III. The Cultural History of the Nestroyhof

It was the age of Arthur Schnitzler, Sigmund Freud, Martin Buber, Franz Kafka, Theodor Herzl, Gustav Mahler, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Max Reinhardt, Lise Meitner, Karl Kraus, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Viktor Adler, Arnold Schönberg, Stephan Zweig…

Formerly a center of indigenous and international Jewish culture and creativity, the theater in the Nestroyhof made a daily contribution to a flourishing intellectual, artistic, and social movement in Vienna that, by the 1930s, had included numerous theaters and independent ensembles.

Built in 1898, the Nestroyhof was the architect’s first major Jugendstil venture, yet it is as quintessential of the contemporary style of the day as it is exquisite and expressive in its detail and structural design. A high example of architectural innovation, the Nestroyhof is among the first multifunctional buildings ever created. Incorporating a mid-sized theater, commercial business and office spaces, and private apartments into a single complex, the building stands at the vanguard of 20th Century urban architectural design.

Erected in the heart of the Leopoldstadt, Vienna’s most densely and culturally active Jewish quarter, at the center of its thriving cultural scene in the Praterstrasse, the Nestroyhof was financed, owned, and occupied by Austrian Jews and was renown for its role in Viennese Jewish theater until its seizure by the Nazis in 1938 and its full Aryanization in 1940.

The theater in the courtyard of this Jugendstil gem was an integral part and central feature of the design from the start. Until 1938, themes of Jewish identity, culture, and experience were often portrayed on its stage in Yiddish, German, and other languages. Known at different times under various names, including “Intimes Theater”, “Klein-Kunst-Spiele” and “Theater Reklame”, the theater in the Nestroyhof was respected for nearly four decades for its many resident productions, but was also the host stage for visiting performances by artists and ensembles of international renown, such as Molly Picon, Maurice Schwartz and his Jewish Art Theater, the Vilna Troupe, the Ziegler-Pastor Yiddish Theater of Bucarest, and the Habima of Tel Aviv.

The German language programming of the Intimes Theater included productions by Osip Dymov, the Student Club Theodor Herzl, and others, that focused on themes of Jewish identity. From autumn 1927 until March 1938, Theater Reklame was home to the famous Jüdische Künstlerspiele of Jakob Goldfliess, which presented a diverse program that was known not only for its artistic quality and creativity, but for the contemporary relevance of its themes. The ensemble brought people together in a daring human environment and did not shy away from the social and political challenges of the day. Not merely entertainment, but communication and even protest were courageously emphasized, as in the 1937 bi-lingual (German and Yiddish) production of Arnold Zweig’s “Die Sendung Semaels,” about the ritual murder accusations against Jews in late 19th Century Hungary.

The theater remained in operation until the Anschluss, when it was taken by force. Some of the best loved artists of the Jüdische Künstlerspiele, such as Laura Glucksmann, Ben Zion Sigall, and Herman Weinberg were to die at the hands of the Nazis, while others, including Artistic Director Jakob Goldfliess, resident playwrights, Abisch Meisels and Samuel Harendorf, and the actor Doli Nachbar managed to flee to London, New York, and elsewhere.

The key themes in the life, passions, fears, and achievements of Fin-de-Siècle architect, intellectual, and Zionist pioneer Oskar Marmorek all unite in this historically unique site of Viennese Jewish heritage.

Go to Part IV
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