As a cultural journalist these days, it is difficult to keep up with the pointless goodbye. Roland Geyer, who managed to place the Theater an der Wien at the forefront of international operas, had to be removed from office. It was the turn of Robert Meyer, the successful director of the Volksoper, who would like to stay longer. And now 64-year-old Danielle Spera, who entered the unknown in 2010, was almost pragmatizing the immeasurable popularity of the ZiB-1 presenter. At that time, the Jewish Museum on Dorotheergasse carried out its educational duties with a kind of exclusivity that could be called inconspicuous. Nine years later, in the last regular fiscal year before the pandemic, the number of visitors doubled. The government subsidy remained unchanged, but sponsorship and donation revenues increased sevenfold. They worked with children and refugees, encouraged research on provenance, promoted contemporary artists, and became a digital archive, venue and venue for international conferences. The New York Times chose the museum, today one of the ten most famous cultural institutions in Vienna, as one of the most important addresses in the world.
Danielle Spera made it clear that she wanted to continue, but the city wanted “something else.” André Heller, Helga Rabl-Stadler, Brigitte Bierlein, Peter Huemer, Karin Bergmann, Cornelius Obonya and many other supporters of the People’s Committee wanted to oppose the official will to change. But it has been decided: on July 1, Austrian Barbara Staudinger, previously director of the Jewish Museum in Augsburg, will take over power. I sincerely wish her happiness.
Farewell to Nitsch
At the beginning of the conversation, the departing director, a dark, timeless and timeless beauty, still seems moved. But not because of the impending farewell: the day before, at the Mistelbach Museum, she delivered praise to the world artist Hermann Nitsch, which was obvious after 45 years of friendship. The three endless months of decay, mostly in an artificial coma, were a particular cruelty of fate, says the author of the 2018 biography. “Even though his eyes were alive, I had the impression that he understood his suffering very well. But he had such joy in life that he would not leave, he was a total fighter. ” When it was over, she was in the hospital with him for an hour. “I could see in his eyes how happy he was to be there. It was a very painful hour, but very important.
It’s time to move on to the topic of the interview, because it’s Friday and soon the Shabbat celebrated by the family begins. Danielle Spera, a child of a Catholic mother and a Jewish father, was a late convert, which strengthens her conviction. Does he leave with a soft, audible, loud resentment? “No offense, but gratitude,” he says. “Because everything I planned and much more could be achieved. The city of Vienna has decided that the museum should take a different course, ”she continues. What was wrong with the course? “Please ask those responsible in Vienna, I can’t do anything about it.” After all, did the religious community also promote departure? How it decides on the subject can only be answered by the religious community.
»Unfortunately, Judaism in Austria often boils down to 1938-1945«
Balance sheet after twelve years. What was the most successful? “To open a house and put it on the cultural map of the city. This was one of the reasons I applied for it. The Austrian-Jewish history is so immensely important to our country that it cannot be compared with other countries. This story needs to be told, it doesn’t happen anywhere else. Therefore, the goal was to expand the Jewish Museum. “
Meaning? “To tell Jewish history in all its aspects. To convey the history of the Ephrussis or Viennese Rothschilds as well as the stories of the average Viennese Jewish families. Unfortunately, in Austria, Judaism is very often reduced to the years 1938-1945 ”.
Are they marching again?
But now, to their horror, they are celebrating their comeback. Would anyone from Danielle Spera’s generation have thought that young people with yellow stars on their chests would march down the streets of Austrian capitals and mock the victims of Auschwitz on this occasion? They are the outgrowths of a very small group, logical side effects of the crisis. Although he is immediately against what kind of crisis we are talking about? “May the world never experience worse than we do here in prosperity.” In fact, a lot has changed in Austria over the past decades, and for the better.
Back then, in my childhood, anti-Semitism was constantly present and the spirit of National Socialism could be felt everywhere. “Pictures of fathers in Wehrmacht uniforms were still hung in many apartments, and the silence was louder than the screams of the few today. Today there is an amazing interest in Judaism, you can participate in Jewish-themed events several times a week. in addition to the Jewish Museum in Vienna, it is enough to think about the open day in the city temple that thousands of people want to visit ”.
May only the hatred of immigrants towards Jews, which the left likes to downplay as anti-Israelism, is not mixed with visitors. When asked for the news, experts also put a cautious question for the museum: killers would rather lure large crowds in crowded venues. But the danger is there and cannot be ignored. “You have to face it!” demands Danielle Spera. “From the very beginning of the great influx of people from the Middle East, we developed programs for inviting them to the Jewish Museum. Many of them come from an anti-Semitic milieu where it is said that a Jew is Israel is the enemy. ” Therefore, the museum invited young people from these ethnic groups and launched the first dialogues. A group of Syrian women kept coming.
And now? You could now camp in huge institutes that have been blockbusters for decades. But the Jewish Museum is almost as visited as before. The Rothschilds were almost overrun. And now, goodbye, comes the most vivid, most brazen exhibition of the era, which was actually one.
Love me kosher
“Love Me Kosher” deals with nothing but love and sexuality in Judaism, a truly energizing subject. Because sexuality is not welcomed there, but on the contrary, “something important and holy that should bring joy. This joy of life, this attachment to life is fundamental to Judaism. Life is the greatest good we have received ”.
Hence this colorful, blissful exhibition. It starts literally with Adam and Eve, with paintings by Chagall and Arik Brauer in front of huge tapestries designed by André Heller, owner of his own Marrakesh paradise. “In crisis,” says the director, “people are looking for entertainment. In today’s situation, you don’t want anything stressful again that would remind you of darkness and sadness. “
Therefore, interviews with rabbis about the Kabbalah in which sexuality is sanctified, follow videos of wedding ceremonies and photos of the ritual cleansing bath called the mikveh. You can also take a step under a Jewish wedding canopy, express your solidarity with writers Arthur Schnitzler and Hugo Bettauer who were porn enthusiasts, thank epochal enlightened people from Freud and Lazarsfeld to Carl Djerassi and Ruth Westheimer, and find what you are looking for in the first kosher sex shop at Jerusalem.
There is also a look at what is most repressed, the death belt between the Holocaust and sexuality.
Arik Brewer and Prince Charles
It was fun to be able to design here for twelve years – says the director. Arik Brauer later found a home here, the Jewish father Danielle Spery was his friend. Both survived in hiding and enthusiastically joined the KPÖ after 1945.
Edmund de Waal, the creator of the amber-eyed hare, donated to the museum his archive, which is coveted all over the world. Film pioneer Eric Pleskow has been a frequent visitor, and the children of film actress Hedy Lamarr would like to have a permanent memorial at the birthplace of their mother, one of Danielle Spera’s first activities in her new life.
Or Prince Charles who visited Vienna in 2017 and chose only the Jewish Museum out of all the rich recreational activities. After weeks of precaution, he sat down with the stunned refugee program participants. He then accepted, on behalf of his country, thanks to the elderly survivors who avoided mass murder thanks to British refugee programs.
And now? Fortunately, the search for the Hedy Lamarr memorial has come a long way and the research project on Jewish Semmering is about to be turned into a book. The Theater Museum should be interested in an exhibition about the writer Efraim Kishon.
The last tour ends. Next to it, there is a smaller exhibition commemorating the Jewish art collector Stefan Edlis. And there, between two racks of stylized books, “he” kneels. In a family that emigrated from Vienna, Hitler’s name was never mentioned, but a sculpture by the sculptor Maurizio Cattelan stood in the salon of Edlis, who died in 2019.
Exposing the devil here is a powerful work of frontal pedagogy, unimaginable in any other constellation. After all, also in any other directorate? We’ll see.
This article originally appeared in Print News # 25 + 26/2022.