Vienna's new Freud Museum

As the overhauled Sigmund Freud museum prepares to reopen, our writer is one of the first to step inside his former home and practice


You no longer need an appointment to enter Sigmund Freud’s therapy rooms. Walking through the same historic doorway to the Viennese apartment block at Berggasse 19, you climb the stairs to his practice just as his patients did 100 years ago. 

For 47 years, the father of psychoanalysis lived and worked what is now the Sigmund Freud Museum, until he and his family were forced to flee in 1938. 

There has been a small exhibit at the site since 1971, but a major refurbishment means all his private rooms are now publicly accessible for the first time, once the museum opens on August 29.

After buying a ticket in the newly-designed foyer, visitors enter the rooms that formed Freud’s original practice on the upper ground floor — a collection of conceptual art now stands in the place where he wrote The Interpretation of Dreams. 

They then walk up the once-communal stone staircase and ring the doorbell to enter the family’s apartment. Across the hall, and common to so many Viennese apartment blocks from the 1800s, stands the door to what became his later practice. 

The museum places a lot of emphasis on the experience of visiting Freud’s property as it was in his day, as it was here that he spent most of his professional and personal life. 

He moved here in 1891 and opened his consulting rooms five years later. His daughter Anna opened her own practice here in 1923. 

By the 1930s, Freud was renowned worldwide for his psychoanalytic movement but his ideas and Jewish heritage caught the attention of the Nazis, who burned his books in Berlin. 

Friends including Princess Marie Bonaparte and fellow psychoanalyst Ernest Jones helped the family seek exile in London. 

Unlike other Jewish emigres, the family could take all their belongings, meaning that the museum’s London counterpart has Freud’s famous psychoanalytic couch, as well as much of his antiquities collection and his personal library. But their history remains here, at Berggasse 19. 

Walking through his old apartment, visitors can learn all about different aspects of Freud’s life through specially-designed display cases, containing items from the museum’s own collection, that in London and private donations. 

Appropriately, the display in Freud’s bedroom is dedicated to The Interpretation of Dreams and contains a first edition of Die Traumdeutung, with an inscription to a friend.  

The rooms may not be furnished as they once were but every effort has been made to highlight how they once looked. 

We have those details thanks to Edmund Engelmann, who bravely took photos of original interior and furnishings in 1938, while the building was under surveillance by the Gestapo.

His photos are on show in the relevant rooms, with items returned to their original position where possible. So in the Salon, a painting of Vienna’s cathedral, the Stephansdom, hangs near a marquetry sideboard, just as it did then. 

Similarly, hints of the original decor — such as exposed parts of the ornate painted ceilings and walls or the uncovered intercom cable that provided an internal line to Anna’s friend Dorothy Burlingham, who lived upstairs — provide windows into the family’s past. 

But the omissions are often most striking. Once through the private apartments, visitors move on to Anna’s therapy rooms and those of Freud himself. 

In these you can see the one furnished room in the museum, the Waiting Room, featuring the furniture of his previous downstairs practice which was donated by his daughter in 1971. 

This stands in stark contrast to his Treatment Room, where Freud’s famous couch once stood — now marked simply by a row of holes on the wall from which the decorative carpet behind it once hung. 

The space has been left empty as a reminder of why the family was forced to leave Vienna.

This dark chapter of Austria’s history is further told in the final spaces of the exhibition, which focus on the family’s departure after the Anschluss and the fate of Freud’s sisters, who did not join them. 

A faded label on which is written “Von Wien Westbahnhof nach London” on the side on one of the family’s trunks marks this journey. 

But what is particularly poignant is the list of names of all the Jewish families who were forced to live in the building before being deported as it — like others of its kind — was declared a Sammelwohnung by the Nazis after the Freuds fled. 

By doing this, the museum has ensured that their stories too, are not forgotten. 


Like this? Sign up for more with our JC Life newsletter here.

From fabulous recipes to parenting tips, travel and West End entertainment; insightful interviews and much more: there’s more to the JC than news!

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive