In 1954 the ILAB delegates met in Vienna for their 7th Congress in the history of the League. It was the time of the Cold War, Vienna was still divided into five occupation zones between the Soviet Union, the USA, the United Kingdom and France, and with the first district, the city centre, being patrolled by all four. Christian Nebehay, at that time President of the Austrian Antiquarian Booksellers’ Asscociation (VAO), had invited the ILAB booksellers to Vienna. He and his colleagues had organized a fabulous congress programme including visits of libraries and palaces, concerts, flower bouquets and chocolate for the ladies, an elegant welcome reception - and a memorable “Heuriger” party.
From the ABA Newsletter 22
It was with a certain degree of trepidation that we set out for Vienna – some by air some by rail, and a valiant group – The Howses, the Muirs and the Grants – by car. For months the Iron Curtain had hung before our eyes. We had visions of the elite of the bookselling fraternity being incarcerated. Our fears were quite groundless, however, and in most cases, “grey passes” were not asked for. Vienna was radiant beneath a cloudless sky. Signs of the occupation were few and far between, and there were no restrictions on our movements. The Danube alone looked grey and sullen and one wondered if it ever was – really blue.
Our hosts went to infinite pains to make us welcome – even to the extent of meeting incoming trains and aircraft. It was a little disconcerting, perhaps, to see a placard borne aloft at the railway station – “Mr. Maggs wanted”. An alarmist might have put a wrong construction on the meaning – but all was well. Bouquets of flowers and boxes of the most delicious chocolates greeted the ladies at their respective hotels.
Although the Conference itself was naturally the raison d’être of the Congress, and much good work was done, the social side seemed of equal importance, and everything was done to make our stay in Vienna a very interesting and most enjoyable one. The proceedings opened on Sunday, August 29th, with a Reception in the historic Baroque Room of the Landhaus (a room which we were honoured to use throughout the Conference). This was followed by the Vin d’honneur served in the adjacent Rittersaal (Knight’s Hall).
An early start was made on Monday. The assembly for a coach tour of Vienna and the Vienna Woods, was timed for 9 am. There was some delay while the party was divided according to linguistic abilities, but soon we were twisting and turning through the streets of Vienna, guides doing yeoman service through improvised megaphones. An apology is due from the British delegation to our good friend Laurence Gomme. They really should not have been so vociferous in their denials when the guide mistakenly assumed – “that they were all Americans”. So on through the enchanting Vienna Woods, a brief halt to view he Danube; then on again to visit the Schönbrunn Palace, with its magnificent rooms and historic associations with Napoleon, Francis Josef and the ill-fated Empress Elizabeth. An impressive lunch was served at the “Ottakringer Bräu” restaurant, and this brought a memorable excursion to an end. Back to the Congressional grindstone in the afternoon by way of an antiquated and rather precarious “Metro”.
Tuesday morning found the British delegation awaiting their ‘hand out’ from the President. This was timed for 11.15 am, and many cups of coffee were drunk before a not very anxious delegation dispersed for lunch. The ‘hand out’ materialised at 2.30 pm, followed by a full Conference Session, at which the ABA announced an auction sale on behalf of the League. [This has now been held at Sotheby’s, and realised £270].
Tuesday’s high spot was a typical Austrian “Heuriger”. The uninitiated were warned to bring their coats and to treat the new wine with the greatest respect. The warning was a timely one as far as the wine was concerned. It really was a potent brew! Rivalries of the saleroom were soon forgotten. Berkeley Square mingled the song of the nightingale with the skirl of Edinburgh’s bagpipes in a spirited rendering of Gaudeamus, and was later detected in close embrace with Grafton Street, bedecked with miniature Tyrolean hats. Faint hearts left by midnight, but the more hardened stuck it out until the early hours and then followed the tram-lines home. Do not let it be thought that the wine had unusual effects on the visitors only. We learned afterwards with some interest that one of the Vienna booksellers was posted ‘missing’, and a day elapsed before the classification was changed.
Wednesday took on a different pattern. A visit to the National Bibliothek in the morning gave us the opportunity of examining many priceless manuscripts, and in the evening we were privileged to visit the Volksopera for a spirited rendering of Die Fledermaus.
The Diner d’Adieu was held on Thursday evening in the Palais Aversperg – a superb edifice, once a residence of note, but now a restaurant with garden walks and palm cafés. The place cards struck a novel note. Woodcut portraits had been cut from a coloured Nuremberg Chronicle (an imperfect copy we hope), and these had been mounted, with names added below each. Whether the woodcut was selected to resemble the guest is not quite certain, but in some cases the likeness was unmistakable. The dinner was followed by the customary speeches of thanks, several a little inaudible in the lofty room, but the Swiss President made up for the rest in a booming, basso-profundo. The memorable evening finished with dancing, lead by a very creditable exhibition octette.
Officially the Conference was over, and on Friday the exodus began. Some delegates lingered a day or so longer, perhaps to view the Crown Jewels (including the crown of the Holy Roman Empire), to visit the Kapuzinergruft (the Imperial Crypt of the Habsburgs) or perhaps to search the bookshops for the bargain so far unnoticed by a hundred experienced hunters.
Amsterdam, Copenhagen, London, Paris, Brussels, Geneva, Milan and now Vienna. Each succeeding Conference adds to the wealth of happy memories and to the volume of international friendship and goodwill.
To our Austrian friends, a thousand thanks for their efficient organisation and kindly hospitality. We will long remember Vienna.
In 2009 the Presidents of ILAB's member associations met again in Vienna for their annual Presidents' Meeting.