Semmering 88 / 2680 Semmering
Austria's Magic Mountain
The Kurhaus Sanatorium on the mountain of Semmering
The Semmering (el. 965 m.) is a mountain pass in the Eastern
Northern Limestone Alps connecting Lower Austria and Styria
between which it forms a natural border. When the famous Semmering
Railway was completed in 1854, the first mountain railway
in Europe, it brought many tourists from Vienna to here. The
aristocracy as well as artists of the literature and the fine
arts (Oskar Kokoschka, Adolf Loos, Peter Altenberg or Karl
Kraus, Sigmund Freud, Arthur Schnitzler, the Rothschilds).
Those people served as reputation for a good holiday resort
and magnets for more tourists. In 1998 the Semmering Railway
was added to the list of the UNESCO World Heritage sites.
The Kurhaus on the Wolfsbergkogel
In around 1900, the hotels on the Semmering were among the
leading grands hôtels of the Alps, and hosted high-class
visitors from throughout the Habsburg empire. The leading
hotels - the Panhans, Südbahnhotel and Erzherzog Johann
- were joined in 1909 by a fourth exceptional luxury hotel,
the Semmeringer Kurhaus, a sanatorium which was known as a
high-class hotel offering particular tranquillity and discretion.
Director Max Reinhardt stayed here, as did author Arthur
Schnitzler, who drafted his famous "Liebelei" at
the sanatorium, and other eminent guests included Anton Wildgans,
Raoul Auernheimer, Jakob Wassermann, Otto Brahm, Gerhard Hauptmann,
Ernst Lothar and Alma Mahler's third husband, the writer Franz
Werfel, who declared himself "saddened" by the sight
of dead game.
Josef Kainz, the most famous actors in German speaking culture,
spent the final weeks of his life here in the summer of 1910,
before returning to Vienna in August, where he died on 20
September in the Sanatorium Löw. (This was where, six
months later, Gustav Mahler, was also to die.)
In the First World War, the "Physical-Dietetic Mountain
Convalescent Home" (Kurhaus) served as an exclusive convalescent
home for officers right up to Field Marshall Conrad von Hötzendorf,
whom even Austria's last Emperor Karl paid a visit there.
Alma Mahler-Werfel also regularly visited the Kurhaus, and
sent her daughter Anna there in 1929 when she was suffering
from jaundice. This led to Anna's marriage to publisher Paul
von Zsolnay, who had caused a sensation with Franz Werfel's
novel "Verdi" and spent several weeks on holiday
at the Kurhaus.
In her memoirs "And the Bridge is Love",
"I sent Anna, who returned sick from Paris in the
previous spring, to convalesce on the Semmering. It so happened
that Paul von Zsolnay also travelled up to the Semmering Kurhaus.
Subsequently, Zsolnay came to Vienna and asked me for Anna's
hand in marriage.
Zsolnay's father was thoroughly opposed to the marriage.
This led to ugly scenes and marriage contracts, but now Anna
sits virtuously, filled to the brim with protest, in her beautiful
palace. If only she could find some true happiness there!"
Left: Franz Werfel and Paul von Zsolnay
Letter from the Kurhaus dated 11 June 1929 to Alma's son-in-law
Paul von Zsolnay Esq
Prinz Eugenstrasse 30, Vienna IV
We are in receipt of your esteemed letter dated
the 10th inst. and have pleasure in informing you that
your valued reservation for a one-bedded south-facing
room with a balcony on the mezzanine of our establishment
has been duly noted for the 27th inst. for approximately
3-4 weeks, and that, dear sir, you can certainly expect
to find that your room meets your requirements upon
your arrival here. We are delighted to be able to welcome
you and send you kindest regards from the Kurhaus.
During the inter-War period, Cardinal Innitzer, Archbishop
of Vienna, was a Kurhaus guest, as were star tenor Jan Kiepura
with his wife Martha Eggerth, actresses Liane Haid and Renate
Müller, pianist Otto Schulhof, and Pauline Horthy, daughter
of the Hungarian regent.
In December 1938, the Kurhaus was taken over by the Wehrmacht
and converted into a "German military convalescent hospital",
where leading figures of the Third Reich went to convalesce,
including, in December 1943, Field Marshall "Desert Fox"
Erwin Rommel, who lived in the aryanized Villa Petschek and
personally carried his shoes for repair to local shoemaker
Kalancuk. While receiving treatment for an intestinal parasite,
he received a visit from the Chief of the German High Command,
Wilhelm Keitel, and Walther von Brauchitsch, Commander in
Chief of the Army.
Following World War II, the Russians occupied the Kurhaus,
which had scarcely suffered any damage; the boundary with
the British zone ran exactly along the Semmering Pass.
Besides an elegant reading room with a stunning view across
to the Sonnwendstein, Kurhaus guests had at their disposal
a music room and a billiard and games room, although gambling
for large sums was prohibited. In the daytime, patrons would
indulge in a game of tennis or golf, but could also enjoy
the fresh air and sunbathe, or practise gymnastics in the
Architects Franz von Krauss and Josef Tölk were engaged
to construct the Kurhaus. Their firm was one of the most successful
of the late 19th/early 20th century. They built countless
residential houses and villas, as well as theatres such as
the Volksoper and the Kammerspiele in Vienna.
The Kurhaus was designed as a reinforced concrete construction
and marked the transition from historicism to modernity. The
combination of Heimatstil (regional style) elements, palace
architecture, decorative Jugendstil and functionalistic architecture
brought about a fundamental change of style in the hotel architecture
of the Semmering and had exemplary status also beyond the
borders of Austria.
The high-class Kurhaus enjoyed the sunniest position on the
Semmering, was specifically positioned to face the south-east,
and was secluded from its surroundings by woods.
The very decorative artistic interior ornamentation is related
to Josef Hoffmann's geometric Jugendstil and uses elements
which allude to the work of Otto Wagner, such as the balustrade
and the flower baskets on the staircase. The parts of the
building still preserved in their original style include the
luxurious dining room with original lighting, mosaics, wall
panels, dressers, and Thonet chairs made of stained natural