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social sciences

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Schubert (1797-1828), whose houses of birth and death may be visited in Vienna today, has long been rumored to be gay. During his lifetime he was reputed to have very little interest in female companionship, and spent at least two years living with his librettist Johann Baptist Mayerhofer--a notorious homosexual--in a sublet room where they shared a bed. Their affection for each is documented in several song texts written by Mayerhofer for Schubert, as well as their unfinished opera "Adrast."

Schubert's sexuality was not explicitly discussed until 1981, when the musicologist Maynard Solomon published a well-reasoned and researched article in American Imago, later expanded in 19th Century Music, which argued that the composer's primary orientation was homosexual.

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Vienna's artists and architects--Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Oskar Kokoschka, Josef Hoffmann, Otto Wagner, and Adolf Loos among them--experimented with new styles, forms and materials to reflect the idea that society itself was rapidly changing.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, with the city's population exceeding one million, Vienna experienced a tremendous increase in building activity. During this period, Emperor Franz Joseph ordered the construction of the Ringstrasse, the circular road surrounding the Innere Stadt district (the city's Old Town), along the route of the former city walls originally built in the thirteenth century. The boulevard remains one of the city's most celebrated and glorious sights.

Vienna's famous Staatsoper ("State Opera House"), one of the most notable buildings along the Ringstrasse, was built by the architects Eduard van der Nüll (1812-1868) and August Sicard von Sicardsburg (1813-1868), who were partners in life as well as in business.

Unfortunately, the gay architect couple began construction on the Staatsoper before the street level of the Ringstrasse had been officially established. The street level was later raised by one meter making the edifice look (as it still looks today) as if it had sunk into the ground. As public criticism of the architects' work escalated (even the Emperor himself supposedly expressed dissatisfaction), van der Nüll--who was already prone to depression--committed suicide on April 3, 1868. Barely ten weeks later, on June 11, 1868, his partner Sicardsburg died too, purportedly of a "broken heart."

Two of the most influential figures in the study of homosexuality in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries conducted their groundbreaking work in Vienna. The Austro-German psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing (1840-1902) and the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) both played crucial roles in codifying homosexual identity and theorizing about its origins and implications.

Krafft-Ebing, author of the pioneering book Psychopathia Sexualis ("Psychopathy of Sex"), concluded that both male and female homosexuals did not suffer from mental illness or perversion (the pervading belief at the time). Freud wrote, in a letter to the mother of a homosexual man, that "homosexuality is assuredly no advantage, but it is nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation, it cannot be classified as an illness." However, he continued that "we consider it to be a variation of the sexual function, produced by a certain arrest of sexual development."

Vienna and the Two World Wars

The assassination on June 28, 1914 in Sarajevo of Franz Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria and heir presumptive of the Austro-Hungarian throne, precipitated the Austrian declaration of war against Serbia and marked the beginning of World War I. After its defeat in 1918, the Austro-Hungarian monarchy was dissolved, ending the 640-year old Habsburg dynasty, and the first Republic of Austria was established. The young republic suffered massive inflation, unemployment, and near economic collapse.

On March 12, 1938, German troops marched into Austria and the country was incorporated into Greater Germany by the Nazi regime. This annexation, or Anschluss ("political union"), was one of the first major steps in Adolf Hitler's long-desired creation of an empire incorporating the German-speaking lands and territories Germany had lost after World War I. Following the annexation, Hitler triumphantly entered Vienna and publicly exclaimed, "This city, in my eyes, is a gem! I shall mount it in a setting worthy of it, and entrust it to the care of the entire German Reich!"

The German law, known as Paragraph 175, prohibiting "criminally indecent activities" between men was imposed throughout Austria. In September 1939, the National Socialist leadership sent the first group of Austrian homosexuals, who were primarily from Vienna, to Mauthausen, a concentration camp in Austria near Linz.

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