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7 of the most famous Austrians in History

Julia Hjelm Jakobsson
Julia Hjelm Jakobsson - [email protected]
7 of the most famous Austrians in History
A man watches the multimedia installation 'KLIMT - The Immersive Experience' (Photo by THOMAS KIENZLE / AFP)

From musical geniuses, revolutionary painters, and architects to peace activists and empresses, here are seven historical Austrians who changed the country — and the world.

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Mozart is one of the most influential classical composers of all time.

Born in Salzburg in 1756, his musician father taught him how to play the piano at a very young age and quickly noticed his son's great talent. He took Mozart on trips around Europe, where he played in different cities and for various royal courts. Sometimes Mozart's music was not understood, but most of the time, the audience could perceive the young boy's genius and great talent.

From a young age, Mozart gained recognition and was seen as a genius who could compose unique works in various genres, such as opera, chamber music, and piano sonatas.

But even though Mozart was exceptionally talented, his life was not always easy. His talent was recognised early on but did not always bring him and his family economic security. Mozart sometimes did not earn much and also had issues with holding onto his earnings. 

But no matter the struggles, Mozart never stopped composing; he did not stop until the day he died as a poor man at the early age of 35.

Today, people from all over the world still enjoy his music and are familiar with his most famous works, such as the operas "The Marriage of Figaro," "Don Giovanni," and "The Magic Flute".

Mozart's birth house in Salzburg. (Photo by AFP)

Sigmund Freud

Freud is known as the father of psychoanalysis. In 1856, he was born in Freiberg, which is now part of the Czech Republic but was then part of the Austrian Empire. His theories revolutionised the field of psychology and continue to influence how we understand and apply psychology today.

When Sigmund was three years old in 1859, his family moved to Vienna, where he spent most of his childhood and adult life. Freud showed signs of exceptional intelligence from a young age and spent a lot of time reading literature in different languages.

Even though the family struggled financially, Freud received a good education and studied medicine at the University of Vienna. During his studies, he developed a great interest in the workings of the human mind, particularly in neurology and the treatment of mental disorders.

Central to his work was the exploration of dreams and the interpretation of symbols to access the unconscious. His theories on the Oedipus complex, ego, superego, and defence mechanisms are still influential in the psychology of today.

Despite controversy and critique, Freud's impact on psychology, psychiatry, and the understanding of human behaviour cannot be dismissed. His theories continue to shape modern psychology, making him one of the most influential people in history.

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Bertha von Suttner

Bertha von Suttner was a famous writer, peace activist, and Nobel Prize winner. She was born in Prague in 1843 into a noble family, and at a young age, she started to rebel against the expectations of her social status by pursuing a career as a writer and peace activist.

She spent a great part of her life living in Austria, where she became involved in peace activism and began her career as a writer. In 1905, she made history by becoming the first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, for her work as a journalist, writer, and activist for peace.

Her book "Lay Down Your Arms!" is considered one of the nineteenth century's most influential books and played a big part in her winning the prize.

Apart from her writing, she is also famous for boldly speaking out against war and becoming a leader in the global peace movement. In 1891, she founded the Austrian Peace Society.

Despite facing challenges in a male-dominated field, Bertha stood out as a strong and progressive voice for peace throughout her life.

A passenger of the 'Train of Remembrance' lights a candle by a ribbon bearing the name of Bertha von Suttner. (Photo by Pawel Ulatowski / AFP)
 

Gustav Klimt

Gustav Klimt was an Austrian symbolist painter famous for his decorative, colourful paintings focusing on the female body.

Born in 1862, Klimt grew up in Baumgarten bei Wien with his two parents, who were both artisans. His father was a gold engraver, which is probably one reason for Klimt's later fascination with using gold leaves in his paintings.

Klimt showed artistic talent from a young age and studied decorative painting at the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts. His first work involved historical scenes, but by 1890, he had developed his unique style, filled with detailed patterns and shapes.

Klimt left the traditional art scene in 1897 and was one of the artists who started up the Viennese Secession, an art movement that challenged the government's rules on art. The movement aimed to break away from conservative artistic norms and explore new forms of expression.

Klimt explored new forms of expression with symbols, patterns, and colours in different ways. He wanted to create unique paintings with a message and explored taboo topics such as sexuality and morality. His work made him known as a bold and creative artist.

Today, Klimt's work is well known globally and includes paintings such as "The Kiss," showing a man and a woman kissing each other, surrounded by bright colours and shiny gold details.

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Empress Elisabeth (Sisi)

Empress Elisabeth, or Sisi, was born in Munich in 1837. Though not technically Austrian-born, she did go on to become a major Austrian symbol.

When she was only 16 years old, she married Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria and became Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary.

Known for her charisma, intelligence, and independent spirit, Sisi struggled with the strict etiquette and restrictions of the Habsburg court throughout most of her life. She did not get along well with her mother-in-law, Archduchess Sophie, who had a significant influence over her and her husband, the emperor. Sisi's solution became to spend a lot of time away from Vienna, enjoying longer travels.

Sisi was passionate about horse riding, exercise, literature, poetry, and languages, speaking several fluently. Sisi was known for her philanthropy and charitable works, mainly in the fields of healthcare and education. She was a popular figure among the people, particularly among the Hungarians, who admired her support for their culture and independence.

In 1898, at the age of 60, her life came to an end when she was assassinated by an Italian anarchist in Geneva. She was targeted as a symbolic act against monarchy and authority.

The 'Mystery Dress' of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, also known as Sisi. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)
 

Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky 

Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky is known as one of Austria’s first female architects and as the designer of today’s modern kitchen in the 1920s.

She grew up in a middle-class family in Vienna and was from a young age interested in art and design. She graduated with top grades from the School of Applied Arts in Vienna and worked on various projects, including public housing and social welfare buildings, during her early career.

Margarete became internationally famous in 1920 when she designed the world’s first mass-produced fitted kitchen, The Frankfurt Kitchen. This kitchen was a model for small apartments in urban areas. The design aimed to make cooking easier and included functions such as built-in storage and a clever layout. The kitchen was part of a larger social housing project created to provide affordable and functional housing for lower-income families.

In addition to her architectural work, Margarete was also politically active, fighting to improve conditions for the working class and getting involved in the resistance against the Nazis, something which, for a short period of time, led to her imprisonment by the Nazi regime.

Margarete continued designing buildings and fighting for social causes throughout her life, leaving behind a legacy of innovation and social consciousness in the field of architecture.

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Friedensreich Hundertwasser

Hundertwasser is one of Austria's most influential artists and architects. He was born in Vienna in 1928, and his artistic contributions have made a significant and lasting impact on Austria.

His unique style is easily recognisable. Lively colours, playfulness, irregular shapes and connections to nature characterise it.

Hundertwasser's artistic and architectural creations were influenced by his philosophical beliefs. He rejected the limitations of conventional society and standardised urban design. Hundertwasser wanted to express the human connection to nature and creativity through his work. He believed that humans should live in harmony with nature, and his art often presents themes related to environmentalism and humanism.

Some of Hundertwasser's most famous works include the Hundertwasserhaus and the Spittelau power plant in Vienna and the Therme Bad Blumau in Bad Blumau, Styria. These buildings are decorated with Hundertwasser's unique design, characterized by playful and colourful irregular shapes.

The thermal spa and hotel Rogen Bad Blumau, designed by Hundertwasser. Photo: Schmid Reportagen / Pixabay
 
 
We (purposively) left out one of the most famous Austrians in history, of course. Adolf Hitler was born in the small Austrian town of Braunau am Inn in 1889. He eventually became the dictator of Nazi Germany, leading the country during the crimes of the Holocaust until his suicide as Germany lost the Second World War. 

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