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Gabbi WernerGirl Friday – the Book of Bad 19. Flowers, Meat & Paper

Von | 13.12.2013, 9:05 | Kein Kommentar

Walking through Vienna today, tomorrow never comes. You just stumble upon the yesterdays.

Welcome. To the stories I told in many hotelrooms. To a man who had trouble falling asleep. A business deal. He paid for my words. Here they are.


Adele Bloch Bauer died of pneumonia in 1925. Ferdinand turned the Klimt room, as it was called, into a shrine for Adele. Fresh flowers were put under her portrait every day. No person was allowed to enter the room. A daily ritual. Flowers were put in the room, the door would be closed, locked, how many locks were there? I wonder. And I wonder if Ferdinand ever even looked at the flowers.

I can imagine him never batting a lid upon them. Morning. After breakfast. The maid goes into the room, holding the flowers ever so delicately. Trying not to make a sound. Maybe she even put her shoes off, tiptoeing on her stockings, not to disturb Ferdinand.

He is sitting in the breakfast room, but he hears the rustling of the paper the flowers are wrapped in. He hears the locks opening, first the middle lock, then the upper one, then the lowest. The lowest lock is always stuck slightly, the maid has to put the flowers on the floor. The paper makes even more noise if she does that. Then, when the lower lock finally gives in, she picks up the flowers. Takes away the flowers of yesterday. How beautiful they still are! But she would never dare take them home, the flowers seem to have a hint of haunting in them. The maid then arranges the fresh flowers in the vase. She does not dare look at the painting, she does not dare greet Frau Bauer. Then she leaves the room, closes the three locks.

And Ferdinand has gone upstairs.


In her will, Adele had stated that the Klimt paintings should go to the Belvedere Museum after her husband Ferdinand had died. It was 1925. Thirteen more years of Austria.

Thirteen years. 1938. The National Socialist Party put all of the estate of the Bloch Bauers under „protective custody“, by the false pretext that Ferdinand had tried to evade taxes. It happened to many wealthy jews, some were held hostage, like Baron von Rothschild, until they agreed to sign off their belongings to the National Socialist Party of the Ostmark, as Austria was called by then. The same happened to Ferdinands brother. He was taken to a concentration camp. In order to have him released, the Bloch Bauers had to hand over all their assets. Immediately after his release, the Bloch Bauer family left Austria. Ferdinand fled to Switzerland, his brother and Adeles sister to the United States.

By 1945, when Ferdinand was still in exile, he changed his will, revoking the wishes of his wife. He died in Switzerland, just months after the end of the second world war, completely impoverished.

For years and years the Bloch Bauer family in the United States tried to get the paintings and other belongings back.

The government of Austria had Adeles testament, which clearly mentioned that the paintings should be at the National Gallery, and used it as an argument constantly. They did not feel the need to discuss a legal matter which, in a statement of the government, was a non-issue. The heirs had no legal means to claim their belongings back.

This changed when Ferdinand´s revised will was discovered in the late Nineties by a journalist who was investigating the case.

A lawsuit was filed at the U.S. Supreme court by Maria Altmann, the last surviving heiress to the Bloch Bauer estate.

Austria then simply stated to be immune to any US lawsuit, being a foreign sovereign country. The claim should be settled in Austria.

Maria Altmann tried to come to an agreement with the Austrian government. She made numerous proposals for a reasonable settlement. Each and every offer of hers was declined by the Austrian Government. Her final bid was that the five paintings should be returned in her ownership, but she would allow Austria to lend two paintings to be permanently exhibited at the Belvedere Museum. Austria would have to pay for the estimated value of the total five paintings however. At that time, it would be 25 million dollars. This offer was not taken by the Austrian government either. Too much, the government said, we do not have this kind of money.

The supreme court then ordered arbitration, and Austria had to accede. The court case had reached the international press by then. The arbitration was going on. Vienna shuddered: „our masterpieces by our master Klimt are being stolen from us!“ – „How can our legacy be taken away from us?“ – „What is past is in the past, we suffered so much in the war ourselves.“

And there I sat, in Aida, having my cake, looking at those chocolate boxes. Making money with their decorative gold and ornamental lusciousness. I thought about what would happen to the real paintings.


I still had to buy crayons for the drawing session with R. and left once more to the Gumpendorferstraße. I had seen a couple of shops there. One of them obviously sold flowers, as the sign said: „Blumen“ another one said „Fleisch“ and a third one said „Papier“. This was solid shopping advice: flowers, meat, paper.

The crispy blue cold of that morning had made way to a dark and shady fog. The coloured buildings in the streets faded to grey. The few people that walked the streets had themselves deeply covered in dark coats. All colour disappeared. And the snow had been diminished to big heaps of brown debris at the edge of every sidewalk.

I walked to the shop. A couple of blocks before it I stumbled on some tiles in front of a building. They were made out of bronze. 10 square centimetres each. Every tile had a name on it:

Hedwig Freund. Irma Kaufmann. Max Freund. Leo Spitzer. Rudolf Ambes. Max Rosenzweig. Erna Beran. Valerie Ambes. More and more names. And their birth-dates. These all differed. The year of death was the same with each and every tile: 1941.

The shop was closed. I had no stationary for our drawing session and would have to go back to the hotel without having accomplished my errand.

To be Continued. Next Friday. At 9.00h.

Link to German Translation: click  Girl Friday – Buch des Bösen 19. Blumen, Fleisch & Papier.

Artwork: Gabbi Werner

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