One hundred years ago on June 28, a 19-year-old Bosnian Serb struck the match that lit the conflagration of World War I. On that day, Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and his wife, Sophie.
To mark that grim anniversary, I recommend a visit to Vienna’s absorbing Heeresgeschichtliches Museum (Military History Museum), housed in an ornate Byzantine-Renaissance revival tour-de-force on the far side of the Belvedere Palace. Because of this out-of-the-way location, the museum receives far fewer visitors than it otherwise might, allowing one to contemplate the exhibits in peace.
Artifacts range from propaganda posters to the conning tower of an Austrian U-boat to a pillow embroidered with flowers, a swastika and “Heil Hitler!” But the most moving pieces are related to the archduke’s assassination. In a newly renovated gallery, visitors can inspect the car in which he was riding when he and his wife were killed, as well as his bloodied uniform.
Standing before these objects never fails to send a shiver down my spine. Some scholars argue that World War I would have happened whether or not Franz Ferdinand and his wife had been murdered. But the fact remains that what happened in that car, to the man in that uniform, led directly to the deaths of millions and a redrawing of the map of the world. The waves of history emanating from that car and that uniform affect us profoundly even today, and in the museum, they are eerily palpable.
Read more about my travels in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire in the August Hideaway Report.