Vienna Christmas Carol: Seeking of Shelter

nijinsky family

In 1916, at the height of the so called Great War, the ‘God of Dance’, Vaslav Nijinsky, found himself and his little family stranded in Vienna.

Todays pilgrimage of Mary and Joseph seeking shelter and a save place for their child can be witnessed in the heart of Europe every day.

vienna bristol by mandlick
The Hotel Bristol in 1916.

In January 1916, at the height of the so called Great War (later renamed World War I.), a very prominent pair of refugees knocked at the door of the Hotel Bristol in Vienna.

nijinksy in sheherazade
Nijinsky in Sheherazade

Not Joesph and Mary, but Vaslav and Romula, and their 19 month old daughter Kyra, were knocking. The most famous ballet dancer of his time, the ‘God of Dance’, Vaslav Nijinsky, found himself and his little family stranded in Vienna.

nijinsky kyra
Nijinsky and his daughter Kyra, later in 1916, at the Biltmore Hotel, Miami.

In 1914, war had broken out. The dancer and his family fled from Russia to Budapest, Hungary, escaping the turmoil of their home country. Nijinsky’s wife Romola was a Hungarian socialite, the daughter of a politician and a celebrated actress. Their daughter Kyra had been born in Vienna in 1913, during peaceful days. In Budapest, they were interned and put under house arrest until their departure. Calls for his release had been made by Alfonso XIII of Spain and President Wilson of America. They were finally permitted to go to New York for an American tour.

They boarded the Orient Express at Budapest Keleti Station, but on their way they stopped at Vienna, where Nijinsky had so many fond memories. They made it to the inner city, where they entered the Hotel Bristol. The Bristol is right opposite the Opera House, where Nijinsky had danced as the star of the Russian National Ballet Ballet Russe. Officially, on 24. Janaury 1916, he registered at the hotel. That was the day when he had asked the owning manager of the Hotel Bristol in Vienna, Arthur Wolf for a room, but told him right away that he wouldn’t be able to pay for it.

nijinksy meldezettel - registration
On 14.1.1916 Nijinksy registered himself and his family at the Hotel Bristol in Vienna.

Wolf ordered the family some drinks, offered them a seat in a drawing room and took the dancing star aside: ‘My dear Mr Nijinski. Let me tell you one thing: it is war, by passport you are Russian, so officially you are our enemy. That means, that you should not – by all means – NOT be in Vienna. BUT let me tell you something — you have given us so much pleasure with your performances. I’ll have one of the suites prepared for you, with a bedroom, a room for your daughter, a living room and a bathroom. You’ll feel right at home. Order anything you like. Stay as long as you wish. You can pay when this terrible war is over.’

Officially, Nijinksy and his family stayed for two months in Vienna. In March 1916, they left Vienna and continued their journey.
The war took until 1918.

In 1917, after a tour of South America, the family settled in St. Moritz in peaceful Switzerland. Nijinsky had become increasingly mentally unstable. It was simly too much stress to manage everything himself. His mental condition deteriorated; Nijinsky was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1919. Nijinsky returend to Vienna where he spent over two years in a mental ayslum. For the next 30 years, he was in and out of institutions, never dancing again in public.

A shadow of himself, the former great dancer was brought back to life in 1945, again in Vienna, when he stayed at the Hotel Sacher. But that’s an other story. ...

He lived until 1950. His daughter Kyra visited the Hotel Bristol again in 1981, leaving a note of appreciation in the guestbook of the hotel.

bristol vienna by andreas augustin

 

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