Hitler moved to Vienna in 1908, intending to study at the Academy of Fine Arts and become a renowned artist. He remained until 1913. The glittering capital of the multinational Austro-Hungarian Empire pulsed with ethnic and economic tensions that resulted from rapid growth. Vienna’s staunch bourgeois German population felt besieged by the rising tide of socialism and by the large number of Slavic peoples-Czechs, Slovaks, Croatians, Serbs, as well as Hungarians and Jews-who arrived from the empire’s provinces. As much as Vienna was the city of the aging Emperor Franz Joseph, it was also the city of Karl Lueger, the populist mayor who appealed to ethnic Germans’ economic and cultural insecurities through antisemitic rhetoric. Pan-Germanism, the notion that ethnic Germans in Austria and Germany should form their own expanded polity, was also in the wind. Cheap racist publications that pilloried Slavic and Jewish elements supported it all. 2
Hitler later described his time in Vienna as formative. We have but scattered, problematic accounts of these years; the best known comes from Hitler’s one-time roommate August Kubizek. 3 Surely Vienna’s tensions influenced Hitler, a youthful ne’er-do-well dilettante, whose days and nights mixed soaring fantasy with abject failure. His rejection by the Academy of Fine Arts left him seething at faceless enemies who he imagined worked against him. Meanwhile, he slept late and spent afternoons reading, drawing, and dreaming fantastic projects-all quickly dropped-from heroic operas to urban redesign. Meanwhile he held no job, supplementing his orphan’s pension early on with a “loan” from his maternal aunt.