Old Viennese Volkstheater

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Scene from " The Talisman " by Johann Nestroy (1840)

The Alt-Wiener Volkstheater (also: Alt-Wiener Volkskomödie) is an Austrian theater form of the 18th century and developed from the baroque Hanswurst via Philipp Hafner to the plays by Josef Alois Gleich , Carl Meisl and Adolf Bäuerle . It reached its literary climax in the pre-March period in the magic games and antics of Ferdinand Raimund and Johann Nestroy .

Historical development

Baroque period

Commedia dell'arte performance on an improvised play frame, painting by Karel Dujardin , 1657

During the Baroque period, modern European theater reached its first great heyday. Courtly theater , ballet , Jesuit drama and impromptu comedies amused the nobility and citizens. Sensual joy and blaze of color became increasingly possible in connection with the warning against excesses ( vanitas ).

The old Viennese folk comedy emerged from the legacy of this baroque theater and took place on primitive stages, so-called “ pawlatschen ”, which were set up in certain places in the cities. It was played by English comedians who came to the mainland since the end of the 16th century and played plays by Shakespeare and other English playwrights. They soon accepted German-speaking actors into their ranks and thus contributed to the emergence of a new profession. In addition to the English, Italian troops also marched through the country and played the pieces of the Commedia dell'arte , in which the dialogue was improvised as an impromptu theater within a fixed sequence of scenes . Popular types of roles were Arlecchino , Pantalone , Dottore , Pulcinella and Colombine , all of which were played in masks .

The old Viennese folk comedy emerged from these roots at the beginning of the 18th century. It is a synthesis of court theater and traveling stage . The Parisian fair theater was a defining model at this time . The sung couplet leads back to the interludes of the Jesuit dramas, the stage magic reflects the baroque set opera.

From the very beginning, the Altwiener Volkstheater was inseparably linked with its authors and the actors of the “comic figure” , who, as a rotating and identifying figure, established the understanding between the stage and the audience. This comic figure developed from pure typification through naive fool figures to individual folk characters that were deeply rooted in the folk soul.


Joseph Anton Stranitzky (1676–1726) introduced a character from the people in the main and state actions of the Italian opera libretti with the Hanswurst , he was the creator of the Hanswurstkomödie ( Hanswurstiade ). His buffoon was indebted to the Arlecchino of the Commedia dell'arte , the fool of the medieval carnival games , the English pickled herring , but also the Spanish Gracioso and the French Polichinell . The main features were: peasant clothes, short haircut of farmers ( "g'schert"), ruff of the nobility, court shoes, bed (baton) on the left side for basting the opponents.

Joseph Anton Stranitzky as Hanswurst (around 1720)

His character was dominated by a greed for carnal things: food, women, and verbosity. One of his sexually preferred occupational groups naturally included female cooks , from whom he supplied himself with plenty of “knéln” (dumplings), as in general: “Tavern, bratwurst, full cups! - Are Hans Wursten's worry breakers. "

In 1711 Stranitzky found a permanent venue for his troupe, the "Teutschen Comödianten", in the Vienna Kärntnertortheater . The actors' salaries were low, and they were required to perform special artistic and acrobatic performances. Additional fines could be acquired through so-called "accidents" (Latin: accidentia  = random event): in an effort to offer the audience something sensational, kicks, beatings or slaps were paid extra.

Gottfried Prehauser (1699–1769), Stranitzky's son-in-law, came from Salzburg to Vienna in 1725, where he replaced Stranitzky at the Kärntnertortheater as the “New Viennese Hanswurst” , whose legacy was a poet and actor and, after Stranitzky's death, also led the “German Comedians”. took over.

With the figure of Bernardon, Joseph Felix von Kurz (1717–1784) created the successor to Hanswurst; he was the inventor and sole representative of the “Bernardoniade”, the last version of the extemporized magic burlesque. As a partner of Prehauser, he embodied in numerous impromptu comedies at the Kärntnertortheater the socially superior rival of the traditional buffoon with witty and outrageous puns. The extemporated theater, especially the "compositions by the so-called Bernardon" were banned by a decree of Maria Theresa in 1752. He had to briefly write down his antics, the printed pieces hardly reflected anything of his unique ability to extemporize , especially since the censors had removed all ambiguities and rude jokes. With that the ground was withdrawn from his work in Vienna. (→ See also: Section " Hanswurst dispute " in Extempore .)

In the second half of the 18th century, Hanswurst stopped throwing rubbish and fecal jokes. The enlightened policy imposed on him moderation. In the northern German Protestant area, the buffoon had long since been abandoned as an unnatural and unsavory form of entertainment. The persistence of the old Viennese jester has to do with his multicultural ties, the specifics of the audience and his popularity even among the political elite. As stupid as the buffoon was, the audience identified with him and roared with pleasure when he was mocking the police on stage. It was actually a “theater for the people”, all social classes were represented in the audience, one of the most enthusiastic visitors was Franz Stephan von Lothringen , the imperial consort of Maria Theresa . The efforts of the censors to ban impromptu play prove the effectiveness of this popular theater.

Philipp Hafner

Philipp Hafner (1735–1764), who is considered the father of the Viennese folk piece, intervened in the Hanswurst dispute and mediated between the two parties to the dispute with his satirical text "Hanswurstische Träume". He castigated the weaknesses of the worn-out impromptu play , but at the same time denied the theater any educational function.

Reality showed that a coexistence of the two genres was the solution: Hanswurst , Bernardon and Kasperl subsequently went through a development from coarse-hearted bully and bully, sex man and bramar-based - extemporaneous coward to servant and house servant and also held up in classical drama Indent. In 1763 Gottfried Prehauser even played the servant Norten in Gotthold Ephraim Lessing's Miss Sara Sampson as Hanswurst.

Hafner, who had previously written epilogues for his friend, Hanswurst actor Prehauser, now wrote original pieces in the style of popular impromptu theater, but with a fixed text (“Burlins and Hannswurst's strange Carnival accidents”). The plot of his comedies was so consistent, their construction so regular, the joke so far from any nonsense , that even his opponents could not harm him. Some of the characters he created became the standing types of the Viennese folk theater. He was the first author who was not also the actor in his main roles. In the genre of magic theater and machine comedy, Hafner also parodied the preference for technical special effects ("Mägera, the fearful witch"), which, like "Der Furchtsame" (1764), were released at the Hofburgtheater because the theater at Kärntnertor burned down in 1761 .

Hafner's work marks the same thing for the German theater as Molière achieved for France and Carlo Goldoni in Italy: the transfer of the old impromptu comedy into a literary form using the characters of the Commedia dell'arte and their immediate descendants Hanswurst and Kasperl . Hafner individualized the old types of characters, transformed them into down-to-earth characters of old Vienna and thus laid the foundation for the literary genre for which the concept of (old) Viennese folk comedy has become established. With his early death in 1764, the Viennese theater lost one of its greatest talents.

Joachim Perinet (1763–1816), actor and theater director, reworked many of Hafner's original pieces into operettas , given them different titles and brought them out at the Leopoldstädter Theater with lasting success . Some of Hafner's roles, such as the deaf caretaker in “New Sunday Child”, an operetta based on Hafner's play “The Fearful”, was played by Ferdinand Raimund . Goethe is said to have said that he found the large, sensual mass of Vienna so vividly depicted in Hafner's work that “one could be afraid”.

Karl von Marinelli (1745–1803) founded the Wiener Lokalposse and in 1781 opened Vienna's first standing public stage, the Leopoldstadt Theater .

Viennese suburban theater

Towards the end of the 18th century, three important suburban theaters were built that were of great importance for the development of Viennese folk drama:

Because these theaters were not restricted to certain genres, a mixture of opera, spoken piece or pantomime was performed on them.

The baroque legacy was adopted both in content and in the use of scenic effects. In addition to the conventional mythological figures, the more modern fairy-tale figures gained in influence, such as ghosts and fairies instead of satyrs, furies and nymphs. The technical innovations of the theater machinery were used extensively. The " machine burlesque ", a coarse comic antics, used the modernized baroque stage apparatus to bring their simple-minded, mischievous heroes into unexpected calamities .

With the figure of the Kasperl , newly created by Johann Joseph La Roche (1745–1806) , the Hanswurst regained a foothold in a different form in the old Viennese Volkstheater and experienced the climax of his comedy in it. La Roche played Kasperl, whose attribute was a patch on the chest with a sewn-on red heart, at the Leopoldstadt Theater from 1781, where numerous pieces were written especially for him. With the Kasperl he established the fame of this first Viennese suburban stage, which was soon referred to simply as the “Punch and Judy Theater” - even the 34-Kreuzer play, the entry price for the first rank, was generally called “a Punch and Judy”. The painted theater curtain showed Kasperl being led into Parnassus by Thalia , while Hanswurst and the Italian Commedia dell'arte figures were refused entry by a grouchy art judge. Thanks to his popularity, La Roches Punch and Judy also became the central figure in the puppet theater , in which he still lives today.

Emanuel Schikaneder as the bird catcher Papageno in Mozart's " Magic Flute "

The Hanswurst also became an integral part of the folk comedy again and remained with it, in 1841 Johann Nestroy played the Hanswurst in "Hanswurst Doktor Nolens volens" by Mylius.

At the end of the 18th century the popular genre of the Singspiel came into being , known as the Viennese Punch and Judy Opera and the most important example of which is Emanuel Schikaneder's “Magic Flute” with the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart , in which the funny character is called Papageno . Schikaneder (1751-1812) was an actor, singer, playwright, composer, director and theater director and created the concept of the magic opera, in which he took the magic world very seriously. He gave the magical creature back the mysterious sphere. But he didn't manage to make the magic game as attractive as it once was. Karl Friedrich Hensler (1759–1825) created other punch and magic operas .

Ignaz Schuster as Staberl in Adolf Bäuerle's farce "The Citizens in Vienna" (1813)

With Anton Hasenhut (1766–1841) who made the last attempt with his Punch and Judy variant of Thaddädl to continue the old-style comic type, the heyday of the old folk jester comedy came to an end. With La Roche's death in 1806, the Punch's withdrawal from the theater could no longer be stopped. Only the stage machinery , as a relic of the baroque era, survived well into the 19th century.

In the first half of the 19th century the Viennese suburban theater remained a conglomerate of the most diverse genres. Ferdinand Kringsteiner (1775–1810) took the folk piece in a more pessimistic and sarcastic direction. With the emerging bourgeois mentality , the Altwiener Volkstheater was renewed by Josef Alois Gleich , Carl Meisl and Adolf Bäuerle , the magic game and the local farce became the main genres.

Carl Meisl (1775–1853) combined comedy with instruction and edification intentions in the local posse, in the magic games he created a new stage atmosphere, used effectively allegorical figures, magical beings intervened with power and wanted to be taken seriously as such. He transferred ancient figures of gods to the present in Vienna, but in contrast to the baroque magic game, the supernatural hardly intervened in human realms. The heroes of the plays were not stopped to improve by an inner change, but had to recognize their failure through theatrical failures.

Josef Alois Gleich (1772–1841) replaced Punch and Judy with comical folk characters in his parodying antics and comical local plays. He wrote almost exclusively for the Theater in der Josefstadt and for the Leopoldstädter Theater, was the father of Ferdinand Raimund's later wife Aloisia and helped his son-in-law to breakthrough in 1815 with his play "Die Musikanten am Hohen Markt".

Adolf Bäuerle (1786–1859) created the figure of Staberl in his comedy “ Die Bürger in Wien ” (1813), a suburban Viennese of the lower and middle class, who was a worthy successor to Kasperl and the first comic character figure among the people. Chrysostomus Staberl was a Parapluiemacher (umbrella maker), he was followed by numerous "Staberliaden" with typical Viennese character comics. Bäuerle was also the editor of the “ Wiener Allgemeine Theaterzeitung ”, which depicted numerous performances in colored copperplate engravings.

The two best-known dramatists of the Biedermeier period , Ferdinand Raimund and Johann Nepomuk Nestroy , built on this tradition, and helped the old Viennese Volkstheater to its perfection and literary value. Raimund combined baroque magic theater and Viennese popular bosom, while Nestroy wrote politically and critically explosive.

Raimund and Nestroy

The climax of the Viennese folk comedy was marked by the time from the Congress of Vienna in 1814/15 to the great stock market crash in 1873 , the era of exuberance against the background of permanent economic crisis. It was the heyday of the salons and coffee houses with around 1000 balls a year, the so-called " fried chicken time ". With 300,000 inhabitants, Vienna was the only major Austrian city and offered the Volkstheater a large audience, which, although coming from all walks of life, was very homogeneous due to similar outlooks on life. This audience was described as “theater-savvy” and “illusionist”, knowing its actors and their working conditions.

Ferdinand Raimund (1790–1838) actually did not want to be associated with the suburban folk theater and was looking for recognition as a real poet, he wanted to write “original” pieces without borrowing from outside. With his magic games , which used transformations, stage tricks and magic, Raimund offered the audience a total sensualization of the theater. His pieces combine local dialect with high-level language , antics with humane concerns. His magic antics were a reaction to the Metternich system of Vormärz and gave him the opportunity to write about social issues without being censored. His later pieces come close to the improvement piece . Raimund created allegory games and included pictorial representations of terms in his pieces, such as “youth” and “old age” or “hate”, “envy” and “contentment” in “ The Farmer as Millionaire ” (1826). Raimund - in contrast to Nestroy - rarely had problems with the censorship of the Vormärz, his texts speak of renunciation and self-modesty.

Johann Nepomuk Nestroy (1801–1862) and his more than eighty pieces stand in stark contrast to Raimund's work. His work arose directly from the needs of the Viennese folk theater and was derived from a variety of sources, including contemporary French and English novels, but also foreign language plays. Nestroy adapted lines of action and motifs, inserted couplets and quodlibets and was far superior to the original with his work. His genius lay in the transformation into the Viennese milieu and in the transformation of the roles into local characters in the Viennese dialect . Nestroy's works are characterized by sharp satire and theater of disillusionment, he sees through reality and banishes it with revealing puns. Most of the time Nestroy played the main roles in his pieces, he had always written the " funny character " especially for him. His central figure was not only the carrier of the plot, her comedy acted as an outlet, she portrayed the fears and sufferings of the citizens, pointed out grievances, but also possibilities of liberation from oppression. He found a congenial partner in the fat little Wenzel Scholz , with whom he formed a popular comedian couple at the Carltheater , for whom he wrote numerous plays.

The Volkskomödie was seen between 1815 and 1848, the pre- March period , above all as a substitute for the political and public interests of the citizen. Because apart from the theater every evening meeting was forbidden. The population therefore went to the theater to forget the political situation. Political "tips" directed against Metternich and his state were very popular. Famous and feared by the authorities was Nestroy's talent for extemporating . In this way, he made swipes at current political or social events.

For a long time, Raimund's pieces were preferred to those of Nestroy as the more poetic, “poetically incomparably more valuable, more fantastic” pieces. But from the turn of the century, very strongly promoted by Ludwig Ganghofer and later Karl Kraus , a revaluation began. In the meantime Nestroy is favored with his irony, his satire and his skepticism and - also in German theaters - played much more often.


Socio-economic changes in the population structure of Vienna due to industrialization at the end of the 19th century deprived the old Viennese Volkstheater of its breeding ground and its audience. Friedrich Kaiser (1814–1874) established the more serious form of the image of life . His pieces were still on an equal footing with those of Nestroy. This mocked Kaiser's "Life Pictures" in " The Talisman ": "If there are three G'spaß and nothing else but dead, dying, deceased, graves and gravediggers in one piece, that is now called a life picture."

The emerging operetta gradually took over the entertainment function of the folk play, which, however, was continued in the plays of Ludwig Anzengruber (" The fourth commandment ", 1878) and was later completed in them. He was followed by Karl Morré ("'s Nullerl", 1884) and Peter Rosegger ("On the day of judgment", 1890). Later pieces by Vinzenz Chiavacci and Carl Karlweis ("The rough shirt", 1901) were added.

Also the “Wiener Stück”, for example by Hermann Bahr (“Aus der Vorstadt”, 1895), Arthur Schnitzler (“ Liebelei ”, 1895), Felix Salten (“Der Gemeine”, 1902) and Ferenc Molnár (“ Liliom ”, 1909 ) is influenced by the tradition of the Viennese folk piece. The Viennese folk play "'s Katherl" by Max Burckhard was premiered in February 1907 with the famous folk actress Hansi Niese at the Bürgertheater . "Der Feldherrnhügel" (1910) by Roda-Roda is also assigned to the genre.


In the interwar period, the concept of the Volksstück was introduced by Ferdinand Bruckner (“Die Verbrecher”, 1929), Ödön von Horváth (“ Tales from the Vienna Woods ”, 1931), Elias Canetti (“Hochzeit”, 1932; “Comedy of Vanity” 1933 / 34) and in Jura Soyfer's pieces "The end of the world or the world will definitely not stand long ..." (1936, the subtitle an allusion to Johann Nestroy's comet song in " Lumpazivagabundus ") and "Der Lechner Edi looks into paradise" (1936) modified and intensified, antics and the linguistic caricature (in Canetti: language mask) of the various classes were used for social criticism and for the characterization of the emerging fascism . Horvath put it: “You would have to be a Nestroy to be able to define everything that stands in your way undefined!” In contrast, the continuation of the naturalistic peasant folk piece developed by Ludwig Anzengruber in the pieces by Karl Schönherr , Franz Kranewitter and Richard Billinger , with some ethnic tendencies.

After the Second World War, the Viennese folk piece with " Der Bockerer " by Ulrich Becher and Peter Preses (1946), "Donauwellen" by Fritz Kortner (1949), "The Last Judgment" by Arnolt Bronnen (1952) and by Fritz von Herzmanovsky Orlando (“ Emperor Joseph and the Railway Warden's Daughter ”, 1957), Helmut Qualtinger (“ Der Herr Karl ”, 1961; “The Execution”, 1965) and Fritz Hochwälder “The Raspberry Picker” (premiered in 1965) revisited, often with the petty bourgeois philistine and fellow travelers in the Third Reich as protagonists. "Herr Karl" finally destroyed the myth of the "cozy Viennese".

In the dialect pieces by Wolfgang Bauer and Peter Turrini , the Viennese dialect piece experienced a renaissance at the beginning of the 1970s and began a triumphal march on the German-speaking stages, starting from the Vienna Volkstheater under Gustav Manker . With “Die Bürger” (1981), Turrini wrote a paraphrase of Adolf Bäuerle's “Die Bürger von Wien”, Peter Henisch with “Lumpazimoribundus” (1974), an “Antiposse with singing” based on Johann Nestroy's “ Lumpazivagabundus ”. Elfriede Jelinek's play “President Abendwind” (1987) is an allusion to Nestroy's “ Chief Evening Wind ”. Jelinek also called her play Burgtheater (1985), based on Nestroy's play name, a " Posse mit Gesang" ( farce with song) and invented an artificial language for it, which she uses with quotations from the Viennese educational canon, operettas , Viennese songs and plays such as Franz Grillparzer's " King Ottokars Glück und Ende “Added.

In 1970 the Styrian author Harald Sommer became famous for his Viennese dialect piece "A unhamlich schtorka Obgaung" (An incredibly strong finish). In March 1971, the dialect play “Household or the Sand Bunnies” by Herwig Seeböck , who had already appeared as an author in 1965 with his autobiographical prison cabaret “Häfenelegie”, premiered at the Vienna Volkstheater. In 1974, " Jesus von Ottakring " by the author duo Helmut Korherr and Wilhelm Pellert described the case of a guest worker who was slain in 1970 in a men's home in Ottakring in 20 scenes and 11 songs , with the passion story of Jesus being translated into the local color as a "Viennese folk piece" and the fate of Jesus was paraphrased in the fate of the slain guest worker . In 1976 the play became one of the first successes of the “ New Austrian Film ”.

In the television series “ A real Viennese does not go under ” (1975–1979) and “ Kaisermühlen-Blues ” (1992–1999), both by Ernst Hinterberger , strong elements of the folk comedy emerged, especially in the character of “ Mundl ” Sackbauer , a Viennese "original" with elementary power of speech.


The main formal constants of the Old Viennese Volkstheater are:


  • Magic piece and reform piece
The magic piece includes fairy tales , magic antics , magic operas , knight antics and ghost plays . A wonderful world of fairies, ghosts, wizards and mermaids intervenes in earthly events. Usually these magic motifs only form the frame, but at the center of which is an earthly action. The reform piece is about the purification of a person or the release from the spell. An act of love is inevitable; there is seldom a lack of praise for Vienna or the Austrian ruling house. Further characteristics of the magic pieces are: allegories and symbols , pathos mixed with folk dialogue, musical interludes and the most colorful and magnificent equipment possible.
  • Parody and travesty
While the form of the serious work is retained in the parody but is based on a cheerful content, in the travesty the material of the serious work remains, but is treated jokingly. Both purposes are the caricature of entire literary directions or outstanding individual works. Based on Shakespeare's lousy scenes in “Midsummer Night's Dream” , the dramas from Schiller to Kleist to Hebbel were parodied. The introduction of the comic person in the form of the servant also mostly had the task of parodying the hero's words and deeds. The works are also a mirror of the prevailing Viennese customs.
  • Local posse
The local posse is a crude-comic stage play that is built on mix-ups, coincidences and improbable exaggerations. Most of the time, the focus is on a funny person of petty-bourgeois origin. The language and the setting are adapted to the location, the characters speak dialect. There are allusions to local customs or geographical features. Social differences and financial circumstances are made an issue, aristocrats are ridiculed. The local posse is almost always associated with singing , one of its characteristics is the catchy couplet , which interrupts the action and addresses the audience, and the quodlibet , in which classical musical elements are mixed with simple, often banal melodies. The local farce was also preceded by an overture .

See also


  • Margret Dietrich: Hanswurst is still alive. Verlag Das Bergland-Buch, Salzburg 1965.
  • Jürgen Hein (Hrsg.): Parodies of the Vienna Volkstheater. Reclam, Stuttgart 1986, ISBN 3-15-008354-0 .
  • Jürgen Hein: The Vienna Volkstheater. Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1997, ISBN 3-534-13593-8 .
  • Gerhard Helbig (ed.): The Viennese folk piece in its most beautiful pieces: Bäuerle , Gleich , Meisl , Raimund , Nestroy . (Dieterich Collection; Vol. 253). Schünemann, Bremen 1961.
  • Franz Patzer (Ed.) Adolf Bäuerle and the Alt-Wiener Volkstheater. Vienna City and State Library, Vienna 1984, ISBN 3-900-52200-6 (temporary exhibition; 201).
  • Otto Rommel : The old Viennese folk comedy. Your story from the baroque world theater to Nestroy's death. Anton Schroll, Vienna 1952.
  • Otto Rommel (Ed.): Old Viennese Volkstheater. Prochaska Publishing House, Vienna 1913.
    • Vol. 1: From the early days of the old Viennese folk theater. K. F. Hensler ("Das Donauweibchen"), E. Schikaneder ("Der Tiroler Wastel"), J. F. Kringsteiner ("The bride in a tight spot ") .
    • Vol. 2: Josef Alois Gleich : Selected works. “The musicians on the high market”, “Ydor, the wanderer from the water kingdom”, “The white hats”.
    • Vol. 3–4: Karl Meisl : "The ghost on the bastion", "The ghost in the Prater", "The story of a real scarf in Vienna", "The kidnapping of Princess Europe", "The woman Ahndl", " The funny Fritz ”.
    • Vol. 5–6: Adolf Bäuerle : “The citizens in Vienna”, “Aline or Vienna in another part of the world”, “The Fiaker as Marquis”, “The false prima donna”, “The bad Lisel”.
    • Vol. 7: Friedrich Kaiser : "The school of the poor", "The tailor as a poet of nature".
  • Otto Rommel: The great characters of the old Viennese folk comedy. Hanswurst, Kasperl, Thaddädl, Staberl, Raimund and Nestroy. Bindenschild, Vienna 1946.
  • Bartel F. Sinhuber (ed.): Viennese folk pieces by Nestroy , Roda-Roda , Rößler , Herzmanovsky-Orlando , Horváth , Preses , Becher , Merz , Qualtinger , Bauer . Langen-Müller Verlag, Munich 1971.
  • Reinhard Urbach: The Viennese comedy and its audience. Stranitzky and the consequences. Jugend & Volk, Vienna 1973, ISBN 3-7141-6019-1 .
  • Jean-Marie Valentin (ed.): The Austrian folk theater in a European context. 1830-80. Lang, Frankfurt / M. 1988, ISBN 3-261-03708-3 .
  • Paul Wertheimer (Ed.): Old Vienna Theater. Description of contemporaries. Paul Knepler, Vienna 1920.
  • Walter Zitzenbacher: Hanswurst and the fairy world. From Stranitzky to Raimund . Stiasny Verlag, Vienna 1965.