ‘Wallenstein’s Death’, the last of a trilogy of plays about the Thirty Years’ War by Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805); Reidl says entleibter not entlaubter, ‘self-immolated’, ‘self-sacrificed’ instead of ‘defoliated’, ‘stripped bare’. He makes errors with words throughout the scene; untranslatable but there are a few equivalents.

[28] The game referred to is Angehen; similar card games were played throughout Germany and Austria-Hungary, versions of a Yiddish game most commonly called Mauscheln (from Yiddish for Moses, Moishe).