About Vienna - Your City Travel Guide
About Vienna - Your City Travel Guide
About Vienna - Your City Travel Guide


Austrian literature: Thomas Bernhard, Heldenplatz

Thomas Bernhard
(1931 – 1989)

Thomas Bernhard's relationship to Vienna and Austria was ambivalent. At the same time celebrated and abused by critics and audience Bernhard managed to throw light on the abysses of the Austrian soul, if such a thing exists. His texts often contain harsh descriptions of life in post war Austria, especially in conservative rural areas.
His language was minimal, sparse and to the point, it was also articulate in its forceful pessimism. But it is funny, too, in the same way as Kafka's sense of humor gets to you. Reading Bernhard is highly pleasurable, it is also unnerving.

In 1989 his play 'Heldenplatz' (square of heroes, the name of the square in front of Vienna's Hofburg) he focussed on the antisemitic atmosphere of contemporary Vienna. A Jewish family verbally abuses themselves and a good number of Austrian values. The ensuing scandall was legendary and Bernhard was the target of self-proclaimed defenders of Austria's honor. Critics and audience failed to see the underlying irony and the (black) humour of figur constellation and language.
It was not the first scandal caused by Berndhard's literature, but it was the most severe. The author retreated and died a year later with no friendly feelings towards his home country. His last will prohibited the staging of previously unstaged plays and the publication of unpublished prose in Austria.