Austria, like is neighbor Switzerland, is one of the smaller mountainous countries of central Europe. Before World War I it was part of the huge Austro-Hungarian Empire, and for a short time before and during World War II it became an integral part of Germany. However, it emerged from this latter struggle as a modern independent state.

Austria has always had a society of high culture, centered on its capital, Vienna, astride the banks of the Danube. From our point of view, however, it is important that medicine flourished here, particularly in the 19th century, when medical students from all over the world came to Vienna if possible. Vienna is still a leading center of medicine, and there is much of historical interest that survives.


Location – AT the eastern end of Austria, and about 450 kilometers from Munich in southern Germany.
Train – From many parts of Europe direct.
Road – From Munich take the E11 Autobahn to the east, and at Salzburg join the E14 to Linz, and finally the E5 to Vienna.

Institut für Geschichte der Medizin der Universität Wien

Währinger Strasse 25, Vienna
Opening hours:
Monday – Friday, 9.00 – 16.00
Small charge for admission.

This is an institute for the history of medicine and is part of the 600 year old university of Vienna. However, as an institute it is unique in having one of the best medical museums in the world.

The Josephinum, where the institute and museum are housed, was built about 1785 at the command of the Emperor Joseph II (1741-1790) – who is generally considered by historians to have been an “enlightened monarch”. The building was constructed to house an academy for the formal training of surgeons, mostly for the benefit of the army. Still, this was one of the first formal schools of surgery and from which part of the excellent of Viennese medicine derives. It is important also that the Josephinum is considered one of the most beautiful buildings in Vienna, the architect having been an Italian, Isidore Canevale (1730-1786).

As early as 1850, there was a chair of the History of Medicine at the University of Vienna, but it was not until 1920 that the great historian of medicine, Max Neuburger (1868-1955), transferred the History of Medicine Institute to the Josephinum and also established the museum there. Fortunately both have prospered, and today it is a great experience to visit the Josephinum.

The museum is large and we can only highlight its main exhibits here. First and foremost is the huge (1192 specimens!) “Collection of Anatomical and Obstetric Wax Preparations.” This collection, commissioned by Joseph II, was modeled in Florence from the wax of wild bees between 1775-1785, and for many years subsequently, was the means by which army surgeons learned their anatomy. The happy combination of artistry and accuracy in the wax models is truly remarkable, and it is difficult to put into words their visual effect. They are all in cases of hand-blown glass inlaid in rosewood. Two centuries of wear and tear have taken their toll, but fortunately the whole collection is being gradually and meticulously restored.
Other main exhibits in the museum show the development of medical teaching, ophthalmology, hygiene, brain function, surgery, pathology, blood grouping and many more. Also the early development of many modern medical instruments, much of which took place in Vienna. As we have stressed this museum is extensive, and many interesting hours can be spent there by a casual visitor.

Finally in this Institute of the History of Medicine is a magnificent historical library of medicine. Some of its holdings go back to the 15th century, and it has virtually every major medical work published since then. The library can be used only by professional scholars, with the permission of the librarian, but visitors can ask to see it. The library also has an extensive collection of medical manuscripts and portraits of famous doctors. Few people could fail to be impressed with this institute, and the role it plays in the culture of Austria and the world beyond. We were particularly impressed with the superb care of everything and the dedication of the staff.

Sigmund Freud Haus

Berggasse 19
Opening hours:
Monday – Friday, 10.00 – 13.00
Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays, 10.00 – 16.00
Small charge for admission.

Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, lived and worked in this house from 1891-1938. It is now maintained as a museum (see also under London, England).

So much controversy, a great deal of which has been ridicule and misunderstanding, has surrounded the work and achievements of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), that his name still conjures up sarcasm and derision. But there can be no doubt about his permanent place in medical history.
Freud was born in Freiberg, Moravia, now called Pribor and part of modern Czechoslovakia. His family was poor. When he was only 4 they moved to Vienna, and this became his home for most of his career. Freud was a keen student, and his family encouraged learning. He graduated with distinction from the gymnasium, and at 17 entered the University of Vienna to study medicine. It took him 8 years to get his medical degree, mainly because he devoted much of his time to medical research rather than pursuing the prescribed curriculum. However, in 1881 he got his degree and joined the staff of the famous Allgemeines Krankenhaus, where he specialized in neuropathology. In addition to his clinical activities he carried out research on the anatomy of the human brain. At this period in his life he is said to have become addicted to cocaine which he found enabled him to work well. If this was the case he was apparently able to give it up later.

After a short study trip to Paris, Freud set up practice in Vienna as a neuropathologist, and in the same year, 1886, he married Martha Bernays who became his life long companion. With the beginning of his private practice, Freud also started active research into what we now call psychoanalysis. Fortunately he was on the staff of the medical faculty of the University of Vienna, which gave an outlet for his very new, and to some people “alarming”, ideas. During the years which followed, Freud made known his theories and ideas in various books and journals. It is generally considered that the most important book he wrote was “Die Traumdeutung” (The interpretation of Dreams). This came out in 1900, and contains all the basic concepts of psychoanalytic theory and practice – the erotic nature of dreams, the “Oedipus complex,” the libido and many others, all related to the subconscious. It was greeted with a storm of hostility and abuse, which has not yet died away, but the book has survived as one of the great works of medicine. Obviously some of Freud’s ideas have been superseded, but considering that he was dealing with something so complex as the human mind, it is remarkable how accurate he has proved to be.

At the age of 67 and at the height of his fame and career, Freud developed cancer of the jaw. For the rest of his life he was a martyr to this. He underwent many operations, suffered severe pain and eventually died from it. The last years of his life were saddened by the coming of the Nazi regime in Germany. Freud was Jewish, and when the Nazis took over Austria in 1938 he and his family had to flee to England where he found sanctuary (see under London, Hampstead). He died there the following year. He was 83.

The Sigmund Freud Museum is on the mezzanine floor of Berggasse 19. It was here that he lived and worked. The museum consists of 4 rooms. The first of these was the waiting room for his patients. This contains the original furniture, and was restored with the help of his daughter, Dr. Anna Freud, who knew it well. The second room was his consulting room, which was almost perfectly soundproofed. Much of the original furniture of this room is in London, but photographs on the walls clearly depict everything as it was when in use. The third room was the sitting room of the family, and contains mementos of many episodes in Freud’s life. Finally there is the foyer, where there are now books, portraits, etc. for sale. There are other rooms here which he occupied, but they are not open to the public.

A visit to the Sigmund Freud Haus brings on in close touch with a man whose legacy has benefited millions of people in trouble, and whose name is likely to live as long as humans survive.

Allgemeines Krankenhaus

Alser Strasse 4
Opening hours:
Normal business hours.
This is an active hospital.

This is the Vienna General Hospital. It is an enormous complex today, and has in the past played a huge role in the development of modern medicine. It was founded in 1693, but the main buildings date from the 18th century. It was here that Ignác Semmelweis (see under Budapest, Hungary), Sigmund Freud and many others worked. This was also the center of the great period of Viennese medicine in the 19th century. Obviously one cannot visit the wards, clinics, etc. of the hospital, but one can walk through the enormous and very lovely courtyards.

Universität der Wien

Dr. Karl Lueger-Ring
Opening hours:
Normal business hours.
No charge for admission.

This is the main building of the University of Vienna. It is worth a visit simply because it is one of the great universities of the world where many famous doctors, etc. have studied and taught. Nearby is the Dr. Ignaz Seipel-Platz where some of the buildings of the “Old University” survive.

In conclusion we must point out that Vienna is famous not only for its medicine, but perhaps above all for its music, and the visitor will surely want to see some of the many interesting places in the history of music.