Historical Oddities: 1913, When Seven Men Who Shaped History All Lived in Vienna

In the early 20th century, Vienna was the sixth largest city in the world with over 1.7 million people. As the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, it was a global center of the arts and culture. It was a center of political demonstration and agitation as socialist ideas gained popularity in the city and the nationalist and ethnic conflict within Austria-Hungary were about to come to a head. In 1913, amidst all of this and just before the outbreak of World War I, a surprisingly high number of people who were or would become important historical figures all lived or spent time in Vienna.

Let’s start with the Austrians. Naturally, Emperor Franz Joseph resided in the Hofburg palace as the head of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His nephew and heir was Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who lived nearby in the Upper Belvedere Palace south of the city center. A year later, Franz Ferdinand’s assassination in Sarajevo would start the direct chain of events that led to the outbreak of World War I. Moving away from the royalty, the renowned psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud was living in a small apartment in downtown Vienna where he had his private practice. Today Freud’s apartment has been converted into a museum dedicated to him.

There were also two men from elsewhere in the Austro-Hungarian Empire that moved to Vienna as young men to find a better life. These men were Adolf Hitler and Josip Broz Tito. A young Hitler had come to Vienna at the age of 16, hoping to attain a position at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. He had moved from his hometown of Linz in northwest Austria, but was rejected from the academy twice in 1907 and 1908. From then until he left Vienna for Munich in the summer of 1913, Hitler struggled to make a living as a watercolor painter and lived in a home for poor workers on the north side of the Danube. Meanwhile, Tito had joined a metalworkers union and moved to Vienna after working at a number of automobile factories. While in Vienna, he worked at a local Daimler factory as a machinist and test driver and became active in the local labor movement. Both men left Vienna in the autumn of 1913 when Austria was conscripting young men to the army. Tito returned to Zagreb to join the army, while Hitler dodged the draft and fled to Munich where he enlisted in the Bavarian army at the beginning of the war the next year.

Along with the citizens of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, two Russian expatriates were also living in Vienna in 1913. They were also the only two of the historical figures in Vienna at the time to have definitively encountered each other, aside from the Austrian royalty. Those two men were Joseph Stalin and Leon Trotsky. At the time, both were exiles from the Russian Empire after the attempted revolution in 1905. Trotsky was a frequent regular at the Café Central coffeehouse, also in the central historic district of Vienna. Stalin came to Vienna for a month in 1913 and met Trotsky there to join the fledgling Bolshevik movement. Trotsky had also met Lenin when he was in Vienna four years prior. Stalin left Vienna after his brief visit, while Trotsky fled Austria for Switzerland after World War I began.

Besides the already mentioned meetings, it is unknown whether any of these famous figures ever crossed paths during their stays in the Austrian capital. However, it is fascinating to think that such people, who had or would go on to shape so much of the history of the 20th century, were all living in a single city within miles of each other in one year.

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