Es ‘steht ein kleiner Pavillon, und welches Wunder, er ist fertig schon’ – ‘There stands a little pavilion, and what a wonder, it’s already done’ – sang the cabaret artist Hermann Leopoldi on the occasion of the opening of the Austrian pavilion at the Paris World’s Fair in June 1937. He had thus taken his share in the ‘image construction’ of the Austrofascist regime, by hailing one of its landmarks. While civil war was shaking Spain, Stalinist terror was raging in the Soviet Union, and fascist Italy and Nazi Germany had suppressed almost all resistance, Austria appeared consolidated and peaceful. The uprising of the Social Democrats in February 1934 had been crushed, all parties since been banned, the rule of law been eliminated. Nevertheless, communists and socialists continued to resist, and illegal, yet tolerated Nazis successfully undermined the state. The Austrian ‘Ständestaat,’ the Corporate State, as it called itself, was unable to completely control cultural activity; while censorship and repression were nevertheless present, best described in Robert Musil’s words as an ‘evil spiritlessness.’ But even if a subliminal counter-reformation, with its emphasis on the Baroque and the sacred, was the state’s cultural leitmotif, a moderate modernism remained possible. The hesitant toleration of it, combined with a recourse to the imperial past, furthered the contradiction between defining Austria on its terms and seeing it as the better Germany, characterised the ambivalence of Austrofascist cultural politics.
In August 1934, the Austrian illustrated magazine Moderne Welt featured a bright cover of a couple in folk dress, which appeared to stand in full contradiction with the modernity emphasised in its title. Yet the cover perfectly illustrates a shift in modern Austrian culture towards what we might call ‘alpine modernity’. Representing a trend embracing the country’s alpine geography and folk traditions, it had begun to develop in the 1920s but gained special importance during the reactionary Dollfuss-Schuschnigg regime of the 1930s. With its peculiar mix of technological progress and rural life, Austria’s ‘alpine modernity’ reinvented the country as a tourist-friendly, German, Catholic country, whose most remarkable features were ‘cosiness’ (‘Gemütlichkeit‘), natural beauty, and the celebration of folk traditions and religious life. International tourist advertising aside, this image also circulated widely in the national press, and encouraged city dwellers, especially, to venture out and explore their home country. Thus, even though the folkloric naivety of the image appears to represent the very opposite of the modern world proclaimed in the magazine title, the two poles were not as far removed from one another as the cover may initially suggest. Moreover, the cover was designed by Carry Hauser (1895–1985), a painter, stage designer, printmaker, and writer, who was closely involved in efforts to rejuvenate Austrian culture after the First World War. Contextualising the Moderne Welt cover in relation to Hauser’s work as well as the magazine, this Artwork of the Month essay shows that Austrian modern culture maintained strong ties to rural culture throughout the interwar years and promoted it at home just as much as abroad.