Ladies and Gentlemen
It gives me great pleasure on behalf of OFID to welcome you here this evening for the launch of our book “Theophil Hansen’s Palace for Archduke Wilhelm.” I thank you all for coming to share this special occasion, which, by the way, is also a birthday celebration – the day after tomorrow OFID will be 36 years of age.
Many of you will be wondering why OFID is publishing a book about a Habsburg palace - even if the palace in question happens to be our own headquarters building. Well, let me assure you. Once you have read it, you will be asking why its story has never been told before!
All of us here at OFID consider ourselves very fortunate to work in such splendid surroundings. But how did we come to be here? For that I need to take you back to 1965, when our sister organization OPEC was convinced by the late Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky – then in his capacity as Foreign Minister - to move its Secretariat from Geneva to Vienna, as part of his drive to make the city a hub for international organizations. When OFID was founded in 1976, it made sense for us to set up shop here too.
Initially, we had temporary offices in the Vienna Stock Exchange, as guests of the Creditanstalt Bank. This was followed by a short period as tenants of OPEC. In 1978, and needing more space, we moved to the Strudelhof Palace in Vienna’s 9th District, also a well-known historical building. In fact, it was in the Strudelhof in 1914 that the Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister, Count Leopold Berchtold, signed the ultimatum to Serbia that started World War I. However, let’s put this part of history aside and return to OFID. It wasn’t long before we had outgrown the Strudelhof as well. So, after purchasing Wilhelm’s Palace from the City of Vienna in 1981, we settled here, which has been our home now for thirty years.
Ladies and Gentlemen
This beautiful palace has the most fascinating history. As some of you will already know, it was built in the 1860s as a representative dwelling for Archduke Wilhelm, in his capacity as Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights. Wilhelm was a cousin of the Habsburg Emperor Franz Joseph. The palace was designed by one of the most renowned and influential architects of the period, the Danish architect Theophil Hansen, who by coincidence, also designed our first, temporary home, the Vienna Stock Exchange.
The book traces the life and times of the palace, from its original design and construction over 150 years ago, to its purpose today as the seat of OFID. It profiles the architect and gives new insight into the lives of Archduke Wilhelm and his successor and beloved nephew Archduke Eugen. And it describes in some detail the history and structure of the Teutonic Order. The book also looks at the other occupants of the building, including the Nazi security organization, the SS, which was headquartered here from 1938 to 1945, and the Vienna Police, who occupied the palace for almost 30 years from the end of the war.
The book also features a fascinating collection of historical photographs and documents, including many of Hansen’s original drawings, sketches and plans.
There are many people we have to thank for the realization of this project. First and foremost, the authors, in alphabetical order: Father Bayard, Dr. Hamann, Ms. Koller, Ms. Kurzel-Runtscheiner, Mr. Nierhaus, Mr. Rainer, Ms. Rothlaender, Ms. Sauer and Mr. Wehdorn. It is their passion for history and art that brings the story of our building so vividly to life. A very special thank-you goes to Ms. Koller, who advised and coordinated and, quite simply, pulled the whole book together.
We are also very grateful to Mr. Steiner for his breathtaking photography, and to Mr. Auracher, the book’s designer, who worked long hours to ensure the best possible presentation of the material. Last, but by no means least, I would like to express my appreciation to the OFID Family for its loyalty and support; to everyone involved in organizing this event; and especially those colleagues in the Department of Information who were instrumental in the production of the book.
Ladies and Gentlemen
Archduke Wilhelm’s Palace has been the hub for OFID’s international development work for three decades now. Interestingly, we are not the first occupants of the building to show concern for the poor. As Dr. Hamann enlightens us, both Archdukes Wilhelm and Eugen were well known humanitarians. A coincidence perhaps. But one that makes OFID feel even more at home. And, what’s more, privileged to be continuing a tradition started over a century and a half ago. Fate certainly works in mysterious ways.
I am told that this book is the first, definitive history of the Palais Deutschmeister, as it is known to the Viennese. It therefore gives me the greatest pleasure to dedicate it to the City and people of Vienna, in recognition of their generous hospitality and support over the past 36 years. On behalf of OFID, thank you, dear friends.