By Manfred Matzka
From June 9 to October 31, 2015, an exhibit brought the Congress of Vienna of 1815 back to life at its original location in the present Federal Chancellery and the Austrian State archives.
The building of the Austrian Federal Chancellery, previously the Geheime Hof- & Staatskanzlei (secret court and state chancellery) and venue of the Congress of Vienna was the core of the exhibit. Here, countless negotiators met from September 1814 to June 1815. While the diplomats had their office space in the Hochparterre (elevated from the ground floor), the Austrian State Chancellor Metternich’s office and the grand assembly rooms were located in the Beletage (upper floor), today’s venue for the weekly cabinet meetings of the Austrian government.
The consultations were held in various rooms in the building, sometimes in loose atmosphere, as shown by Isabey famously portraying the negotiators in Metternich’s Kanzlerzimmer. The chancellor himself was informed about everything and everyone, including meetings he did not personally attend. As the building had ventilation shafts in the ceilings to guarantee the fresh air supply in the conference rooms, Metternich had wellpositioned note takers up there, who could listen to every word below - thanks to the excellent acoustics - and had a wonderful view through the air grills. The Congress of Vienna went along also at other locations in Vienna: While the official negotiations where conducted in the State Chancellery alongside Metternich’s working groups, the crowned monarchs stayed in the residential wing of the Hofburg, as imperial roommates.
The guest apartments in the Amalienhof hosted the Russian Tsar Alexander in 1814/1815. The large delegations stayed at various city palaces in vicinity to the Chancellery, the ballrooms of the Hofburg housed the glamorous receptions, balls, and concerts, and the churches in Vienna were used for ostentatious services. At the time, the Chancellery was also home to six children, one was even born during the Congress on the third floor.
The Congress of 1814/1815 was often reduced to two prejudices that shaped its image in the world: The Congress danced and did not accomplish anything substantial, and the conservative Metternich only aimed to restore the old political circumstances. Only rarely do we reflect on its importance for our world today and we entirely miss its inclusion into social life in the metropolitan area of Vienna. As all prejudices, although these stereotypes naturally have some validity, they are also widely disconnected from reality.
The historical analysis of the nine months in the Chancellery shines a light on some aspects of the Congress that should rebut these stereotypes: The long-term goals and plans of the parties involved; the targeted and clever utilization of the accompanying program; the networking and lobbying of countless experts, delegates, and informers; the dynamics of a series of summits after preparations done by working groups; the readiness for international sanctions to correct the European borders; and the importance of charismatic individuals for all of Europe, especially in an unstable historical situation.
These aspects are in fact also very current phenomena in European politics. At the end of the Vienna Congress, the final act redrew borders, restored old monarchies, but it also defined the ranks of the diplomatic corps and abolished slavery in Europe. Most notably, the treaty accomplished a balance of power and peace in Europe, allowing two generations to live without wars for nearly one century.
Asst. Prof. Dr. Manfred Matzka has been serving as Director General at the Austrian Federal Chancellery (in charge of central services, e-Government, staff, budget, organization and coordination) since 1999. Previously, he was the Chief of Staff to the Minister of Interior and lectured Constitutional and Administrative Law at the University of Vienna. He has published several books about Vienna’s palaces.