Goodnight Vienna

Days before Sigmund Freud fled the Nazis in 1938, and took refuge in England, Edmund Engelman made this photographic record of the apartment where psychoanalysis was born. Here he recalls that visit
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Walking through the empty streets toward Berggasse 19 that wet May morning in 1938, I remember that I was both excited and afraid. I carried a little valise filled with my cameras, tripod, lenses, and film and it seemed to become heavier and heavier with every step. I was convinced that anyone who saw me would instantly know that I was on my way to the offices of Dr Sigmund Freud - on a mission that would hardly have pleased the Nazis.

It had only recently stopped raining. The sky was still dark and the cobblestones of Berggasse were glossy and wet. The dark day worried me. I was afraid that there might not be enough light for good interior photographs of the Freud apartment. Flash and floodlights were out of the question. I had been told that the apartment was under constant surveillance by the Gestapo. The only permanent record of the place where Freud had lived and worked for the last 40 years would have to be made without suspicion. I felt fear for my own safety and also for the Freuds, for I did not want to be responsible for some misstep which would endanger them now that they were so close to leaving Vienna safely.

In May 1938 I met August Aichhorn, a friend of mine and of Professor Freud, at the Cafe Museum on Karlsplatz. He was very upset and looked around nervously to see if we were being watched. He told me that Professor Freud, after considerable harassment that included a Nazi break-in at his home and the detention of his daughter Anna, had finally received permission to leave for London, thanks to the intervention of high-ranking figures and foreign diplomats.

He said the Freuds would leave within 10 days. The historic apartment and offices were about to be broken up for storage and shipment. It would be of the utmost importance, we agreed, to make an exact record of every detail of the place where psychoanalysis was born so that, in Aichhorn's courageous words, "a museum can be created when the storm of the years is over". I remember being impressed with his calm assumption that the 1,000-year Reich would not last quite that long. In the circumstances, one wondered how he could have been so sure.

Knowing my skill in photography, he asked me if I thought I could successfully take pictures of the Freud establishment. I was frankly thrilled by the prospect. Above all, I looked forward to meeting Freud. Without hesitation I assured Aichhorn it could be done and I would be glad to do it.

Aichhorn was obviously relieved when I said so, and he then warned me that I should arrange my picture-taking so as not to run into Freud and disturb him. Freud, he explained, was 82, and had been quite ill for many years. Aichhorn was fearful that Freud had been much upset by the intrusion of the Nazi hoodlums and that another unknown face in the apartment could create unnecessary strain.

I was somewhat disappointed to learn that I was not to meet Freud. But naturally I was excited about the project. The apartment and offices covered a floor of the building and Freud, over the years, had developed a routine, in which he proceeded from room to room during the course of his day. On the basis of this routine, I could work out my schedule.

The following day I met Aichhorn again, studied a floor plan, and made notes on Freud's schedule. A day later I packed two cameras - a Rolleiflex and a Leica, with a 50mm lens and a 28mm wide-angle lens, my light meter and as many rolls of film as I could - into my small valise.

'Sigmund Freud, Berggasse 19, Vienna' by Edmund Engelman is published by Rizzoli, pounds 15.95. Freud's house in London is now The Freud Museum, 20 Maresfield Gardens, NW3 (0171-435 2002).

The office door

I decided to make my photographic record as complete as possible, including the outside of the building. I felt that war was inevitable and that it might be destroyed. An archway led into the building. Turning right, one walked up a wide staircase which led to the floor occupied by Freud and his family. At first they only occupied half of it and Freud had his offices on a different floor. In 1908 he acquired the rest of the floor and moved his offices there. The landing had two doors, one to the right leading into Freud's office and another opposite, leading to the flat. At the office door, I shot the modest sign; "3-4" was Sigmund Freud's visiting hour.

Freud at his desk

The desk in Freud's study was placed between the door from the consulting room and a large window that looked out into the courtyard. To the right was a comfortable chair to be used by patients during initial consultations. Between the desk and that chair was a table with a large, smiling Chinese figure. It struck me as odd that Freud would have so large an object placed between himself and his patients.

I heard short, fast steps approaching. It was Freud. He had unexpectedly changed his route, returned to his study, and found me there. We stared at each other with equal astonishment. Freud looked concerned - in a calm, matter-of-fact way. I just did not know what to say to him and stood mute. Fortunately Aichhorn stepped into the room at that moment and explained to Freud the purpose of my mission. We shook hands, with evident relief. I asked him whether I could take his picture and, graciously, he invited me to proceed as I pleased. He then sat down in front of his desk and began to write on a large sheet of paper. At first he sat rather stiffly, looking at the camera while I prepared to take his picture, but after a few moments he turned to his desk and became so engrossed in his work that it seemed the outside world had disappeared. His writing, in large letters, flowed quickly and without interruption.

The view from Berggasse

Berggasse (literally, "Mountain Street") was in a middle-class, residential section of Vienna. It was cobblestoned and on a hillside. The Freud building was a large, turn-of-the-century structure with typical neighbourhood stores, a butcher's shop and a food co-operative. Freud occupied the whole second floor. The windows of the living quarters of the Freud family faced the street. The professional offices faced the back yard. It was a short walk from the university and the Psychoanalytic Institute of Vienna. The entrance door on this day was draped with a swastika flag; another large swastika flag hung from the roof of the building. After the German invasion of Austria in March 1938, the swastika appeared on many houses in Vienna. It indicated non-Jewish ownership and enthusiastic allegiance to the new regime.

The foyer

I carefully photographed the staircase on which Freud had walked thousands of times, following the route taken by everyone who had ever visited there. I rang the bell and Paula, the housekeeper of the Freud family, let me in. I already had a good mental map of all the rooms and I proceeded from the foyer to photograph every detail, always keeping in mind that some day these photographs might be the only record available to recreate Freud's offices and living quarters. The foyer was simple, with bars inside on the door as protection against burglary, not an unusual feature in middle- class Viennese homes.

The study

Freud's study (above, viewed from the adjacent consulting room) contained his extensive library. In it were books relating not only to his profession, but also a large collection of classic literature, including works by Goethe, Schiller, Mark Twain, Dostoevsky and a large number of books on archaeology. Photographs attached to the room's bookcases (right) showed Lou Andreas-Salome, and Princess Marie Bonaparte, both of whom had been in analysis with him, and a favourite actress, Yvette Guilbert; there was also a photo of one of Freud's favourite dogs. Antiquities filled every available spot (left). I was overwhelmed by the masses of figurines which overflowed every surface. The room had showcases filled with hundreds of pieces of ancient art - Roman, Egyptian, Assyrian, Chinese and Etruscan. I had been aware that Freud was a collector, and had once a week made the rounds of the city's dealers.

The consulting room

There was a large double door leading into the consulting room. I entered and had my first glance of the famous couch; it was relatively small. In the corner behind a table of ancient figurines was Freud's chair, almost hidden by the head of the couch. The couch itself was covered with an Oriental rug and pillows were piled high on it, so that it seemed a patient lying on it would almost have to sit up. The walls were covered with pictures, pieces of art, mementos and awards. At the foot of the couch was a typical Viennese ceramic tile stove.

Portrait of Anna Freud

Anna had just returned from the emigration office which had been set up at the palace of Baron Rothschild. She was somewhat agitated by the sad experience, having stood in line outside the mansion with hundreds of frightened and depressed human beings who were subjected to indignities by Nazi officials. It was then that I made the portrait of Anna which captures, I think, the fine beauty of her sad and sensitive face during those hard days. Anna, Sigmund Freud's youngest daughter, was herself a psychoanalyst. The portraits that I took of the Freud family presented a special technical problem. Because of the poor light, longer exposures had to be used, but there was a danger of blurring the picture because of the movement of the subject. I even suggested that if it would be useful and save time and trouble, I would gladly take the necessary photographs for the passport.

Freud family photos

Mrs Freud, a warm, motherly woman, took me around the apartment. The living quarters had typical massive, upper-middle-class furniture. The floors were covered with Oriental rugs. There were objects of a personal nature, mementos, photographs of children (above), and decorative crystal and China objects, but no ancient art. Mrs Freud pointed proudly at some framed documents and showed me the pictures of her grandchildren. She stopped at a photograph of Albert Einstein with an inscription, and spoke with admiration of this wonderful man. n

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