Keys to the Hofburg

© Maria Welzig


On November 8th 1945, the Soviet Army’s officers’ house (“dom oficerov”) opened in the Hofburg Vienna. It was situated at about where the Congress Centre is located today and offered a range of leisure time activities to Soviet officers and their families. Its offer also comprised a vast cultural programme, including operas, concerts, and dancing events. There always was a political-ideological motivation behind those events, though. Soviet films would be shown not only in the cinema hall but also in the open air where the local population could come and watch as well. Contrary to the Americans, who opened the Messepalast (today’s MQ) to the local population, the Soviets would rather stay among their people.

© Austrian National Library, Picture Archive
The insignia of the Soviet Armed Forces, the red star and the portraits of Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin, was to be removed from the Hofburg Vienna after Allied occupation ends in 1955

[…] On April 1st 1948 I started working for the Burghauptmannschaft and just a few days later for the Russians. Holziger, our master electrician of the boiler house, was responsible for setting up electricity supply for the Russians. At this point, electricity was essential. And then he’d say that he needed a carpenter. ’Cause the Russians had been using all the beautiful golden chairs, plenty of which could be found in the entire Palace, for their events and concerts. Most of these golden chairs needed fixing, though, ’cause they were all worn down or broken. I mean, just imagine those heavy Russians slumping down into these chairs …

[…] Then we had to climb through the window in the Bibliothekshof in order to get into our workshop ’cause the Russians would have locked everything up.

[…] Also, they played football in the upper and final hall. I was instructed to fit some wired mesh onto the window frames. This should prevent the glass from breaking and people from falling out of the window and onto Heldenplatz. We’re talking 4x3 metres of window glass to be covered with wired mesh. If a ball hit the mesh, it’d bounce back. Actually, this was quite a good idea. Otherwise, all the windows would have been shattered.

[…] whenever we had to carry bulky items through the locker’s wing, the Russians would unlock the doors for us to get the stuff out and they’d lock them again afterwards. There was no exit door; no way a cupboard or even a drawer would fit through the window.

Rudolf Novak in an interview with Maria Welzig, 13th May 2010.

Rudolf Novak (August 25th 1924 – May 1st 2015) was an employee of the Burghauptmannschaft (public authority for managing and conserving public historic buildings) from 1948 to 1987, and had resided at the Hofburg Vienna since the 1950s. After two years of military service and four years of war captivity, young Rudolf Novak was to return to Austria with one of the last trains of returnees from Russia in 1947. Originally, he wanted to become a police officer. However, after his time in the German Wehrmacht and in the Russian camp he would not have endured two more years of internment which constituted an integral part of police training. After all, Novak started off his career at the Burghauptmannschaft as a carpenter in 1948 after his uncle working at the boiler house of the Hofburg referred him.