Interview with Reinhold Sahl -Part II

17. Juni 2020

1. In the first part of the interview we talked about EU projects of BHOe. The Imperial Palace Vienna holds the European Heritage Label (EHL) since 2016, a seal which is also based on an initiative of the EU Commission, together with the European Parliament.

Yes that's true. We, that is Burghauptmannschaft Oesterreich, applied for the award of the Cultural Heritage Label in 2015. It was and is important to us to emphasise the great importance of the Imperial Palace Vienna for Europe. So we set out to complete the rather voluminous application in which the role of Imperial Palace Vienna in the course of European history was described and presented.

And then we had to be patient, as usual. The actual awarding took place in 2016 - in a formal ceremony. Before that, a professional video about Imperial Palace Vienna was produced. In which I was able to tell about the development of Imperial Palace Vienna over the centuries. From the medieval castle to today's large complex – which nowadays includes the seat of the Federal President and the Federal Chancellor.

The label itself only exists three more years - since 2013. Since then, the most significant European historical sites are awarded the Cultural Heritage Label or EHL. And it's an honour to be part of this.

Before 2016 there was only one bearer of the seal in Austria and that was Carnuntum. Carnuntum, as a former Roman settlement with a military and civil town, is just as unique as the Imperial Palace Vienna, which has been the center of power of the Habsburg Empire for centuries.

So we thought that Imperial Palace Vienna as the venue of the Congress of Vienna 1814/15 would be a logical candidate for this label. On top of that the 200 year celebrations of this major European event took place in 2015 …

1.a. What exactly were the reasons for BHOe applying to be awarded this label?

There were several, but the most important was to make Imperial Palace Vienna recognisable. Just think about it: when you came to the Imperial Palace complex today, where exactly did you enter the area? Not the building, but the area of Imperial Palace Vienna!

Very few people are aware of the actual dimensions of it - the area of Imperial Palace Vienna. After all, more than 240,000 m² - the size of almost 34 soccer fields!

And to this day, most visitors do not notice what actually belongs to this area.

It extends from the Albertina Museum to Volksgarten and from Michaelertor - nearby is the entrance to the Sisi Museum - to the Museum Quarter - the former imperial stables; it is basically a city within the city.

Metaphorically speaking, however, Imperial Palace Vienna is only perceived in its pieces of the puzzle - just the districts, so to speak, but not the city itself, not as a whole, as a unit. This unity, in turn, is unique about Imperial Palace Vienna - after all, it is the largest secular building complex in Europe in terms of expanse, with 18 wings, 19 courtyards and 2,600 rooms. As far as I know, only the Vatican city is larger than Imperial Palace Vienna and that does mean something.

It is our clear aim to use the European Heritage Label to point out this entirety or unity and its significance for European history. And of course, the uniqueness of the area is easier and better to be promoted.

In addition, we can increasingly achieve synergy effects when the users - by which I mean the museums and galleries, the event rooms, the national library, the riding school and all other facilities that are part of the Imperial Palace Vienna complex - are perceived as a unit.

Showing the diversity of Imperial Palace Vienna was one of the reasons for submitting our application for the European Heritage Label. In fact, Imperial Palace Vienna has all the elements of a city within the city:

It is living space - if you like, “LebensHof/burg”, economic space or “Wirtschaftshof/burg”, space for learning and playing, whereby you can always replace space with courtyard or “burg”. Imperial Palace Vienna with all its green gardens and parks is of course a natural space, but also a research space, a creative space and, above all, a space for power and glory - with magnificent buildings, rooms and monuments. This diversity in a historic complex is otherwise only found in historical cities.

However, Imperial Palace Vienna is not a city in the traditional sense. At the same time, however, it offers all the elements of a city and that by itself is something special. The Cultural Heritage Label hightlights this special feature even more and emphasises the historical importance of the Imperial Palace Vienna for Europe. Something that we can rightly be proud of and that absolutely must be preserved for future generations.

1.b. What should be achieved with this seal?

As I said, the main objectives are the recognisability and overall appearance of the Imperial Palace Vienna area; To this end, we launched a user board in 2016. A kind of general assembly of all users and BHOe as "administrator" of the area. In this committee, problems are presented openly, discussed extensively and based on that solutions are developed. A good example of the new collaboration is the World Museum, which we talked about in the first part of the interview. Without these joint considerations, there would not be a Imperial Palace Vienna Visitor Centre today.

Another example are events that always cause worry among users. There are thousand things to consider and to discuss in detail so that the event itself can run smoothly AND the daily work of users is affected as little as possible.

Thanks to the Cultural Heritage Label, users now feel more like part of a whole. Today, users see the Imperial Palace Vienna as their area, in which things are regulated together for the best of all. The seal is, so to speak, the brace that holds everything together.

Because everyone who is part of this complex also benefits from this Cultural Heritage label:

Firstly, the whole is always more than the sum of its parts, as it is said. In case of Imperial Palace Vienna, this means bundling interests and planning that includes everyone. Thus, we avoid nasty surprises later, because we overlooked an impact on a user or misjudged it. Today, users are involved in decisions and check all eventualities in advance. This results in a policy that really benefits everyone.

Secondly, the European Heritage Label also offers all users a new platform for joint presentations, which we are currently working on with full power. The new website of Imperial Palace Vienna will be presented soon. Again something that would not have existed before. Since Imperial Palace Vienna was not seen as a whole, there was no common external appearance.

Currently, anyone looking for information about the Imperial Palace Vienna complex has to do so on various websites - an absurdity these days, as everyone wants to find information with one click, if possible. With the new website there will be a central point of contact!

And thirdly, of course, the label emphasises the historical importance of Imperial Palace Vienna and thus Vienna and the Republic of Austria even more. As the holder of the European Heritage Label, Imperial Palace Vienna is part of a special group of now 48 historical sites across Europe. Is therefore well known to the Commission and experts in the Cultural Heritage sector and has better access to actions such as Voices of Culture 2018, an initiative of the EU Commission for the Cultural Heritage Year.

. And we, that is Burghauptmannschaft as owner representatives, have taken the opportunity to actively help shaping the EHL landscape. Since autumn 2019 we are coordinator of a unique network, namely a network of EHL sites, i.e. the bearers of the Cultural Heritage Label across Europe. This network strengthens the cooperation between EHL sites and further develops the EHL brand. All bearers should benefit from this network and since these sites are extremely different, it is quite challenging.

The fundamental values of the EU, on which the selection of the EHL sites is based, are extremely important. They form the basis for a strong EHL brand, which is only as strong as the values jointly represented by the sites.

Seen in this way, October 13th as date for the EHL Networking Day, was very important for the EHL sites and also for the Imperial Palace Vienna as part of this network.

2. What activities have been implemented within the scope of the label so far?

As said before, one very important element is the joint external appearance that will be given with the new website. Due to technical challenges, such as a sensible and functional server solution, the start date for the Imperial Palace Vienna website has been postponed. If you want to know more about this, I invite you to read our current newsletter.

A common Visitor Centre was and is just as important. As already emphasised, that was not available until recently. Why would you need a joint Visitor Centre if no one is aware of the whole area of Imperial Palace Vienna, containing various smaller sectors. The EHL seal has changed that and a coincidence during the renovation of the World Museum offered a suitable space - we talked about it in the first part of the interview.

Another thing that would have been much more difficult to implement without the Cultural Heritage Label is our guidance system. This is of course closely linked to the Visitor Centre and barrier-free access.

Another special feature is that this guidance system was planned and implemented together with the users and visitors. By including all those affected, we were able to develop a sensible and cost-effective solution.

Part of this guidance system is something that has been introduced by law in 2016: namely the creation of barrier-free access. A topic that poses a particular challenge on historical buildings. Here - especially if they are under monument protection - many regulations and special features must be taken into account.

Today Imperial Palace Vienna is as barrier-free as possible - with the exception of attics, cellars - and of course historical spiral staircases.

And all these activities aim to make Imperial Palace Vienna function as a city within the city, with an abundance of "spaces" - from living space to research space - tangible and intangible in all their diversity.

An example:

area - historical buildings are often seen as money destroyers. But that's not true. Logically, maintaining our historical buildings costs money, but they also generate some in return, when being used sensibly. This is clearly the case with Imperial Palace Vienna: the areas and rooms of the Imperial Palace are used in a variety of ways.

From public institutions such as Burghauptmannschaft Oesterreich, the Austrian Federal Monuments Office or the Federal President’s office. The most famous and largest museums of Austria are located in the area of Imperial Palace Vienna. Such as the Museum of Art and Natural History, Albertina and Sisi Museum.

The label serves as a motor that ensures that the maintenance of Imperial Palace Vienna brings great joy and great benefit to all current and future visitors and users.

3. What else has been or is planned to ensure the preservation of the EHL?

The spectrum here ranges from events and offers for young people to the expansion of the digital offer.

Something that is already happening, but should be expanded and strengthened, are events related to Imperial Palace Vienna. This means EHL Days as well as participation in the Monument Day. Together with the EHL network, new and innovative activities are planned and implemented. An EHL ring binder is anticipated containing information material on all EHL sites – with beautiful photos and quickly comprehensible data. As a result, the sites will present themselves as a common portrait of European Culture - accessible to all and expandable with newly awarded EHL sites.

On the other hand - the target group of young people in particular needs to be focused on even more strongly, that is what the panel report of the Monitoring 2020 says. Here we clearly have to invest more time and effort.

At the moment we are considering the implementation of so-called thematic trails, which introduce visitors to European values in particular - and their meaning within the European Union in an educational and entertaining way. This can also be very helpful for migrants and support their integration.

A board game already exists - the DKT Imperial Palace Vienna. Here the players can rent areas of Imperial Palace Vienna, whereby leasing would actually be the correct expression. If you don't pay attention, you end up being kicked out of the Hofburg Ball, because you have danced and drank too much.

And of course there is the EHL Memo that we developed for the EU Commission. With this game, the EHL sites are presented graphically and interest in the bearer sites is raised. It is suitable for players of all ages and is a wonderful birthday or Christmas present.

Something that is important in connection with planned activities: the commission checks about every 5 years in a monitoring process whether the EHL site is allowed to keep its label. A site therefore cannot rest on its previous activities...

This means that Burghauptmannschaft, as owner's representative, must constantly consider how Imperial Palace Vienna can and should be further developed in a meaningful way. Many things have already been initiated, such as the afore mentioned activities. Such considerations influence our EU project planning as well as other planning steps. Obviously, budget is always a regulatory framework here that let some ideas die rather quickly.

However, that doesn't prevent us from trying again and on the contrary, it keeps us looking for new ways to make our ideas a reality. So it remains exciting and the Imperial Palace Vienna still has a lot to offer, which is yet undiscovered.

projects & events
12. October 2021