Recently, Otto von Habsburg died at 98. His father reigned over Austria-Hungary from 1916 until the treaties after World War I broke up the centuries-old empire. In a Chicago Tribune article that I can’t find anymore, I saw this delightfully nerdy tidbit about Otto:
It was he who spawned the joke in which an aide asks if he had seen the Austria-Hungary football match the night before.
The deadpan reply: “No, whom were we playing?”
On a more serious note, Peter Berger, who lived in Vienna as a child, posted some reflections on the Habsburgs, for whom he and his father had some fond feelings, especially considering Europe’s went after World War I. Berger recounted this episode from the funeral of Otto’s mother:
Early in 1989, just months before the collapse of the Soviet empire, the Empress Zita died in her nineties in a Catholic nursing home in Switzerland. She was the widow of Charles I and Otto’s mother. The Austrian republic could not hold a state funeral, but what occurred had all the trappings of one. A solemn funeral mass took place in St. Stephen’s Cathedral, celebrated by the Archbishop of Vienna. The prayers were read in all the languages of the monarchy—German, Hungarian, Czech, Croatian, and so on. Then the funeral procession made its way from the Stefansplatz to the nearby Capuchin monastery, in whose underground crypt, for many centuries, all Habsburg rulers had been deposited in sarcophagi—some ornate, some quite simple—and some lesser ones stacked away as in a warehouse. When the procession reached the monastery, it stopped before the gate, which was locked. Then took place an ancient ritual, which among other things proclaims a theological critique of the pretentions of power.
The marshal of the procession knocked on the door. The abbot, who waited behind it with all his monks, asked, “Who seeks entry?” The marshal responded by reciting the so-called long title. Traditionally there were three titles—after the long one a somewhat shorter one, then a very short one. The recitation of the long title took about ten minutes, naming every territory ever acquired by the Habsburgs (some by conquest, most by marriage, the Habsburgs’ favorite method of imperial expansion). It drew drew attention once again to this vast empire that reached from the eastern border of Switzerland to the western border of Russia, and which when it ended had fifty million subjects. When the recitation was over, the abbot said: “We do not know her. Who seeks entry?” In the 1989 enactment, the middle title was omitted. The marshal went on to the shortest title: “Empress of Austria, Queen of Hungary, Queen of Bohemia.” Again the abbot said: “We do not know her. Who seeks entry?”. Then the marshal said: “Zita, your sister, a poor sinner.” And the gate was opened.
One of the designations in the long title was “Duchess of Auschwitz,” which was included in the ceremony. Berger concludes:
Afterward I asked myself: If I had been in charge of the event, would I have left out this particular title? I decided that I would not have left it out, if for a very simple reason: If the Habsburgs had still ruled in the 1940s, “Auschwitz” would not have happened.