Prologue Scene 1


Vienna.[1] The Ringstrasse[2], Sirk Corner.[3] A holiday evening in summer. People are coming and going. They are gathering in groups. 

NEWSPAPER VENDOR:    Extra edition! Heir to throne assassinated![4] Killer arrested!

VISITOR (to his wife):     Thank God he wasn’t a Jew![5]

VISITOR’S WIFE:    Let’s go home anyway. (She pulls him away.)

NEWSPAPER VENDOR 2:    Extra edition – ! New Free Press![6] Bloody crime in Sarajevo! Murderer a Serb![7]

OFFICER 1:    How are you, Powolny![8] So what’s on? The Gartenbau?[9]

OFFICER 2 (with a cane):    The restaurant’s closed!

OFFICER 1 (shocked):     Closed?

OFFICER 3:     Impossible!

OFFICER 2:     I’m telling you it is!

OFFICER 1:     So what do you make of it all?

OFFICER 2:     Well, I was thinking we could pop over to Hopfner’s?[10]

OFFICER 1:     That goes without saying – no, I mean what do you make of it politically? You’re the smart-arse in that department –

OFFICER 2:     Well, I guess it will probably (waving his cane about) stir things up a little bit – not much harm in that either – it’s high time –

OFFICER 1:    You really are such a poser, you know! But I’ll tell you someone who will be excited, Fallota[11], he was –

OFFICER 4 (joining the group, laughing):    Nowotny, how’s it going? Pokorny! Ah, Powolny! Now you’re the politico – what do you think?

OFFICER 2:    I think this rabble is chockfull of subversives.

OFFICER 3:    That goes almost without saying.

OFFICER 4:    Absolutely my view too – but you know yesterday was quite a party – and have you seen Schönpflug’s[12] latest cartoon, classic!

OFFICER 2:    I tell you, this Fallota’s a real patriot, and he says it’s never enough to do your duty, you’ve got to be a patriot through and through. If he gets something in his head he couldn’t give a stuff. You know what? We need to get steamed up about this. And fine by me! 

OFFICER 3:    So what about Hopfner’s then?

OFFICER 4:    Do you recognize those two, over there?

OFFICER 2:    I tell you who’s seriously well-informed, Schlepitschka von Schlachtentreu[13], he’s got all the papers off pat, the whole A to Z. He says we just need to read more; because it’s all there, in the press. We’re for peace, but not peace at any price. That’s right, isn’t it? (A waitress passes) That’s the tart I told you about, the one I had free, gratis and for nothing the other day. (An actor, Fritz Werner[14], goes by) How’s it going!

OFFICER 3:     I don’t know him, do I?

OFFICER 4:    You’re kidding! It’s only Fritz Werner – the actor!

OFFICER 3:    Classic! There’s me imagining it was Treumann.[15]

OFFICER 1:    Get out of here! How can anyone mix those two up?

OFFICER 2:    You see, that’s because you’ve never studied logic – you’ve confused Werner with his exact thespian opposite, Treumann.

OFFICER 3:     You know – (thinking) when it comes to operetta, on the whole I prefer ‘Blood of the Hussars’ to ‘Autumn Manoeuvres’.[16]

OFFICER 2:     Listen to him!

OFFICER 1:     Ah, but you’re so well-educated, so –

OFFICER 4:     So that really was Fritz Werner!

OFFICER 1:     So terribly well-educated.

OFFICER 2:     How do you mean?

OFFICER 1:     Well, take operetta, you’ve already seen ‘The Laughing Husband’[17], haven’t you? And don’t you know Hubert Marischka[18] too?

OFFICER 2:      Unfortunately not.

OFFICER 1:      Otto Storm[19] then, you know him?

OFFICER 2:      Oh yes, I do know him!

OFFICER 4:      Hey, we don’t want to hang around Power-Play Corner[20] any more, do we? Let’s go to Hopfner’s if the Gartenbau really is –

OFFICER 3:      You’ll know Franz Galwatsch[21] as well, what an actor! (In conversation off.)

NEWSPAPER VENDOR (coming at the double):    Daily News![22] Heir to throne and wife murdered! Get it all here!

SALES REP 1:    So what do we do with the rest of the evening?

SALES REP 2:    Fun fair? Venice in Vienna is supposed to be open.[23]

SALES REP 1:    Great, let’s jump in a cab and drive to Venice!

SALES REP 2:    I don’t know, I’m a bit jittery, not before we’ve heard –

SALES REP 1:    We’ll get all the guff over there! Listen, yesterday, the big race, the big tip at the Imperial Hotel[24] was Melpomene.[25] All day they were all ears for Melpomene. Of course they’re vultures, you know yourself – I’ve learned that the hard way – but hey, there‘s Fishl.[26] (He calls across the street) So did Melpomene win then?

FISCHL:    No way!

SALES REP 1:    What? Oh, drop dead then!

FISCHL:    After you! Glaukopis[27] – Melpomene was second!

VIENNESE MAN (to his wife):     I’m only saying he wasn’t much loved.

HIS WIFE:    Mary and Joseph, why ever not?

VIENNESE MAN:    Because he wasn’t mainstream enough. I was in the Café de l’Europe with Riedl[28], the owner, he told me that one himself –

OLD NEW FREE PRESS SUBSCRIBER (in conversation with the oldest subscriber)[29]:    A nice mess! 

OLDEST NEW FREE PRESS SUBSCRIBER:    What do you mean mess? (Looks around) Everything’s going to be all right! It will be just like it was in Maria Theresa’s[30] days, I’m telling you!



OLD NEW FREE PRESS SUBSCRIBER:    Well, let’s hope it is. But – for God’s sake – Serbia! And what about my boy?

OLDEST NEW FREE PRESS SUBSCRIBER:    In the first place a war is really out of the question these days, and anyway – as if they’d take him! They’ve got plenty of others, haven’t they? (Murmurs) Lord, thou art righteous! As for me, I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s editorial. Moriz Benedikt[31] will be using the kind of language we’ve never heard from him before. Karl Lueger’s[32] death will be nothing in comparison. He won’t mince words, not now, though it goes without saying he’ll need to cautious. However, he will be speaking from the heart, all our hearts, even the goyim’s[33], even the higher echelons of the goyim, the very highest in fact. Well, he knows how much is at stake, doesn’t he!

OLD NEW FREE PRESS SUBSCRIBER:    You shouldn’t bank on it though, any of it.  Maybe it’s not even true.

OLDEST NEW FREE PRESS SUBSCRIBER:    Such a pessimist! (Both off.)

SOME DRUNKS (Pushing through the passers-by):    Good night and God save us! Down, down with Serbia! Skin them alive! Up, up Austria!

4 TEENAGE BOYS AND GIRLS (arm-in-arm, singing ‘Prince Eugen’[34]):

So he ordered a bridge to be made

For his army to cross in parade,

And take the great fort of Belgrade –

CROWD (Werner comes back with thanks and greetings):    Up, up, with Franz Werner!

FRÄULEIN LÖWENSTAMM[35]:    Go over and ask him now.

FRÄULEIN KÖRMENDY[36] (approaches him):    I really am such a great fan of yours – I would so love an autograph – (Werner takes out a notebook, writes on a page and hands it to her. Off) He was so, so sweet!

FRÄULEIN LÖWENSTAMM:    Well, did he look at you? Come away from the crush, it’s just about the war. The only crush I care about’s the one I’ve got for Otto Storm! (Off.)

NEWSPAPER VENDOR:    Extra edition! Archduke Franz Ferdinand –

CULTURE VULTURE:    It’ll be a colossal loss for the theatres, I mean the Volkstheater[37] would have been completely sold out tonight –

CULTURE VULTURE’S WIFE:    So, a beautifully ruined evening, we could have stayed at home, but you, I can’t be rely on you for anything –

CULTURE VULTURE:    I’m staggered by your selfishness. I would never have anticipated such a total lack of public feeling in you.

CULTURE VULTURE’S WIFE:    Don’t imagine none of this interests me, of course I’m interested, there’s absolutely no point eating at the Volksgarten[38] if there’s no music, we’d be as well off at Hartmann’s[39]

CULTURE VULTURE:    It’s always about eating with you – who gives a damn now – you’ll see what happens, all this is a mere appetiser –

CULTURE VULTURE’S WIFE:    If only we could know

CULTURE VULTURE:    Well, it will be some funeral anyway, like nothing on earth. It reminds me of how the Crown Prince once – (off.)

POLDI FESCH[40] (to his friend):    This evening we’ll go on a real bender. Last night I was on the piss with Sascha Kolowrat[41], tomorrow – (off)

POLICEMAN:    Left please, keep left please!

NEWSPAPER VENDOR:    Reichspost![42] Second edition! Murder of heir to throne and wife!

PETIT BOURGEOIS 1:    Live and let live! Well, for your Viennese man-in-the-street that’s not enough. I’ll explain what I mean and you’ll understand. So how come? Well, your common or garden Viennese is used to having his habits observed. But contrary to expectations – Hadrawa[43], ah, what such a Viennese poet, spotted him once, incognito at the time it seems, taking a taxi and giving the driver a tip, just like a real man of property, and not a penny too much, I’m telling you.

PETIT BOURGEOIS 2:    Get away!

PETIT BOURGEOIS 1:    Now he even goes into the better shops, but then doesn’t want to pay over the odds of course. What a piece of work! Wouldn’t you think he’d be happy to let himself be fleeced by people like us? He wants to put himself up there with us! But we’ve got to live too! He doesn’t want to cough up. Not on your life! Well, it’s a question of judgement, isn’t it? I still say live and let live and I’m ready to die for that of course. So where were we? You see your common man –

NEWSPAPER VENDOR:   Extra edition – !

PETIT BOURGEOIS 1:   Give me a paper! How much?

NEWSPAPER VENDOR:   Ten heller.[44]

PETIT BOUGEOIS 1:   Ridiculous! What a rip off! There’s nothing in it anyway.  Hey – (whistles) – look at those two over there, neat or what? And the fun buns on that one! My old lady can definitely put hers away.

PETIT BOURGEOIS 2:   Hang on, she’s a prostitute.

PETIT BOURGEOIS 1:   Hey, do you see that, the crowd outside the Bristol[45], let’s go and have a look, it must be some sort of celeb. (Off.)

POLICEMAN:  Left please, keep left!

JOURNALIST 1 (to his colleague):   This is a good place to absorb the atmosphere.  As you see the news has spread like wildfire along the Korso.[46] The cheerful hustle and bustle that unfolds at this time of day dies away; despondency, a sense of deep shock, in many cases silent grief, can be read on every face. Complete strangers are talking to one another, they’re snatching the special editions out of each other’s hands, clusters of people are gathering –

JOURNALIST 2:   I’d put it more like this: In the boulevards along the Ringstrasse people could be seen forming into groups to discuss what had happened. The police dispersed the groups and declared that any further gatherings would not be tolerated. Whereupon the groups reformed and the public started to mass – oh, look at that!

(In front of the Hotel Bristol an argument has broken out between a fiaker-driver[47] and passenger, passers-by take sides, boos can be heard.)

NEWSPAPER VENDOR:   Extra edition! Terrorists murder heir to throne and wife!

FIAKER DRIVER:   Your Excellency, really! Arguing over the fare, today of all days –


[1] Kraus’s stage directions are often startling in their brevity; it is part of the play’s fabric. At times, not only in readings but staged performance, some stage directions should be spoken.

[2] In 1857 Emperor Franz Josef I ordered the demolition of Vienna’s medieval walls, to be replaced by a wide, boulevard-like road that would circle the city; it was lined with the grand buildings of imperial government and Viennese culture, as well as green and leafy open spaces. The Ringstrasse was a practical solution to the modernisation of Vienna but it was also intended to be a visible manifestation of Habsburg power; it very quickly became one of the city’s most characteristic features; it remains so to this day.

[3] Opposite the Opera House, at the junction between the Ringstrasse and Kärtnerstrasse (an elegant shopping street), Sirk Corner takes its name from August Sirk’s shop, Zum Touristen, selling leather goods, Galanteriewaren (fancy goods) and souvenirs. All Vienna gathered here to watch the world go by; lovers met, prostitutes and pickpockets plied their trade, the great and the good, spilling out of the Opera House, concert halls, theatres and coffeehouses, bumped into each other and gossiped. The area features prominently throughout the play.

[4] Archduke Franz Ferdinand (1863-1914) became heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after his brother, Rudolf, committed suicide in 1889. He was not at all popular at court and Emperor Franz Josef’s closest advisors shed few tears at his death.  On 28 June 1914 he and his wife were shot by a Serb nationalist, Gavrilo Princip, in Sarajevo, capital of the province of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Ironically Franz Ferdinand’s unpopularity in Vienna was partly due to his declared intention, when he eventually became emperor, of giving much more autonomy to the different nationalities within the empire.

[5] By the end of the 19th century ten per cent of Vienna’s population was of Jewish origin, 200,000 people. There were distinctly Jewish neighbourhoods but most Jews wore their Jewishness lightly. Jewish contributions to Viennese life were out of all proportion to numbers; achievements in art, music, literature, journalism, science, medicine, politics, social welfare, business, industry are extraordinary; Jews were prominent generators of the unique energy that was Viennese modernism. In Hugo Bettauer’s 1922 novel ‘Die Stadt ohne Juden’, ‘The City without Jews’, Vienna collapses when its Jewish population is expelled. Of course anti-Semitism was endemic; a young Adolf Hitler was there, absorbing it, as the play begins. Here a (Jewish) visitor is aware of the propensity to blame anything and everything on Jews.

[6]Neue Freie Presse’, ‘New Free Press’; Vienna’s most important and most powerful newspaper; it represented the liberal middle classes primarily, with an influence extending into every area of political and intellectual life. Moriz Benedikt, its editor, was from Kraus’s point of view the man who brought ‘media spin’, mendacious, manipulative, fully formed, into the 20th century world it was to so dominate. That spin is one of Kraus’s obsession

[7] The First World War’s causes are complex, but the events that led directly to war are not. The heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne having been assassinated by a Serbian nationalist, there was an excuse for the invasion of Serbia by Austria-Hungary, which in turn led to other dominoes tumbling; Russia supported Serbia, Germany supported Austria-Hungary, France was allied to Russia, and that alliance would finally bring in Britain. There is a strong argument (one Kraus repeats throughout the play) that this was a war Germany was not particularly unhappy to find an excuse to fight.  There is an argument that other powers felt the same, but Kraus will not let Germany off the hook. At this point, for the ‘spin doctors’ in Vienna, politicians and press alike, ‘Serb’ stands alongside the words ‘murderer’ and ‘assassin’ in the headlines, as the news is hawked only hours after Franz Ferdinand’s death.

[8] The names of these idle, feckless aristocratic officers are Slav; their family origins lie in the countries whose longtime ill fit with the Austro-Hungarian Empire has sown the seeds of the coming war; Powolny, Pokorny and Nowotny are names still found in Austria. They are primarily Czech and Slovak in origin (Novotný is the third most common Czech name); when Kraus uses familiar names in the play (as opposed to invented ones) he often has a sense of underlying etymology, either as an expression of character or ironically, or both: in Czech ‘povolný’ is ‘biddable’, ‘docile’; novotný, ‘newcomer’; ‘pokorný’, ‘humble’, ‘self-effacing’.

[9] A restaurant in the grounds of the Vienna Horticultural Society.

[10] Upmarket restaurant on Kärtnerstrasse.

[11] Kraus’s names may also express characteristics or qualities more directly, when he makes them up. Here Fallota seems to be from an Austrian word Fallot, ‘fraud’, ‘cheat’; in English drama compare Sir Wilfull Witwoud in Congreve’s The Way of the World’, etc. It isn’t always easy to find workable English equivalents, especially as, where names are inventions they frequently sound as if they could be real. It is impossible to draw a clear line between real names that hint at qualities and these more overt inventions. I have not normally translated them in the text, instead suggesting English equivalents in footnotes: here ‘Fiddler’.

[12] Fritz Schönpflug (1873-1951), painter, cartoonist, popular lampooner of Viennese society.

[13] The German expresses a bloodthirsty temperament of the aristocratic, military ‘huntinshootinfishin’ variety, plus Slav origin. In English: ‘Slashemsky-Slaughtermain’..

[14] Fritz Werner (1871-1927), actor, operetta singer. Kraus rarely uses first names when he mentions anybody; it was the etiquette of the time; people called each other by their surnames unless they were very close friends. It is useful to expand the names, partly because it tells us whether they are male or female, partly because, with regard to celebrities, it reflects the familiarity of our usage. I have sometimes added a word of description (‘Fritz Werner – the actor!’) when it is helpful and sounds natural; similar additions appear, sparingly, elsewhere; for Kraus’s audience a simple pronoun often suffices for well-known names.

[15] Louis Treumann (1872-1943), actor, operetta singer.

[16] ‘Husarenblut’ (1894) by Hugo Felix (1866-1934) and ‘Herbstmanöver’ (1908) by Emmerich Kálmán (1882-1953); two operettas that present military action through romantically rose-tinted glasses. The figure of the hussar in operetta is a particular cliché, handsome in stunning uniform, always getting the girl; blood is the last thing to be seen in operetta battles. For Kraus operetta represented everything about Vienna that was gemütlich ,’cosy’, ‘complaisant’, ‘self-satisfied’; he certainly didn’t see over-indulgence in operetta as an intellectual achievement. For him, here, the conversation is not about culture at any level; it is about a society obsessed with vacuous celebrity. Operetta was hugely popular; its leading performers were the city’s stars; a familiar mirror to our own media-led preoccupation with celebrity.

[17] ‘Der Lachenden Ehemann’ (1913), operetta by Edmund Eysler (1874-1949).

[18] Hubert Marischka (1882-1959), actor and operetta star, later director.

[19] Otto Storm (1874-1950), actor.

[20] Potenz-Eck is another term for the Sirk Corner, orso area; literally ‘Power’ or ‘Potency’ Corner’. There is a sexual element in the German that it is impossible to capture in English without straining the klanguage; but this is where ‘political movers’ meet prostitutes too.

[21] Franz Galwatsch (1871-1928), actor.

[22]Neue Wiener Tagblatt’, ‘New Vienna Daily News’ (1867-1945). Where there are natural English equivalents for t he titles of Viennese newspapers and journals, I have used them; on occasions, however, I have left the names in German, either when the English doesn’t sound convincing, or distinctive enough, or when the German has a particular resonance.

[23] Venedig in Wien, the Prater amusement park; opened 1895; the Wiener Reisenrad, its giant Ferris wheel, symbolised Vienna long before Carol Reed, Orson Wells and ‘The Third Man’.

[24] The Imperial Hotel, one of Vienna’s grandest hotels, on the Ringstrasse.

[25] Almost certainly the name of a real horse, untraced.

[26] Fischl is a German name; colloquially the verb fischen can also mean something like ‘catch’ or ‘hook’ someone, in the way the sales rep has been caught, taking tips from the lounge-lizards at the Imperial; he should know better than to trust them. So ‘Conner’ or ‘Duper’.

[27] Glaukopis, famous stallion, born Hungary 1907; bloodline still in modern race horses.

[28] Ludwig Riedl, proprietor of the Café de l’Europe, coffeehouse close to St Stephen’s Cathedral. He appears later as a prominent leader of the most influential coffeehouse owners.

[29] The power of newspapers meant being a regular subscriber was like belonging to a political party; a declaration of your politics, partisanship, prejudices; a bond with people of influence.

[30] Maria Teresa (1717-1780), Empress of Austria; monarch whose strong reign some wistfully regarded (similarly to views of Elizabethan England) as a golden age of unity and glory.

[31] Moriz Benedikt (1849-1920), editor of the New Free Press; here his Jewishness is pointed up.

[32] Karl Lueger (1844-1910), powerful, much-loved mayor of Vienna; also a rabid anti-Semite.

[33] The Jewish middle classes were prominent among Benedikt’s readership and these two readers are Jewish. They use the term ‘goyim’ (simply Hebrew for people who aren’t Jewish) with some respect here, or at least cautiously. These are well integrated men, but they are aware of their distinctiveness; they echo the sentiment, maybe unconsciously, that the goyim are ‘superior’ at the end of the day; at least the goyim with real power are. The implication is that Benedikt’s opinions reflect not only middle class views, but the imperial inner circle too.

[34] ‘Prinz Eugen, der edle Ritte’,‘Prince Eugen the Noble Knight’; march commemorating battle fought by Prince Eugen of Savoy (1663-1736), using the text of an anonymous ballad, set to a folk tune, ‘Als Chursachsen das Vernommen’; it has an unusual fluctuating rhythm. Josef Strauss (1827-1870) wrote a notable march based on the song (‘Prinz-Eugen Marsch’, Op. 186). Eugen was a general and statesman in the Holy Roman Empire; in 1717, during the sixth Austro-Turkish war, he captured the occupied city of Belgrade for the Empire. Belgrade was, in 1914, the capital of Serbia of course; ironically Serbian volunteers fought alongside Germans in 1717. The song had long been a popular expression of imperial ardour in the Austrian Empire and more general pan-German nationalism. The march is one of several martial anthems Kraus uses repeatedly in the play.  The first verse of the original ballad translates as follows:

Prince Eugen, the noblest knight,

Charged to win back the Emperor’s might,

Now had the foe in his sight,

So he ordered a bridge to be made

For his army to cross in parade,

And take the great fort of Belgrade.

[35] Pun on Löwenzahn, ‘dandelion’ using Stamm, ‘tribe’ or ‘clan’; so: ‘Miss Clandelion’

[36] Körmendy, Hungarian family name; originally someone from Körmend, a village close to the Austrian border. It seems to imply ill-defined, maybe spurious claim to minor nobility.

[37] Volkstheater, Vienna’s second theatre, after the Burgtheater; noted for operetta.

[38] Volksgarten, ‘People’s Park’, a public park off the Ringstrasse, next to the Hofburg Palace.

[39] Restaurant on the Kärtnerring.

[40] Poldi is an abbreviation for the common Christian name Leopold; fesch means ‘good-looking’, probably with a suggestion of smarminess; something like: ‘Dick Slick’.

[41] Alexander Joseph Kolowrat-Krakowsky, count (1886-1927), founded the first Austrian cinema studio, Sascha-Film; headed the government’s film propaganda unit during the war.

[42] ‘Reichspost’, ‘National Post’, daily newspaper (1894-1938). This translates as something like ‘National Post’, but the nationalist and pan-German resonance of Reich really can’t be lost.

[43] Josef Johann Hadrawa (1869-1950), writer, librettist, lyricist; noted for ‘Wienerliedern und Volksstücken’, Viennese songs, folk-dramas; less an observer of Viennese life than promulgator of ‘City of Song’ Gemütlichkeit; a well-known song of Hadrawa’s is (typically in Viennese dialect): Ja, echte weanaleut, san lusti jederzeit’, ‘Yes, True Vienna Folk Are Merry All the Time’.

[44] Heller, hundredth of an Austro-Hungarian Krone, ‘crown’, the Austro-Hungarian currency from 1892-1918, and the end of the empire; in Hungary the terms were ‘fillér’ and. ‘koruna’.

[45] Another of Vienna’s grand Ringstrasse hotels.

[46] Another a name for the promenading route around the Ringstrasse and Opera House.

[47] The Fiaker is Vienna’s distinctive horse-drawn taxi cab, still popular with tourists. The term was originally French, ‘fiacre’, from the Parisian carriage stand in the Rue de St Fiacre; it was first used in 1720, when ‘taxi’ carriages were first regulated and numbered. The word does exist in English as ‘fiacre’, simply another word for a horse-drawn hackney carriage, but in translation it seems best to keep the German word and its spelling. Fiaker drivers were noted for surliness, unhelpfulness and a general propensity to rip off customers; plus ça change.