The story of Hitler in Vienna starts in 1907. Aged just 18 at the time, Hitler moved to the capital city to pursue career as an artist and live a bohemian lifestyle.
He would remain in the city until May 1913, when he went to Munich after avoiding conscription to the Austria-Hungary army. He would return again in 1938, triumphant after the Anschluss – the annexation of Austria
This article provides an in depth look into Hitler’s time from 1907 to May 1913. I’ve focussed on the places he stayed and the situations he found himself in. It was not a happy time for Hitler, he would later reflect it was the hardest period of his life.
It is a tale of hardship and poverty. Particularly during September 1909 to February 1910 when Hitler was homeless and lived on the streets and in a homeless shelter. Details of this period are scant but I have put together a record of what is known and can be assumed.
Hitler in Vienna: why did he move?
It’s easy to see why the hopeful artist chose Vienna. It was, and still is, regarded as the one of the cultural capitals of the world which celebrated bohemian ideals that appealed to young Hitler. It was the epicentre of the arts, science and philosophy, as can be seen by Vienna’s long list of notable residents.
For example, when Hitler lived in Vienna, so too did Sigmund Freud, Trotsky, Tito, and Stalin. It is not unreasonable to think that Hitler, as a regular goer of the opera and theatre, as well as a participator in Vienna’s café culture, frequented the same places as these names.
However, for all of Vienna’s positive credentials in art, science and philosophy, there was an uglier side to the city. During Hitler’s residency in the city between 1907 to 1913, the city had a strong nationalist movement and anti-Semitism was common and discussed openly. It is debated as to whether this formative period of Hitler in Vienna helped cement his politics and cultivated his anti-Semitism.
Hitler in Vienna was not successful, nor was it a pleasant 5 years. During this time Hitler was destitute, he endured dingy flats in unstable accommodation and never had what you would describe as a steady income.
Hitler in Vienna: the early years and a Bohemian lifestyle
The year was 1907 when Hitler left his hometown of Linz and arrived in Austria’s capital. He was supported by a small orphan’s benefit that he qualified for after his father’s death in 1903. He also received money from his mother Klara. It was not a large amount of money, but it was enough for him to get by on.
He was later joined by his childhood friend August Kubizek. Hitler and Kubizek rented a room at Stumpergasse 31 from Maria Zakreys between 22 February to early July 1908. This room was in a central location close to Mariahilfer Strasse, one of the city’s main shopping boulevards and provided a good base to explore and enjoy the capital city. The pair would often go for long walks in the city and attend concerts, plays and the opera.
The pair both moved to Vienna with the hope of being accepted to study and become artists – Hitler was to become a painter and Kubizek a musician. As such, Hitler applied to Academy of Fine Arts at Schillerplatz and Kubizek applied to the Vienna Conservatory.
What Kubizek did not know, however, was that Hitler had already applied to study at the Academy in 1907 prior to moving to Vienna. At this first attempt he passed the initial exam but was subsequently rejected – his drawing skills were judged “unsatisfactory”.
It is true that Kubizek was Hitler’s only friend. Therefore, we can only look to him to provide details into Hitler’s life during this period and Kubizek’s, The Young Hitler I Knew which published in 1953 does exactly that.
In The Young Hitler I Knew their living conditions are described as squalid and depressing. Hitler himself is described as a temperamental man who could fly into fits of rage and long, often incoherent rants, about an unfair society in which Hitler thought he was a victim of an oppressive system which stopped him from progressing in life.
Kubizek describes a work-shy man who preferred to obsess relentlessly on personal projects, rather than ‘proper’ paid work. For example, he obsessed over solving Vienna’s housing crisis, designing multiple occupancy accommodation for Austrian workers. He would also stay up all night writing operas and plays –Kubizek notes that he never finished a manuscript. Hitler thought ordinary jobs were beneath him and instead focussed what misplaced attention he had on lofty schemes he was neither qualified for or able to complete. He called these projects his ‘studies’.
He worked on these studies all night and slept during the day. From their flat, Hitler would walk to watch political debates in the Parliament building. In Mein Kampf he said that it was after watching these debates that he would grow to despise the country’s political system and democracy.
Away from the flat and their studies, the pair would also attend the Court Opera, standing in the cheap seats. This is where a passion for Wagner was honed. They also went to theatres and watched a great deal of plays.
Kubizek noted how after each show Hitler would give detailed reviews in the form of lengthy and critical monologues. This even led to Kubizek suggesting that he should seek work as a drama critic and write for a newspaper, providing some much-needed money for the household. Like all other interventions by Kubizen to get his friend into work (there were many), Hitler debated him on why each position was not suitable. These usually escalated into full-blown arguments.
Then in November 1908, Kubizek returned to their flat after 2 months military service to discover his childhood friend had abruptly moved out with no explanation. Hitler didn’t even leave a forwarding address. The pair would not meet again until 1938.
Klara Hitler’s death, departure with Kubizek and a second rejection from art school
Hitler’s sudden departure from the flat was a shock to Kubizek but with the benefit of hindsight the tell-tale signs were there. In the year Hitler moved from Linz to Vienna he suffered two tragedies – his mother’s death and a second rejection from art school.
Hitler was close to his mother Klara. In Mein Kampf he wrote that he had “honored my father but loved my mother”. Klara died just a few months after he moved to Vienna on 21 December 1907, he described her death as a “dreadful blow”. He temporarily moved back to Linz in her final weeks to be with her.
Not only was it painful on an emotional level, the death of Klara was the beginning of a downward spiral into further poverty for Hitler because Klara provided her son with financial support. This was an essential lifeline as the orphan’s benefit he received due to his father’s death was not substantial enough to live on alone – and as we know, Hitler was averse to work and refused to support himself, busying himself with his “studies” and pet projects.
Things took another turn for the worse a few months later when, in October 1908, Hitler reapplied for a place in the Academy of Fine Arts. He was rejected for the second time. On this occasion his work was deemed so poor that he wasn’t even invited to take the formal entrance exam.
So sure was Hitler in his skills as an artist, he described his rejection from art school as a “bolt from the blue”.
This was in direct contrast to his Kubizek who had been accepted to study music in the Conservatory and progressed well on his course. His lecturer even gave him students of his own to teach to the displeasure of his roommate.
The death of his mother and subsequent rejection from art school was a double-whammy setback that plunged Hitler into destitution that contributed to the abrupt departure from Stumpergasse 3.
Things would get worse for Hitler before they got better.
Poverty prevails, 1908 – 1910
Details are scant about Hitler’s life between November 1908 and February 1910, when he moved into a men’s dormitory on Meldemannstraße 27.
However, records show of two locations where he stayed during this time. On 18 November 1908 Hitler signed for accommodation in Apartment 16 at Felberstrasse 22. Occupants here could either rent a room or single bed in a dormitory. Given Hitler’s financial situation it is likely he opted for the bed in a dorm. Hitler called this meagre accommodation home until August 1909.
Then, in the Summer of 1909, an already struggling Hitler suffered another financial blow. His aunt had loaned him money and now this pot had dried up. He moved out of the accommodation at Felberstrasse 22 and moved into new housing in Sechshauserstrasse 58, which was a lowly building in the remote 15th district of Vienna.
His stay at Sechshauserstrasse 58 did not last long. An eviction notice dated 16 September 1909 shows that a student called Hitler was told to leave. A reason is not provided in the note but it is accepted that it was for not paying his rent. Like one year previously when he departed from Kubizek, he left no forwarding address.
Hitler homeless in Vienna: September 1909 to December 1909
After being evicted from his accommodation on 16 September 1909, the next three months are a real black spot in terms of where Hitler stayed, his overall situation and his activities.
If Hitler lived on the streets as a beggar, it would have been from September 1909 to December 1909 – when he moved into a homeless shelter in Meidling.
However, details of his homelessness are conjecture. There is no verifiable evidence – if someone has no fixed abode and is living on the streets, how could there be any evidence?
People often speculate that during these three months Hitler lived on the streets, slept on park benches and begged for money. This is a fair assumption and the most likely scenario from what we know.
His poor financial situation, his eviction from his rented accommodation and no forwarding address, plus his eventual move into a homeless shelter all point towards him living as a beggar on Vienna’s streets.
Vienna had a huge amount of homeless people during this period. If we look at the trends of the time, we can perhaps get a picture Hitler’s situation during these 3 months. Park benches, alleys, doorways were all common places for Vienna’s homeless. Train stations, coffee houses, bars, and low-cost lodging known as flophouses were also popular destination amongst Vienna’s homeless population.
Another popular place at the time was the Prater amusement park which was largely closed during the Winter months. A bench in Prater was highly sought after and fiercely competitive amongst Vienna’s displaced.
Wedo have an apparent eyewitness of Hitler during this, though. Hitler would have relied heavily on charitable organisations during this period for food and shelter. A relative of Maria Zakreys, his first Viennese landlord at Stumpergasse 31, recalls seeing him queuing up at the Merciful Sisters Hospital for free food. The woman recalled seeing what she though was once a neat young man now looking dishevelled, standing in line for soup and a piece of bread in raggedy clothes.
The encounter took place just around the corner from Stumpergasse 31, so being familiar with the area, Hitler would have known of the organisation’s charitable activities. There is no reason not to believe the witness account.
The situation for Hitler was so dire during this time that in a despairing attempt to raise some money he sold his possessions. This included everything from his art supplies and clothes – including his overcoat. These can be looked at as particularly desperate measures as the harsh Austrian Winter was closing in, the temperature plummeting, and a lack of overcoat would have made him more vulnerable to the cold. Also, his art supplies were most probably his only means of making money, other than begging.
Hitler homeless shelter in Vienna: December 1909 to February 1910
After what would have been a gruelling three months relying on charity and living on Vienna’s cold streets, Hitler succumbed to the Winter and entered a homeless shelter in Meidling in December 1909.
Meidling was a workers suburb and the Asyl für Obdachlose, “Asylum for the Homeless”, was located behind Meidlinger cemetery, “far from the residents” to hide it’s wretched occupants from view.
The Meidling shelter was a large facility housing 1000 of Vienna’s most hopeless and destitute. Residents at the asylum could only be granted one weeks accommodation at a time, making it difficult to plan for the future.
People often queued the length of the street to try and get a bed in the Meidling shelter. There are even numerous newspaper reports from the time that detail people dying on the pavement outside whilst waiting for a bed during cold Winter nights.
Residents were also forced to adhere to the shelter’s strict rules and regimen. This included a mandatory bedtime with entry to dorms controlled by locks. Lights-out was at a specific time. The bed would have been a cot in a group dormitory. Residents also had to leave the premises by 9am and were not permitted to enter during they day. While certainly better than trying your luck on the streets, the shelter stripped any sense of individuality from its occumpants.
For a man who valued his privacy, Hitler would have struggled in this regard. The chaperoned public showers and grouped delousing procedures would have aggravated him. And, there was also no respite at mealtime either, as this was held in a huge dining hall.
Reinhold Hanisch was a close acquaintance to Hitler and fellow occupant of the Meiding shelter. He is a problematic witness as he was proven to be untrustworthy man, who later had an axe to grind with Hitler. Something which eventually led to Hitler allegedly ordering his death in 1938 – more on that later.
Nevertheless, it is Hanisch who can shed some light on Hitler’s life during this time. A day in the life of Hitler and Hanisch during the 3 months they were in Meiding reads as follows:
Leaving the shelter at 9am and taking a long walk to St. Katherine’s Convent to queue up for soup doled out by the nuns at noon. They would then head to train station or a charity-run ‘warm room’ where poor people could avoid relative comfort out of the cold weather. In the afternoon the pair would try their luck with Salvation Army for some more food before heading back to the homeless shelter.
Hanisch was more experienced and accustomed to life on the streets than Hitler and spotted an opportunity. It was during this time that the pair became business partners and started making money together.
It was noted by Hanisch that Hitler was no good at begging… but he could paint. However, for the same reasons that made him a bad begger, Hitler was also a poor salesman. It struck Hanisch that Hitler should paint and he could be his agent, selling his paintings and postcards across the city, building relationships with art dealers and frame-makers eventually creating a list of regular purchasers.
This endeavour provided Hitler and his new business partner with stability and as such, the pair saw an improvement in their situations when, in February 1910, they moved into the Mannerheim hostel for men located at Meldemannstraße 27.
Mannerheim hostel for men, Feb 1910 to May 1913: Back on his feet
Hitler lived in Mannerheim hostel for over 3 years.
It had been a difficult 15 months and Hitler would have felt that he had benefitted from a change in fortune when he moved into Mannerheim hostel. He had a business that provided a relatively stable income. The price of a bed was reasonable at 10 kroons per month and another 15 kroons gave him a good supply of decent food – something he may not have had for years.
Other amenities and facilities available at the Mannerheim which would have pleased Hitler was a library with 2 reading rooms, a doctor, and bathroom facilities. There was also a clothes workshop and laundry facilities, however it is noted that Hitler only had one set of clothes during the 3 years he spent at the hostel.
Hitler would have also benefitted from his own room. He was classed as permanent tenant which afforded him certain benefits, such as new linen every week, a bed, a table, electric lamp and a mirror. The benefits and pleasure from finally having his own space should not be underestimated. There was a lock on his bedroom door too. He could safely keep his belongs and regain a sense of independence after longs periods of staying in group dormitories.
His time at Mannerheim brought some much-needed stability back into Hitler’s life. His painting was a key factor in this. Business between Hitler and Hanisch was steady. Hitler would sit by the window in one of the reading rooms and paint local scenes and landmarks in Vienna. These were often postcards and watercolours that were sold to taverns or be placed in empty picture frames for frame-makers and art dealers.
For a while the business venture blossomed and Hanisch hawked across Vienna selling Hitler’s paintings wherever he could. After a while Hitler knew what sold best – paintings of local scenes and landmarks and Hanisch cultivated a list of regular buyers. Profits were split 50-50 and the paintings fetched between 5 and 10 kronen.
The business relationship would not last, however. Hitler left the hostel for a week with a man called Josef Neumann to explore another business opportunity. Neumann was linked to Vienna’s Jewish art trade and Hitler thought he would be a better agent. Something happened during that week that left Hitler visibly shaken and his relationship with Hanisch and Neumann never recovered. Hitler started decided to cut out the middlemen and started selling directly to art dealers. It is not known what happened during that week with Neumann but it had a lasting impact on Hitler.
The relationship with Hanisch really turned sour when Hitler accused him of stealing paintings and owing him money. Hitler testified against his former business partner in court in 1910 in an unrelated fraud case to spite him.
In later years Hanisch reflected on his time with Hitler in Vienna:
“He (Hitler) was never an ardent worker, was unable to get up in the morning, had difficulty in getting started, and seemed to be suffering from a paralysis of the will.”
18 years later Hanisch was arrested for speaking to the press. It is alleged that whilst he was imprisoned Hitler sent a direct order to the guards to kill him.
Hitler also became something of an institution within the hostel. Fellow residents would gather around to watch him paint. A keen interest in politics never left Hitler and residents recall how he was an avid reader of the daily newspapers. He also borrowed books from the library on Germany history, German mythology, political pamphlets, and philosophy.
What’s more, in the Mannerheim hostel he has an audience to perform monologue for – he was known to give speeches on politics to the other residents.
Hitler moves from Vienna to Munich, May 1913
After a positive three years in Mannerheim, Hitler in Vienna came to an end when he managed to avoid conscription to the Austria-Hungary army. He failed the army’s medical test but is quoted as saying he did not want to serve because of the mixture of races in the army. He also foresaw the collapse of the empire which contributed to his reasoning.
He received the last of his father’s estate in May 1913 and with that he moved to Munich. He survived for a time by continuing to sell his paintings in the same manner as he did in Vienna. He enlisted in the Bavarian Army in August 1914 and joined the war effort.
Hitler in Vienna, 1938
15 years after he left the Mannerheim hostel and Vienna altogether, Hitler made a triumphant return to the city in 1938 following the success of the Anschluss – the annexation of Austria.
It was a true display of Nazi pomp and ceremony that Hitler revelled in.
The parade progressed down the main boulevard and went past the then dissolved Parliament building where he once walked to from his flat in Stumpergasse 31. How he must have felt to march past the very same building that, aged 18, he would sit and watch debates with a growing sense of disillusionment and disgust.
The parade marched on, passing the grand town hall before stopping at the Hofburg Palace where the emperor once lived. There he gave one of his emphatic speeches from the terrace to 200,000 of Vienna’s residents who packed into the Heldenplatz below.
There is a brilliant online resource by John Vincent Palatine that details this period of Hitler’s life in great detail:
Heart is a Lonely Hunter – Adolf Hitler down and out in Vienna