The party palace

In the course of its 300-year history, Palais Auersperg has seen some of Vienna’s most lavish parties. It has been the venue of royal weddings and receptions for visiting heads of state like Haile Selassie and Pandit Nehru. Empress Elisabeth, better known as ‘Sisi’, and her ‘Franzl’ (husband and emperor Franz Joseph) once used to dance here at the Spring Ball, and drag queens strut their stuff at the extravagant Rosenball today. 

From clubbings to children’s literature festivals to sex expos, this magnificent building has seen it all. If you pass it by in the early evening – at least in non-pandemic times – you are likely to come across small groups of people waiting at the entrance. More often than not these will be tourists eager to soak up the atmosphere of imperial Vienna for one night while the Residence Orchestra plays a medley of Mozart’s and Johann Strauss’s most popular melodies.

When you enter Palais Auersperg today and pass the cloakroom in the oval foyer you soon find yourself in front of one of its architectural highlights: the double staircase that can also be seen in probably the best-known film ever to be made in Vienna: In ‘The Third Man’, Harry Lime’s girlfriend Anna is brought here by the allied police. The palace did indeed serve as headquarters for the so-called Inter-Allied Military Patrol from 1945 to 1953, when Austria was occupied by the Allied Forces after World War II. And even before that, in the final days of the war, it was the centre of a coalition of Austrian resistance groups that had come together under the name O5 to revive Austria as a sovereign state. Incidentally, this name can still be seen near the gate of St Stephen’s Cathedral where it was carved into the wall at about the same time.

The double staircase leads up to the magnificent ballroom, also known as Rosenkavalier Hall (inspired by the Richard Strauss opera), with its walls in green and pink marble, glittering chandeliers and an antique frieze depicting scenes of fencing and fighting. 

Today, Palais Auersperg is for sale again and many residents hope that the city will buy it and open it – and, most of all, its 6,000-square-metre garden – to the public. In a district as lacking in green space as the Josefstadt, this would be a very welcome move.