Monday, March 3, 2014

Beauty and The Beast

On Sunday we spent the afternoon in appreciation of Otto Wagner's (1841-1918) architectural design at St. Leopold Am Steinhof (est. 1903-1907).  The Church is on the grounds of Vienna's (still open) neuropsychiatric hospital "Otto Wagner Hospital".  The Wagner designed complex is on a hill overlooking the City in the 14th District and consists of more than 30 buildings and pavilions that make up the hospital, a theatre and the Church along with an adjacent park area.  This blog addresses the atrocities that took place at this facility in the text following my photos of the Church.

Wikimedia Internet Photo

To say that the Church is beautiful is an understatement, my photos can not do its beauty justice.  It must be seen to appreciate Wagner's Jugendstil (modern/Art Nouveau) vision.  The stain glass windows were designed by fellow Secessionist artist Koloman Moser.  Apparently, the glass was moved to the Czech Republic during WWII and restored in place during the 1950s.  Wagner designed the Church with patients in mind:  rounded edges, drip fonts to reduce spread of infection, gentle slope floors and easy access entrance/exit points.

Now, the Beast.  During WWI, more than 2,000 Am Steinhof patients were left to starve and die of rampant infection.  The seeds of more horror were planted in 1920 when the writings of lawyer Karl Binding and psychiatrist Alfred Hoche discussed the concept of "lebensunwert"  or "unworthy to live" and the right to kill the incurable sick.  The idea (and a Foundation) of "racial hygiene" was established in Vienna in the mid-1920s, well before the Anschluss in 1938.  During WWII the Nazis experimented on and killed more than 7,000 patients from Am Steinhof, including children (Am Spiegelgrund).  It is incomprehensible, but the experiments on Am Spiegelgrund remains continued into the 1980s.  The last of these victims were laid to rest in Vienna in a ceremony in 2012.  2012!  The depravity of what happened and the fact that the remains of these souls languished so long in specimen jars brings me to tears.  I used factual material contained on these two websites, "The War Against the Inferior" and BBC News

I plan a return visit to view the exhibition at the hospital.  It did not appear to be well marked when we were walking the grounds yesterday.  This "avoidance" seems quite typical at Vienna landmarks dealing with its dreadful history.


  1. Beautiful! (The church, not the history.)

  2. I had never heard of this place. Adding it to my bucket list, thanks!