Vienna: A Tale of Two Couches

The waiting room in Vienna; photos by Ramona Zacharias

You may not have to delve into your subconscious to fully appreciate the significance of the Sigmund Freud Museum in Vienna, but you will have to use your imagination.

The building at Berggasse 19 housed Freud’s living quarters and office for nearly 50 years before he fled with his family to London in June, 1938, following the Nazi takeover of Austria.

Freud died in London a little more than a year later in September, 1939, at the age of 83.

Several decades later, his daughter, Anna, who was also a pioneering psychoanalyst, donated many of her father’s possessions –– but not his famed psychoanalytic couch –– to establish the Vienna museum.

Although the Vienna site features Sigmund Freud’s waiting room couch, the more famous sofa, as well as the majority of Freud’s collection of Egyptian, Greek, Roman and Oriental antiquities, are on display at another, larger Freud Museum in London.

The more sparsely decorated facility in Vienna is still highly atmospheric, however. Climbing the stone steps, seeing the “Prof. Dr. Freud: 3-4” sign on the door –– the numbers referred to the hour he reserved to see his patients every day –– and standing in the waiting room conjures up a sense of the groundbreaking work that transpired within those walls.

The remaining rooms in the apartment contain family photographs and personal effects, including a portion of Sigmund Freud’s antiquities collection and signed copies and first editions of his works.

Another section of the permanent exhibit offers video footage of the Freuds from the 1930s that’s narrated by Anna. The library, with some 35,000 volumes, claims to be the largest collection of works on psychoanalysis in Europe.

For anyone who’s ever sat on “the couch” or has been guilty of a Freudian slip, a visit to Freud’s Vienna home will put everything in perspective –– or give you someone to blame.