Sunday, 17 November 2013


Franz Ferdinand's last lunch reminded me of the most haunting museum exhibit I have ever seen. It is in Vienna's Military History Museum - commonly known as the Arsenal - in a room that contains no labelling or storyboards and offers no audio guide.

The room's windows are hung with plain sheer curtains, each with a two-inch black border. Besides some paintings, the only things in the room are the car in which Franz Ferdinand was travelling when he was killed in Sarajevo and the clothes that he was wearing at the time.

There is something both jaunty and eerie about the car. With its roof folded back and its deep, generous seats, it suggests country outings and picnics in meadows. But the bullet holes along its side tell a different story, as does the one other exhibit, Franz Ferdinand's torn and blood stained tunic, which lies in a glass case nearby.

Describing it now, I worry that the whole thing sounds a bit voyeuristic. It isn't - or for me it isn't. Instead, it feels as if you are as close as you will ever come to being witness to the moment that Europe's history changed forever - so close, in fact, that you feel you ought to be able to step forward and prevent it, altering the course of events, avoiding the subsequent war and its terrible consequences. The air in that room is full of yearning.

(Here is a link to a picture of the uniform - I had forgotten both the deathbed and the shoes. The shoes strike me as particularly forlorn, perhaps partly because I've never forgotten a case heaped with the shoes of victims in the Auschwitz Museum [and, without the assassination at Sarajevo, would Auschwitz ever have happened?].)

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