The Fabled Lost Empire In Pictures

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The Austro Hungarian Empire is now a fabled echo in time. After WW I it was crumbled into tiny countries based on ethnicity and today those countries are Austria, part in Italy, part in Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia (which got the Bohemian industrial heartland), and the old Yugoslavia which broke apart into Bosina, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia, Montenegro, with Romania getting Transylvania.

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Today some of the countries are solid if not spectacular. Others are troubled and poor. Some are too small to be economically viable. The fabled Lost Empire’s hinterlands ended in The trouble Balkans which even today mostly exports poor people all over the EU to beg in the streets. And it was Serbia which of course assassinated the Heir Apparent Franz Ferdinand to trigger WWI. And today they still celebrate it quite proudly.

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28 Jun 1914, Sarajevo, Austria-Hungary --- Archduke Ferdinand and his wife Sophie one hour before they would be shot a killed by Serb nationalist Gavrilo Princip as they drove through the streets of Sarajevo. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS
28 Jun 1914, Sarajevo, Austria-Hungary — Archduke Ferdinand and his wife Sophie one hour before they would be shot a killed by Serb nationalist Gavrilo Princip as they drove through the streets of Sarajevo. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

When the recent memorials were held to mark the start of 1914 Europe and Britain had sorrowful and introspective events. Serbia portrayed the assassin as an angel. An angel of death I guess. But I suspect they saw the assassin exactly as he was presented: as an angel.  Oh well….

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Ethnicity and tribal identity  pull empires apart just as war and manifest destiny builds empires. Both occurred to the fabled Lost Empire.

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It started out as the ‘Holy Roman Empire’ which was neither holy or Roman as the old joke goes. Actually it started out as Spanish and featuring a red head.

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After the disaster of 1866 which saw the Prussians at the Gates of Vienna Andrassy forced Francis Joseph to agree to a duel monarchy which allowed some timid 1848 reforms and a lot of leeway for the Magyars to rule themselves and the Hinterland which they persisted in mismanaging because of their arrogance.

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Sometimes a people bellowing for self determination at all costs don’t turn out to be gracious and sharing. Their bellowing and crises of persecution and being victims of tyranny  turn out to be just the opportunity to become the tyrant persecuting other minorities. Sort of like what is happening in Scotland today where cries of revolution against the tyranny of the British Empire translate into fascistic Scotish egomania for a mythic Scotland that never ever existed garnished with violence and abuse against everyone else in total defiance of economic realities.

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Andrassy who originally championed Hungarian independence ended up being the only sane Magyar as Magyar egotism ripped the empire apart.

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Andrassy could see that Magyar egotism resulted in persecution of the Hinterland minorities who actually outnumbered the Maygars. Such behavior finally lost the Magyars their entire half of the fabled empire.



Despite the Pan German ugliness, the Austrian half of the empire actually treated its minorities  with meritocracy as well as a timid sort of democracy combined with honesty and competence. Until the 1920s Vienna was a capital of a mongrel nation as Kaiser Willy always said. A city as diverse as New York or London. A polygot city of Austrian Germans, Magyar Hungarians, Bohemian Czechs, Moravians, Galicians, Poles, Tyrol Swiss Italians, Croatians, Bosinians, Transylvanians, Slavs, Slovenes, Slovaks, Ruthenes,  Jews, Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox, Muslims, as well as Agnostics and Atheists.


Die Bauerntrachten: Walachen, Ungarn, Slaven, Deutsche. Aus: Gabriel von Pronay. Skizzen aus dem Volksleben in Ungarn. Farblithographie von H. Weber. Budapest. 1855.
Die Bauerntrachten: Walachen, Ungarn, Slaven, Deutsche. Aus: Gabriel von Pronay. Skizzen aus dem Volksleben in Ungarn. Farblithographie von H. Weber. Budapest. 1855.

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The Prussians loathed it all. The Junkers loathed being ‘tied to a corpse’ of the fabled Lost Empire which they saw as muddy blood and decadent capitalistic  as muddy blood decadent capitalistic London and muddy blood decadent capitalistic New York. Vienna was the mongrel capital of  Mongrelsylvania. But for a while it worked despite Lueger and Pan Germans who later changed their name in the 1020s to Fascists and Nazis.

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During the last golden days of the Fin de Siecle the Austro Hungarian Empire coasted on a state policy of Fortwurschteln. Muddling along. The alternative translation  is ‘First do no harm’. Perhaps the very aging and exhausted Francis Joseph thought his moldering empire was as weary and terminally exhausted  as he was. So his policy of ‘First do no harm’ was the best that he could muster to hold the unraveling empire together in the first decade of the Twentieth Century. You are taking about a man after all who became Emperor in 1848.

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Perhaps he was right. After his son the Shining Prince Rudolph died so secretly brutally and horribly, a secret when Francis Joseph took to the grave because the revelation of it would imperil the monarchy as he told everyone to keep them silent and repeating the BIG LIE,  any hope to modernize and embrace the 20th Century vanished. The fabled Lost Empire became a fable even before it became lost.

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Everyone know the fable Lost Empire  was dying. The ambitious immigrated to America. The rest lived in the nostalgic past as the dusk of time closed in. Vienna assumed this nervous edginess as it became the world capital of suicide. As Freud said: ‘ I have an indomitable affection for Vienna and Austria. But unlike you, I know her abyss.’

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The sad thing is the moldering and very aged empire actually operated quite well. The Austrian part was remarkably well administered. It was a genteel police state with secret police but by and large the government as honest and efficient. There was more genuine democracy than the sham Imperial Second Reich. The economy was actually better in a lot of ways than the Reich which was running a secret billion mark deficit. The Second Estate administrators were of every ethnicity and religion and prided themselves on their ability to make the old empire work. The Third Estate of businessmen, manufacturers, middle class professionals, ‘Blues’ ie military reformers, and diverse modernists tried their best to push the aged empire into the 20th Century. Vienna was an epicenter of advance medicine and psychology.


Both the Second and Third Estates tried to see the value of the empire. Like Kennedy they thought ‘Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.’ Alas the First Estate of the Hochadel and the corrupt  insider Camarilla rotting out the heart of the Hofburg only lived by the motto of ‘What is in it for me?’ Ditto the Magyars. The inbred Habsburgs were too tragically oblivious to comprehend the cliff which the tottering old empire was heading toward.  But  a lot of people did care to try to keep the fabled Lost Empire going. Francis Joseph worked 10 hour days six days a week and held up to 200 events a week.

It was a work ethic his son Rudolph likewise kept. On the last day of Rudolph’s life he toiled all day until evening writing an academic article for his ‘Habsburg Monarchy In Words And Pictures’ project between a dozen telegrams to Budapest and Vienna to try to salvage a botched military defense bill which a key Magyar politician messed up. Rudolph even calendared a meeting and ordered the poor man to train to Vienna to meet Rudolph so Rudolph could personally bellow at him. The botch impacted Rudolph because he was Inspector General and beside overseeing the ultra modern weaponry roll out Rudolph was fighting Albrecht over the Drill Manual while agreeing with Albrecht that the polygot Imperial Armies had to keep German as the command language. The Magyars refused to learn German or Czech or even the required 60 pidgin commands in German and Czech and Croat and Polish and Slav which was required.

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Rudolph’s all day marathon attempt to salvage the military defense bill occurred at his working retreat of  Mayerling despite a bad cold and  mild hypothermia after sweating in a heavy coat while helping Bratfisch to get his carriage out of a ditch in freezing weather. Bratfisch fighting the horses. Rudolph fighting the rear wheels.

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In fact Rudolph went to Mayerling with many briefcases of work and asked Count Fritsch to deliver several academic books to Mayerling for that pesky Godollo article  he was struggling to finish. Bratfisch told Fritsche on the 31th that he helped Rudolph to carry the briefcases into the shabby converted farm estate turned hunting lodge himself.

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Bratfisch also told Fritsche that everyone was therefore surprised when Mary Vetsera suddenly appeared on the 30th in a private hack waving a forged invitation. Rudolph was not expecting her and planned to do work at Mayerling.

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And by Jove but Rudolph did! after locking Mary upstairs (as Hoyo’s incoherent account admits) Rudolph acted as if she did not exist and toiled during this work holiday in the suburbs one half hour by commuter train from Vienna.

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Rudolph worked up to the evening and then waited with Hoyos while ranting and complaining how bad the botch up made him look with Albrecht and Francis Joseph. All while waiting for Prince Leopold of Coburg ( he of the famous 24 hour missing alibi) to train to Vienna to meet  Francis Joseph and then train back to Mayerling. Because there was a typical early Hofburg dinner Coburg was expected back by midnight.

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Coburg invited himself to Mayerling after everyone Rudolph invited mysteriously declined. And indeed his presence was required though Rudolph and Coburg disliked each other. Hoyos’ presence was required to cover up why Coburg’s presence was required. Coburg was the liaison for the Hofburg and it was Coburg who was expected to tell Rudolph if the Roll Commandos encircling Mayerling were still going to shoot Rudolph if Rudolph did not shoot himself like an officer and a gentleman by 7:30 AM on January 31st  after being condemned at a secret star chamber court martial for treason (as the senile Gravedigger of the Habsburgs saw Rudolph’s conduct and as Bismarck demanded).

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Please read the Mexican Standoff for more details. Please read Taafe’s Metal Box as well and discover why two Roll Commandos executed Rudolph some time between midnight (when Coburg returned from Vienna with the final decision of Francis Joseph ) and 6:45 AM when Bratfisch walked through the stone cold and dark bedroom of Rudolph  after doing something at the door before surveying the courtyard before opening the large ground level window and stepping out to march to the stable to prepare his carriage for Hoyos to rush to the train station 90 minutes later while telling a disgruntled lead hunter named Wodiczka  around 7:00 AM that Rudolph would not be hunting today because he was already dead a full 90 minutes before Loschek, Hoyos, and Coburg officially opened the door which was then locked. A mystery worthy of Sherlock Holmes. Also read the Crime of the Fin de Siecle.

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The Magyars were more egotistic and therefore unfair to their ethnic minorities which is why the Maygers should have remembered that old say of ‘Be careful what you ask for er you get it. They got their independence but lost their entire hinterlands to end up a tiny fragment with nowhere to go.

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An empire can be seen as repressive to micro tribal organismistic entities drunk on the toxic allure of nationalism.

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But in business and economics the larger the better. The fabled empire was able to use its largeness and mixed ethnicities and exotic hinterlands and one industrial heartland and more prosperous regions and poorer regions  to pool its limited  resources, use its last remaining port of Trieste to keep everyone from being landlocked, access global trade through the Transcontinental Orient Express Railroad Corridor (built by Baron Hirsch with the help of Rudolph who also encouraged the Baron to invest in Trieste’s Lloyd and Coffee Consortium as well as merchant marine shipping and to finish and expand its commercial dry docks to access Suez Trade).

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Bankers and investors who would never invest in Bosnia or Montenegro or Transylvania or Galicia would invest in Austro Hungary with the guarantee that old Francis Joseph would keep the old place tottering along. Safe. Sensible. Reliable. Honest. Competent. No revolutions. No assassinations (ignoring the fact Rudolph as assassinated). No  coups. Few pogroms.

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Germany actually had more immigration to America than the fabled Lost Empire. The Imperial Second Reich rivaled the Russian Pale and South Italy in immigrants voting with their feet. That was ironic and also interesting. Even today not that many inhabitants of the countries formerly  known as Austro Hungary immigrate. The Balkans. Sure! The ever poor ex-hinterlands. Sure! But not the main part of the fabled Lost Empire.

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Francis Joseph could guarantee that his crazy quilt of countries cobbled together so precariously  were no banana republics. It was a crazy quilt but it somehow stuck together and even appeared charming in its crazy mix  of sophisticated and exotic. For a while it worked. It muddled through. It tottered along. No one had any illusions it would survive the 20th Century. It did not. But it did give its people a nostalgic last Fin de Siecle Belle Epoque.

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Today there is nostalgic glow to the Lost Empire which all fables have. A sort of never never land. Rudolph’s United States of the Danube never happened. But Rudolph’s Ocean of Light did occur. The old place surprised everyone by adopting a heck of a lot of ultra modern technology.


Gaslight appeared there first. The second massive underground train system in the world happened in Budapest. One of the first entire cities to electrify was in the old empire. The largest dry dock system in Europe was in Trieste. The Trieste Lloyd ran some of the largest steamers through the Suez including one called ironically ‘The America’. Bohemia was actually one of the largest industrial zones in Europe. Steyr Manufacturing was the largest and best weaponry producer in the world at one point. And between 1888 and 1895 the Austro Hungarian Imperial Armies actually welded the best state of the art ultra modern repeater rifle and all- but- the- best- bullet (including one of the first nitro bullets) in Europe. Pretty good for an old empire.

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Tesla left for America but a lot of people stayed to try to push the fabled old empire into the 20th Century.

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It did not last of course. But one can’t help but wonder and ask ‘What if Rudolph was not brutally killed?’ ‘What if WWI never occurred?’ ‘What if the Austro Hungarian Empire did not implode but rather reconfigured itself into the United States of the Danube to tackle its patchwork ethnicity and religions problem the same way America did? Using size and diversity to its advantage? Encouraging its people to stay and build instead of immigrating to America? Using democracy to unite instead of ethnicity and religion to divide?

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What if WW I never happened? What if Adolf Hitler had not been born the year which Rudolph died? What if Rudolph had not died? What if the people had been given a choice between the rival  doppelgangers which Destiny gave them, each offering   to lead them down two very different roads  into the 20th Century: Hitler or Rudolph? Each man had a vision of what they wanted the 20th Century to be. One vision was a ‘ocean of light’ and one vision was a nightmare. What if …….


What if the people had only chosen Rudolph? What if….”

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What if……

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