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Visiting the Sigmund Freud Museum in Vienna

Visiting the birthplace of psychoanalysis.

You might be wondering why psychoanalysis is being featured on a literature blog. I’ve briefly touched on how psychoanalysis is a prominent literary theory, meaning we use these psychological ideas and apply them to books in order to understand characters, the writer’s life, and even how we relate to the plot! For example, if a character keeps having a recurring nightmare, as a reader, you’ll probably seek to understand what is represented in the dream and how their waking life is reflected in their subconscious. See, you’re already a natural!

I particularly enjoy applying psychoanalysis to literature (it was part of my major paper for my master’s degree), especially as it pertains to the Gothic. In fact, father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud wrote specifically on the what makes something creepy, he called it the Uncanny, and I break down the theory here.

So, when I was in Vienna on my last big trip, I knew I wanted to make time to visit the Sigmund Freud Museum at Berggasse 19 (and pick up a copy of his writing in the Uncanny). What is really fascinating is that Freud lived in this space for nearly 50 years before fleeing from the Nazi’s in 1938, so it really is the birthplace of psychoanalysis. He began recording his own dreams in 1839 which would develop into his most famous work, The Interpretation of Dreams (published in 1899 as Die Traumdeutung). Why is this work important? Through looking at his own dreams (and, later, those of his patients) he would set the foundation for what we understand as the unconscious, preconscious, and conscious. Throughout the museum you can see early editions of many of his works.

“Many of his ideas and concepts have become part of our everyday life, language, and popular culture over the past 100 years—though often in an abbreviated and distorted form. Even to Freud, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar and not a phallic symbol. Contrary to persistent claims, his psychoanalysis does not attribute everything to sexuality despite its eminent importance.”

-- From one of the displays at the Sigmund Freud Museum in Vienna, Austria.

The displays also include personal items, such as Freud’s hat, glasses, and leather bag, which create a vision of the man in his everyday life. But the space itself is fascinating as it brings together the man and his work. Extensively renovated in 2020, you get to walk through the private and professional rooms that make up the building. This includes the treatment rooms of both Freud and his youngest child, Anna (who followed in his footsteps of psychoanalysis but made quite the name for herself with her focus on children). You enter first through the sitting room which is still furnished with a period couch. On the wall is hung replicas of Freud’s accreditation and some black and white images, including Henry Fuseli’s 1781 painting The Nightmare, where a gremlin sits on the chest of a sleeping woman (I do not know if this is historically accurate or a tongue-in-cheek approach by the curators!).

Sadly, Freud’s actual treatment room is empty, but they do supply a panoramic photograph to show what it would have been like and written description:

“The walls, furniture, cushions, and rugs were in strong, warm, dark shades. The focal piece of furniture was the rug-cloaked couch in front of a tapestry… The walls bore, among other items, framed fragments of Pompeian murals, engravings, prints, and lithographs of famed watercolours or paintings.”

-- From one of the displays at the Sigmund Freud Museum in Vienna, Austria.

A back and white image of what Freud's treatment room looked like.

I had so been hoping to see the original “talking cure” couch where Freud began applying his theories and “made it possible to speak freely without making eye contact.” But the couch is at the Freud Museum in London, UK! After fleeing the Nazis, Freud and family settled in London where he lived and worked until his death.

Is it worth visiting the Sigmund Freud Museum in Vienna? If you are interested in psychology, history, or literature, this is going to be an entertaining exhibit. It has robust displays, written in both English and German, and I was there longer than I expected. There is even a little café to sit and soak it all in.

How much does it cost to visit the Sigmund Freud Museum in Vienna? At the time pf publishing this blog, regular tickets are €14.

Is it easy to get to the Sigmund Freud Museum in Vienna? It was a lovely walk from where we were staying and less than 25 minutes form the Hofburg Palace (a popular Viennese attraction you can’t miss on a map). Expect some hills as you get closer to the museum. There are tram and tube stops to get you close to it too.


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