Ostarrichislam - Heldenplatz

Catalogue: Ostarrichislam – Fragmente achthundertjähriger gemeinsamer Geschichte. Amena Shakir / Gernot Galib Stanfel / Martin M. Weinberger 2012 Vienna: Al Hamra.

The Heroes of Heldenplatz

Heldenplatz is one of the most ambivalent and historically important places of Austria. When passing through Heldentor, who would guess that this gate also pays reference to Sultan Mehmed V?

His name is inscribed beside Emperor Francis Joseph I, Emperor Wilhelm II and Tsar Ferdinand I of Bulgaria, surrounded by golden laurel branches. Austrian history has been always closely connected with Heldenplatz, which remains until today emotionally loaded. At the center of Heldenplatz, Prince Eugene of Savoy, the mythologized “Liberator from the Turks”, sits on his warhorse. Heldentor, built by soldiers, was from the beginning representing the spirit of war. As part of the former fortification around the city, it became a focus of the Second Turkish Siege. After its destruction in 1809 by troops of Napoleon, it was rebuilt and opened for traffic in October 1824 for the eleventh anniversary of the Battle of Leipzig (October 1813). As the gate leading to Heldenplatz, it has great symbolic importance not only as arch of triumph, but also entry portal. On one side it bears a Latin inscription reading “Francis I, Emperor of Austria 1824”, and on the other side a reminder of the policy of Emperor Francis Joseph I: “Justice is the fundament of ruling.” – A motto, which could be read differently especially in this context. It appears somewhat curious today that during the First World War, the then existing alliance of the Central Powers was given special attention, the Ottoman Sultan was portrayed beside the Austrian and German Emperors, and Graben in the 1st District was decorated with Ottoman flags. The propaganda tried to change the “sworn enemy” into indissoluble “brother in arms”. Artists were sent to Turkey to provide new and unknown pictures and opinions of Turkey and the Turks, which were supposed to change the old enemy images of the “heathen, brutal and stupid Turks” resulting from the Turkish Wars. During the wars a campaign called “Laurel for Our Heroes 1914 - 1916” was organized, in which the donations were rewarded with metal laurel branches with engraved names. Mehmet V was one of the prominent donators, which is why he was immortalized on Heldentor.

Heldenplatz and Heldentor became symbols of the ambivalent relationship between Islam and Austria oscillating between aggression and solidarity.