Here is a movie buff’s treasure trove of original film posters, costumes, props, sheet music, autographed photos and sound and film recordings. The museum attracts a small but devoted international fan base of classic film lovers — and the occasional ex-spy. Yet there’s enough here to interest any Vienna visitors who’ve had their fill of the city’s palaces and pastries.
The museum is a consuming passion of collector and local historian Gerhard Strassgschwandtner, who’s still collecting memorabilia: His latest prize is an original script from the estate of British actor Trevor Howard (Major Calloway in “The Third Man”).
“It was okay with me if he wanted to spend all his money on the collection,” smiled Gerhard’s wife, Karin Hoefler, “but I originally refused to give up my Saturdays to help run the museum.” Protestations aside, Hoefler has pitched in wholeheartedly, designing most of the displays and publications. And yes, many of her Saturdays are spent at the museum.
And it’s a remarkable one, with 2,000 artifacts and documents thoughtfully displayed in 13 rooms. Beyond the movie, the museum may also be the best place in Vienna to learn about the dark days in the city before, during and after World War II.
It makes no effort to gloss over a subject that official Vienna has long played down: the 1938 Anschluss, or annexation, of Austria by Germany that was supported by a homegrown Austrian Nazi Party and ratified by Austrian citizens. The museum devotes relatively little space to the war itself but picks up the chronology with extensive displays on the postwar occupation by American, French, British and Russian forces. Exhibits include a plethora of occupation-era memorabilia, from ration books to CARE package food parcels.
Although Allied bombs decimated the city, modern Vienna bears few visible reminders of the war, having been rebuilt thanks in large part to massive American aid. One of the heroes portrayed in the museum is the U.S. high commissioner, Gen. Mark Clark, who recognized the strategic value of Austria, jutting as it did into the Iron Curtain of Soviet-occupied areas.
Even though he wasn’t born until 10 years after the war, Strassgschwandtner makes no secret of his gratitude for the economic lifeboat that the United States provided to his country: “Austrians got five times more benefits, per capita, from the Marshall Plan than Germans. Without help from the United States, I could have grown up in a Russian-dominated city like Prague.”