TYPES OF BANKS IN THE HABSBURG EMPIRE

Former Österreichische Creditanstalt building (today the Park Hyatt Vienna hotel), founded 1855 “k.k.privilegierte Österreichische Credit-Anstalt für Handel und Gewerbe”, architect Franz Fröhlich (built 1858-60)

 

The components of the banking system had already been established when the above mentioned Gründerzeit took place. Different components were formed in different periods and new types of institutions were created after the crash of 1873 because the system itself was very dynamic.

 

The oldest element was the bank of issue in Vienna (1816). The Austrian National Bank opened its first branch in Prague in 1847 and its second one in Pest in 1851. By 1875 it had 24 branches in addition to its headquarters in Vienna. On local markets these branch offices played an important role in the distribution of Treasury notes, government paper money that had been issued again since 1866, and in the supply of bank notes. In the beginning of the 19th century savings banks were established. The Erste Österreichische Sparcasse was established in 1819 with philanthropic aims and it served as an example in other parts of the empire. Due to the crises of 1857 and 1873 a great number of private bankers, who were considered the main financiers before, disappeared from the financial scene or their business was transformed. They either specialised in certain fields or joined larger banks established at that time. The Rothschild house in Vienna was the only one to keep its former position.…

FINANCE AND INDUSTRIAL INVESTMENT IN THE HABSBURG EMPIRE

Sparkasse Karlsbad, Bohemia

 

Industrialisation and the industrial boom in Cisleithania, the western part of the “Dual Austro-Hungarian Monarchy”, boosted the confidence of Austrian liberalism, while the crash of 1873 weakened it again considerably. The Gründerzeit (literally: founding time) resulted from a combination of several factors, a mushrooming financial sector willing to invest in the economy, an expanding rail network making demands on the iron industry and technical innovation in various coal-consuming industries, all of this interacting to produce an economic leap forward. As in the 1850s the railway expansion spurred financial innovation, the Gründerzeit was characterised by a blossoming of banking institutions. After the financial crisis of 1857/58 most private bankers experienced a serious downturn, but finance grew again from 1867, the founding of the dual monarchy, via the multiplication of joint stock banks through the established Creditanstalt, associated with Anselm Rothschild, and the Niederösterreichische Escomptegesellschaft. Utilising high profits, the banks helped sponsor the growth of joint stock companies, 1005 of which received charters in the years 1867-73. Vitkovice, controlled by Rothschild, led the way in the adoption of the Bessemer process by the monarchy’s major iron works by 1870, along with puddling, the rolling mill and increasingly the use of coke instead of charcoal. Chief among them was the Bohemian Iron Company, centred at the coal-mining town of Kladno near Prague, which had emerged from the amalgamation of three predecessors in 1857. The coal production received a powerful impetus from technical innovations in a series of industries in the 1860s, like flour milling, sugar refining, paper making and of course the textile industry.…

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT IN CENTRAL EUROPE

Prague, Train Station

Central and Eastern Europe was characterised by transition from a collection of agrarian societies under dynastic rule to modern industrialised societies within the European system of nations over the last two centuries. Western Europe achieved modern economic growth with mixed capitalist economic systems and high levels of integration into the world economy while the Russian Empire in the 19th century and its successor, the Soviet Union, in the 20th century experienced delayed economic development with weak or no capitalist institutions and feeble international economic links. As mentioned above the countries of Central Europe form the area “in-between”: Austria and Czechoslovakia before the Second World War followed the Western model, while Bulgaria and Romania stuck to the Russian model, Hungary, Yugoslavia and Poland opted for a mixture of those different ways.…

INDUSTRIALISATION IN THE HABSBURG EMPIRE

Budapest, one of the iron bridges

 

The Austro-Hungarian Empire was one of the latecomers in industrialisation together with Switzerland, the Netherlands and Scandinavia. Its reputation of economic backwardness in the 19th century is largely unjustified as only some portions of the empire were really backward, as can be seen above. To an even greater extent than France or Germany the empire was characterised by regional diversity and disparity. The western provinces – “Cisleithania” -, especially Bohemia, Moravia and Austria proper, were economically far more advanced than the eastern part – “Transleithania”. In the west the first stirrings of modern economic growth could be observed as early as the second half of the 18th century, but the topography made internal and international transport and communication difficult and expensive and the poverty of natural resources, most of all coal hindered economic development.…

CENTRAL EUROPEAN INTERCULTURAL RELATIONSHIPS: “K & K KAKANIEN”

Central European architecture: Prague, Czech Republic

A question to be asked is whether the historical and cultural entity of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the Danube basin and special cultural relationships of the past in any way promoted the expansion of Austrian banks, insurances and other businesses in Central, Eastern and South Eastern Europe after 1989.
Robert Musil sarcastically describes in his famous novel “The Man Without Qualities“ the disintegration of Austrian hierarchical society and liberal-rational culture: “Kakania”. “Kakania was the first country at the present stage of development, from which God had withdrawn all credit, all love of life, all belief in itself and the capacity of all cultural nations to spread the useful imagination that they had a task to fullfill.” This Kakania is at the same time a model of an intellectual concept of Central Europe – more imaginary than a real geographically and historically defined area – today. Again Robert Musil: “…after having taken stock of the bulk of Central European ideas, he found out, not only to his regret, that it consisted only of contradictions, but to his astonishment he also realised that these contradictions are melting into each other when you look at them carefully.” “People who were not born then,” wrote Musil about the Austrian fin-de-siècle , “ will find it difficult to believe, but the fact is that even then time was moving faster than a cavalry camel…. But in those days, no one knew what it was moving towards; nor could anyone quite distinguish between what was above and what was below, between what was moving forward and what backward.”…

THE DANUBE BASIN: CULTURAL CROSSROADS BETWEEN EAST AND WEST

The Danube, Budapest

“When someone went up the Danube to Vienna, it was said that he went to Europe”, Elias Canetti (the name is derived from the Spanish city of “Canete”, from where the family seemed to have been expulsed) wrote in the first part of his autobiography “The Rescued Tongue” in 1977. Canetti was born in Rustschuk / Ruse, Bulgaria, at the Danube and his native town became the symbolic start of the journey of the later winner of the Noble prize for literature. His Jewish forefathers were expelled from Spain after the Christian Reconquista and settled in Rustschuk as merchants. This “second diaspora” made Canetti a “Sephardic Jew”, who chose German as the “mother tongue” of his literature. Canetti’s path of life was a European one and it started in Vienna after he had crossed an invisible frontier when going up the Danube. …

THE CONCEPT OF CENTRAL EUROPE

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

If there is a distinctive division, where does east and west meet? There is an ancient invisible line from Gdansk in the north to Trieste in the south that separates the two parts with remarkable continuity from the eastern border of the Carolingian Empire to the frontier between the Austrian and Hungarian part of the Habsburg Empire to the western border of “real existing socialism” after 1947. From the Dalmatian coast to Lithuania there is a line dotted with fortresses, frontier settlements, strategic towns and historic cross roads. For centuries this area has been a point of encounters of Germans and Slavs, Austrians and Turks, Catholics and orthodox Christians. But it falls across a terrain, where peoples for centuries have met, mixed and fought. Contrary to other areas in Eastern Europe, Bohemia was until 1948 a flourishing component in the Industrial Revolution, which marked the western part off from the rest of the continent more than anything else, and it was firmly settled in the western European culture.…

THE DIVISION OF EUROPE INTO EAST AND WEST

Map of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, Archive S.Wurm

Curiously, one of the things that Europeans have long shared, that has bound them together is a sense of their divisions. The east – west distinction was remarkably well established at a very early time in history. It is sometimes supposed today that the line dividing Eastern from Western Europe was an artificial creation of the Cold War, but that is not so. The division of the continent started with the break-up of the Roman Empire into two distinct parts in the 4th century AD. The emergence of the Carolingian Monarchy reinforced the division by giving the hitherto anarchic western part distinction and enduring frontiers. Charlemagne’s 9th century empire corresponded, curiously enough, with precision the post-war “Europe of Six”; it just left out central and southern Italy and Catalonia. The eastern boundaries of the Carolingian Empire were still imprecise just as the northern borders of Byzantium, but by the 14th century the east-west distinction was well established. Although partly based on prejudices, historical documents confirmed that invisible line that separated east from west. Conradus Celtis in the 15th century recorded a sentiment that was wide-spread in Western Europe since the 10th century: Where the Roman/Carolingian, Lothringian and Hohenzollern empires ended, there ended Europe. An Englishman travelling the Habsburg lands in 1669, Edward Brown, remarked upon entering Hungary that he left his world and entered a land quite different from western countries. Long after the Habsburgs had established effective authority over territories stretching well into today’s Ukraine, Metternich spoke of “Asia beginning at the Landstrasse [a street in the eastern part of Vienna then]”. …