Sorry Dear Wes Anderson
By Andreas Augustin
Quarter to six, sharp. If this were the Titanic we would conclude that it had sunken at this very precise moment.
Some books come out too late. So I have to say: 'Sorry my dear Wes Anderson! After you had contaced me in search for a suitable location for your movie The Grand Budapest Hotel, I should have recommended that one.
Here’s my second chance: Let it be known, movie makers and set scouts, this one is for you!
Indeed, most books about famous historic hotels nourish the desire to visit them. This one boosts the desire to revive it. I came across an extraordinary book about a hotel that is closed: DAS SÜDBAHNHOTEL by the great Austrian photographer Yvonne Oswald.
The Südbahnhotel is one of the Grand Hotels of the heydays of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. Its humble beginnings date back to 1882. It was soon extended and named after the railway that brought its clientele from the Austrian capital Vienna to the Semmering mountain, the ‘Süd-Bahn' (Southern Railway).
The curiousity about the Südbahnhotel is that it had closed some 50 years ago. It sits on the mountain Semmering, the magic mountain, as some like to call this region some 75 kilometres South of Vienna. Its glory fades away, slowly, undisturbed by visitors and looters alike.
I like the idea that it is not simply fading away, but could one day slowly come to life again
The hotel was the meeting place of the glamorous representatives of the Fin de Ciecle, writers, artists, aristocracy. Intellectuals and money, beauty and influence met here to enjoy their retreat. Away, alone, and still in the company of the known set.
The beginning of the book is devoted to competent essays by co-authors, over 150 of the 190 pages go to Oswalds' documentary photography. She has shot the pictures over a period of four years, during cold winter days and hot summer weeks. It is an inventory of a deserted historic hotel, we see rooms, furniture stored away, chandeliers, dining rooms, dancing halls, carefully molded stucco.
A large clock had stopped at quarter to six, sharp. If this were the Titanic we would conclude that it had sunken at this very precise moment. The Titanic in this case was called Austria, her passengers were the Jewish bourgeoisie, the time of sinking 1938.
There is an obvious absence of historic photography, but the closer I looked the more I saw the traces of time in every item. The past comes alive in these photographs. One wonders, when the bed has been used for the last time. Who sat on that chair? Is that chaiselonge part of the furniture of the room of Professor Freud?
Oswald succeeded in making the walls of the hotel talk. Without words. In pictures only. I would like to subscribe to her comforting conclusion ‘I like the idea that it is not simply fading away, but could one day slowly come to life again’.
The book is peculiar, and it is good. It should not be missing from a good hotel books library. And you, Wes Anderson, know where to go.
DAS SÜDBAHNHOTEL by Yvonne Oswald (Metro Verlag, Vienna, the book is bilingual German/English). Check Amazon for it.