Helmut Zilk

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Helmut Zilk (2008)

Helmut Zilk (born June 9, 1927 in Vienna ; † October 24, 2008 ibid) was an Austrian journalist and politician ( SPÖ ). He was Minister of Education from 1983 to 1984 and Mayor of Vienna from 1984 to 1994 .


Childhood and youth

Helmut Zilk was born the son of a Bohemian newspaper clerk in the 10th district of Vienna, Favoriten . He had a very good relationship with his liberal father. This turned against National Socialism early on . He forbade his son to sign with the Waffen SS recruiters . Helmut was the only one in his class not to do this. At the end of the war he became a member of the KPÖ- related “Free Austrian Youth” and was a member of the KPÖ from April 10, 1945, but left it again in 1946.

In an anthology from 1995, Zilk describes his memories of childhood and youth under the title Born by chance in Vienna .

Teacher, journalist, television star

In the post-war period he worked as a "school helper" in the 2nd district. In 1951 he received his doctorate , in 1955 he passed the teaching examination for pedagogy and taught at the Hegelgasse teacher training college . At first on the side, then full-time, he started working for ORF this year . From the end of the 1950s to the beginning of the 1960s he co-designed the television program “What could I be?”, Which informed students about which professions they could learn after compulsory school, and presented job profiles from an entire branch. From 1962 Zilk moderated the live broadcast “ City Talks ”, of which a joint live broadcast with Czechoslovak television in 1964 caused a particular sensation. As a result of his strong screen presence and his quick-wittedness in live broadcasts, Zilk has been well known in Austria since then.

In 1964, the initiative of independent newspaper publishers led by Hugo Portisch carried out the referendum on the radio , which was initially unsuccessful in parliament. In July 1966, however, the newly elected ÖVP sole government under Josef Klaus decided the broadcasting reform that came into force on January 1, 1967.

Gerd Bacher , the new general manager of the ORF , made the undoctrinal social democrat Zilk TV director of the ORF in 1967 . In this function, Zilk founded school television, the programs “In my own thing” and “Auslandssecho” and the second television program. The broadcasting effect of Austrian television, which extends beyond Austria's borders, was used by the broadcasts of the ORF's Eastern European editorial office, which was set up under Bacher and Zilk, but led to occasional protests by communist governments.

The power-conscious and regarded as quite bourgeois Gerd Bacher was from the 1974 SPÖ Kreisky government deposed, and regarded as Bacher man Zilk joined in the same year for Vienna " Kronen Zeitung " where he the function of the so-called until 1979 Ombudsman held that criticism and passed on the readers' complaints to those responsible and commented on the matter pointedly. In 1978, Zilk was Bruno Kreisky's preferred candidate for the post of ORF general manager, but to everyone's surprise Gerd Bacher was elected again (probably due to the decisive vote of the ORF works councils).

In July 1978 Zilk was married to the singer Dagmar Koller for the third time, and he had a son from the second marriage.


On February 14, 1979, SPÖ Mayor Leopold Gratz brought him to the Vienna City Hall as City Councilor for Culture and Citizen Service (see State Government and City Senate Gratz III ), where he held office until May 27, 1983; a sign of the opening of the Viennese social democracy, which should help secure the majority. As a politician, Zilk had more media attention than most of the other elected officials from the outset due to his longstanding work in the media.

When the SPÖ lost an absolute majority in the National Council election in 1983 and a new federal government was formed from the SPÖ and FPÖ , he succeeded Fred Sinowatz , who became Federal Chancellor , as Federal Minister for Education and Art . Zilk performed a historically significant act in this function when he introduced the subject of computer science as a compulsory subject for high schools; Austria was thus one of the first countries in Europe. Zilk's decision to appoint Claus Peymann as the new Burgtheater director in Vienna was also very powerful ; he took office in 1986.

After ten years, Mayor Gratz was tired of office. On September 10, 1984, at the suggestion of Gratz, Zilk was elected mayor of the city of Vienna and thus also governor of the federal state of Vienna (see provincial government and city senate Zilk I ). Now he again held a function with many immediate design options.

“Doctor Zilk” was omnipresent in Vienna - with a weighty voice and spectacular decisions. From the banishment of cars from Rathausplatz to the installation of filters in Vienna's waste incineration plants, the construction of the school ship , the film festival on Vienna’s Rathausplatz , the “Advent Magic” and the “New Year’s Eve Path” to the referendum on the joint Vienna World Exhibition planned for 1995 / Budapest, which was rejected by the people.

In the 1987 state parliament and local council elections in Vienna , the SPÖ was able to defend its absolute majority (see Zilk II ). In 1988, after lengthy discussions, Zilk personally decided on the location of the memorial against war and fascism commissioned by the city in 1983 from Alfred Hrdlicka , which was erected on Albertinaplatz that same year (initially provisional, celebratory completion in 1991) .

Zilk also took care of so-called “little things”: even living in the old town, he often roamed the inner city on foot, with an assistant next to him who immediately noted the mayor's orders. Agencies that could not keep up with his working pace had to expect to be criticized in the media for his approval. As a result, Zilk was considered to have great impact.

Zilk's specificity as a politician was that he mostly stayed away from “pure party politics” as much as possible. In contrast to most of his social-democratic predecessors, he did not act as the SPÖ chairman in Vienna, but left this to his deputy mayor and financial councilor Hans Mayr, who had grown up as a party politician . In terms of rhetoric, too, Zilk appeared very different from the usual party functionaries.

In the parliamentary and municipal council elections in Vienna in 1991 , the SPÖ lost a lot, but was able to just keep its mandate majority (see Zilk III ).

On November 7, 1994, Zilk resigned from the office of mayor, his successor was Michael Häupl ; at the same time, Zilk's deputy mayor Hans Mayr resigned. Zilk again took over the ombudsman function at the "Kronen-Zeitung".

In 2003 Zilk was appointed by the Schüssel government to head a federal government reform commission on issues relating to the future organization of the armed forces.

An important aspect of his work is Zilk's relationship with Israel and the Jewish people. We owe the Jewish Museum in Vienna to him, he conducted the Herzl Symposium and was close friends with Teddy Kollek , the mayor of Jerusalem from Vienna. For Zilk, who was never close to the Nazi regime and hated the Nazis, it was a "debt to bring". He knew how deeply Vienna and the Jewish citizens were connected before the Holocaust and what Vienna owed to its Jewish citizens. He was also the initiator of the memorial on Judenplatz in Vienna.

Even after his retirement as mayor, Zilk remained present in the Austrian media. He was known for not mincing words and cultivated his somewhat rumbling manner. Zilk remained in the public eye until the end as the presenter of the ORF talk show " Lebenskünstler ", which was broadcast from the Vienna Ringturm .

Letter bomb attack

On December 5, 1993 Zilk was in a letter bomb assassination of the right-wing terrorist Franz Fuchs seriously injured on his left hand. In the process, he lost two fingers on his left hand. Since then, the grip function has been severely restricted and mostly hidden in a cover.

Illness and death

On February 14, 2006, Zilk had a cardiac pacemaker implanted in the Wilhelminenspital in Vienna after the occurrence of cardiac arrhythmias . He was also a dialysis patient. Zilk died on October 24, 2008 in the Wilhelminenspital in the course of the treatment of an infection in his leg in his vacation home in Portugal of heart failure.

On 8 November 2008, his coffin was after a memorial meeting for invited guests in the Vienna City Hall and the public Requiem in St. Stephen in a grave of honor at the Central Cemetery buried catholic (group 32 C, number 54 A).

As Der Spiegel reported, Václav Havel apologized after Zilk's death for depriving him of a high state award. “Maybe we sometimes wronged him out of ignorance,” the poet president said, he now has more information than before.

On June 24th, 2009 Helmut Zilk's tombstone was blessed by cathedral priest Toni Faber . The three-part tomb was created from Waldviertel granite by the sculptor Hans Muhr , and Dagmar Koller had the tombstone made from a sample stone showing two intertwined figures.

Agent or double agent?

Around the mid-1960s, at the beginning of the Prague Spring , the softening of the late Stalinist regime in Prague offered the West an opportunity in the Cold War . During this phase in 1965 Zilk's contacts with the Czech secret service StB began under the code name "Holec". At the same time, however, Zilk was massively committed to the reform efforts in Prague in the interests of the West (for example, through a live broadcast of his TV “ City Talks ” in Prague at the end of September 1964 ).

According to the Czech files, there had been almost 60 meetings by 1968, at which he passed on political information from Austrian domestic politics for a fee and received around 70,000 schillings and a crystal chandelier - including a built-in listening microphone. According to these documents, he acknowledged amounts of money with "Johann Maiz". After the escape of the Czech spy Ladislav Bittman in 1968, who was in contact with Zilk, this activity ended. In the Czech files, Bittman is quoted as saying that he once slipped Zilk 5000 schillings and later even 15,000 schillings. Bittman himself denies this story altogether.

The Austrian State Police had been aware of these events since 1969 at the latest. Zilk's career in the clearly pro-western ORF did not, however, detract from this; Jiří Šťastný, a journalist for the Czech daily newspaper " Mladá fronta Dnes ", was therefore convinced in his investigative article that Zilk also had contacts with the US CIA . Šťastný stated that he had certain sources for it, but he did not want to name them. Zilk had "thus probably rather deceived the Czechs".

Research in the archives of the Ministry of the Interior revealed that the contents of the Zilk file had been excavated in 1990. At least part of the file could be found on microfilm in the Archiv der Republik, a department of the State Archives . In Zilk's Stapo file from 1968, Zilk is referred to as an informator , which does not have to include any specific agent activity.

“Zilk was processed by us primarily on behalf of the Czech State Security Service. Zilk was one of those people who were processed in the highest priority, in processing category 2, i.e. in a period of 24 hours. That is, he made a phone call and was within 24 hours, which then on the desk of the commissioning service unit, in this case the Czech service, "said the statement by Markus Wolf , head of the Foreign Intelligence of the State Security of the GDR , in 1998 in a ORF broadcast was invited to defend Zilk and later appeared in Zilk's show Lebenskünstler .

In 2016, the allegations regarding alleged espionage activities by director Franz Novotny in the feature film alias Holec were processed.


In 1991 he received the Anton-Bruckner-Ring . The Republic of Austria honored Zilk with the Great Gold Medal of Honor on Ribbon Services to the Republic of Austria and the Federal Republic of Germany with the Great Federal Cross of Merit with a Star . On June 21, 2001, Pope John Paul II awarded him the Grand Cross of the Papal Order of Knights of St. Gregory the Great . In 2006 he received the Teddy Kollek Award from the Jerusalem Foundation . In 2010 he was posthumously awarded the Croatian Prince Branimir Order .

Helmut-Zilk-Platz - street sign

As part of the awarding of the Golden Camera in 1966 , he received the Golden Camera for the broadcast series Auslandssecho at the beginning of 1967 , in 1994 he was awarded the European Culture Prize and honorary citizenship of the city of Prague and in 1995 honorary citizenship of the city of Vienna. He was also the recipient of the Theodor Körner Prize and an honorary doctorate from Tokai University in Tokyo .

In October 2009 the square in front of the Albertina in Vienna's 1st district was named Helmut-Zilk-Platz . On the square is the “Memorial against War and Fascism” by Alfred Hrdlicka , for which Zilk campaigned against resistance in the 1980s and for the construction of which he was personally responsible for the decision.

In the Sonnwendviertel south of the new Vienna Central Station in the 10th district , the large park in the center of the district was named after Helmut Zilk in 2011. The groundbreaking ceremony took place in 2014, and the park was largely completed in July 2016.


Shortly before his 80th birthday, Zilk wrote his autobiography My Three Lives together with the Austrian journalist Conny Bischofberger . The memories that came out in 2007.


  • Hans Werner Scheidl: Helmut Zilk , Holzhausen, Vienna 2003, ISBN 978-3-85493-076-1 .
  • Fred Vavrousek: The Zilk Fireworks. 81 amusing stories & G'schichtln , Edition Crystal World u. Edition Nordwald, Alt-Nagelberg 2016, ISBN 978-3-901287-17-6 .


  • In the music video for The Sound of Musik by Falco , Zilk, Vienna's mayor at the time, can be seen in a small supporting role (minute 3'13 ').

Web links

Commons : Helmut Zilk  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Helmut Zilk 1927 to 2008 (ORF Vienna, October 24, 2008)
  2. Manfred Mugrauer: "(...) I work (...) all day on the reconstruction of the KPÖ". An episode from the life of Helmut Zilk, in: Mitteilungen der Alfred Klahr Gesellschaft , Jg. 14 (2007), No. 3, pp. 22-23
  3. Self-portrait of childhood and youth in: Florian Langenscheidt (ed.): With us at home. Celebrities talk about their childhood. Düsseldorf 1995, ISBN 3-430-15945-8
  4. Catalog list Austrian National Library
  5. Four Hör-Zu booklets from 1964 in the private collection of the Austrian Advertising Museum in 1140 Vienna, Hauptstrasse 150/5.
  6. "On my own behalf": I say yes . In: Arbeiter-Zeitung . Vienna July 22, 1978, p. 05 ( berufer-zeitung.at - the open online archive - digitized).
  7. a b Bohemian glass . In: Der Spiegel , issue 12/2009 of March 16, 2009, p. 84, as well as "Die Presse", March 24, 2009 [1]
  8. Helmut Zilk's tombstone blessed (ORF Vienna, June 24, 2009)
  9. Helmut Zilk, Spy: Zilk was an informant for the CSSR secret service for years , in: www.profil.at, print version: profil , issue 13/2009
  10. According to the Stapo, Zilk was an “informator” ( memento from June 1, 2009 in the Internet Archive ), “ Kleine Zeitung ”, March 25, 2009
  11. Zilk defends himself against accusations: Ambiguity remains ... In: haGalil from November 2, 1998 (online)
  12. ^ Kurier: Scandal director Franz Novotny: "There can be no talk of pissing on" . Article dated June 27, 2016, accessed June 29, 2016.
  13. orf.at - "Code name Holec": movie about the Zilk affair . Article dated November 20, 2014, accessed June 29, 2016.
  14. List of all decorations awarded by the Federal President for services to the Republic of Austria from 1952 (PDF; 6.9 MB)
  15. AAS 94 (2002), n. 1, p. 85.
  16. Golden Camera 1967 - 2nd award . Accessed May 31, 2018.
  17. "The eventful history of the square is omnipresent thanks to the Hrdlicka memorial, the creation of which is largely due to the artist as well as him."
  18. Information about the park on the Vienna city administration website, as of July 2016
  19. Helmut Zilk, Conny Bischofberger: My three lives . The memories. Amalthea Verlag, Vienna 2007, ISBN 3-85002-615-9 .
  20. ^ RadioSilbermond: Falco - The Sound of Music (Official Video). Retrieved January 3, 2019 .
predecessor Office successor
Leopold Gratz Mayor of Vienna
Michael Häupl