In the late 18th century, Jewish women played a crucial role in developing Germany’s salon culture, which incubated the German Enlightenment. One such woman, Fanny von Arnstein, brought the salon—along with the Christmas tree—from Berlin to Vienna. Reviewing a new exhibit at the Jewish Museum of Vienna that tells the story of the city’s many Jewish salonnières, from Arnstein until the eve of World War II, Marina Gerner writes:
The woman who interested me the most was Berta Zuckerkandl, as soon as I saw a photograph of her sitting at her desk, writing. She glances at the camera with the look of one who is inspired and inspires others. Zuckerkandl was born in 1864, the daughter of an influential publisher. Her father ran the Neues Wiener Tagblatt, one of Austria’s leading liberal daily newspapers. He was a friend of Crown Prince Rudolf, whose political articles he published without naming the author. Only Berta was privy to the secret, as she was her father’s right hand by the age of sixteen, and she became a journalist and cultural critic in her own right.
The Viennese culture we know today flourished in her salon. She had a poignant way of telling stories and the ability to portray characters deftly in a few words. She ran her salon from 1888 to 1938. The gatherings, which took place on Sundays, had up to 200 guests. The food was known to be meager, consisting of sandwiches with coffee and tea, as Zuckerkandl focused on nourishing the intellect instead. It is said that the art movement [known as] the Vienna Secession was founded at her salon, as were the influential design group the Wiener Werkstaette (Vienna Workshop) and the Salzburg Festival. . . .
The first woman to bring the salon culture to Austria was Fanny von Arnstein at the end of the 18th century. At the time, Jews had been granted permission to live in Vienna, but had to pay very hefty taxes for this privilege, so only the most successful businessmen managed to settle there. Originally from Berlin, Arnstein was highly educated and inspired by the ideas of the Enlightenment.