Tuesday, 19 July 2011


The coverage by the European papers of the funeral of Archduke Otto has been heavy, and I have even caught a few video snippets of the Ruritanian rituals. Hapsburgs prefer to be buried in pieces, no doubt hedging their bets for the final coming against putting all your eggs in one basket so to speak. It was watching the ceremony for Otto's heart, in Budapest, that sparked the memory of an old family anecdote. 

My Austrian great-grandfather had fought in the Great War and was no longer young when Anschluss came in 1938. It was still possible to be largely ignorant of the world in those days, particularly if you lived on an isolated farm half way up a mountain. However, the time came when the new Nazi regime reached even the most rural areas, and inhabitants were summoned to the village to hear rousing speeches and be registered for conscription. All of this must have been deeply puzzling for the old boy until the village band struck up a familiar tune. With gusto he sang out "Gott beschütze unsern Kaiser .." not twigging that someone had changed the lyrics to "Deutschland, Deutschland über alles" since he'd last sung it over twenty years previously. After an uncomfortable interrogation by the local Nazis he was released. He received his call-up in 1945, aged 64, and wisely hid in the forest for a few months until the madness had ended. 

I think last week was the last time any of us will ever hear the words of Haydn's old Kaiserhymne sung again. 


Greg Tingey said...

I've heard it on Radio 3 more than once .....
And of course, Otto was NOT the last heir to the throne of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation.
That honour, strictly speaking, belongs to the elest surviving heir of Archduke Fanz Ferdinand.
( The "morganatic" imposition on him being disregarded, that is )

Sean said...

As funerals go you cant beat the Polish. When we took my late grandfather home to Upper Silesia state if you know your Prussian or in polish Górny Śląsk;, the whole village turned out and the funeral went on for three hours, even the few Germans still left after the war turned out. The reception did not start until the grave was fully covered, and that was done by the close relatives.

You cant beat the East Europeans for funerals, not sure about the swaddling for the new born though.

I suppose in time these traditions will also die out and change, they sadly like us will regard death as a taboo, something for the private sphere not the public one.

Elby the Beserk said...

Tip of the hat to your Great Grandfather, Raedwald, bless him.

And as for funerals, an Irish Wake beats them all hands down to my mind. My Grandmother's (died aged 102) went on for two days.

LJH said...

Joseph Rath wrote "The Radetzky March" as an elegy to a lost era, as Europe struggled through the consequences of its unwinding in the thirties. The book follows the trajectory of a family in parallel with the life of Franz Josef who himself makes periodic appearances. I am sorry I came to this book so late and recommend it to all.

James Higham said...

I think last week was the last time any of us will ever hear the words of Haydn's old Kaiserhymne sung again.

That may well be the case or else we must stay glued to Radio 3 24/7.

Anonymous said...

May I say that English stock-broker belt funerals are pithy affairs.