Historic rallies on Heldenplatz

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Over the course of history, the Heldenplatz served many masters – as parade ground for marshalling troops and for the announcement and broadcasting of their ‘grand’ schemes and ideas.

After the end of the Habsburg Monarchy, this square, its dimensions perfect for large-scale political and symbolic manifestations, served at the beginning of the 1930s as parade ground and demonstration venue for the right-wing paramilitary Heimwehr, for demonstrations of Austrian patriotism in the corporative state as well as public speeches by the Federal Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss.

Adolf Hitler chose this square for his Anschluss rally in the forenoon of 15 March 1938. Here from the balcony of the Neue Hofburg he proclaimed ‘before history’ the entry of his native country of Austria into the German Reich. In his speech he invoked the tradition of the Holy Roman Empire with Vienna as the imperial capital. Thus, despite his aversion towards Vienna and the Habsburg Monarchy with its ‘motley nationalities’, he utilized the symbols of monarchical power to stage-manage and thus legitimize his own claim to leadership as a continuation of this ancient tradition.

In a similar spirit, there were even ambitions to reactivate the ‘Imperial Forum’ building project that had been abandoned in 1913 and not continued by the Republic, using Gottfried Semper’s designs to turn the arena into a National Socialist ceremonial plaza. However, this would have involved turning the complex by 90 degrees to align it towards the balcony from which Hitler had delivered his speech in March 1938 as the central axis. The young Hitler, a fervent admirer of Semper’s architecture, had already made sketches of a remodelled Heldenplatz during his time in Vienna before the First World War.

Julia Teresa Friehs