Vienna: The World’s Spy Capital is a Waltz of Espionage & Deception

As a bridge between East and West Europe, Vienna and espionage are practically synonymous. Austria’s capital is known for its coffee houses, opera, Viennese waltz, labyrinth of tunnels, and lax laws on foreign spies, making it a leader in culture as well as the dark arts. At least 7,000 operatives are thought to be plying their trade in Vienna, the world capital of spies.

The Viennese Waltz was danced in ballrooms of the Habsburg court in the 17th century


Vienna, Cold War Playground

Soviet officers were drawn to the Austrian capital after WWII, turning it into a battleground between socialist and Western intelligence services. NSA spy Ronald Pelton and CIA traitor Edward Lee Howard met their KGB contacts here, while British operative Kim Philby smuggled left-wing activists through the city sewers in his pre-MI6 days.

As recently as 2010, Russian spies were exchanged in a spy swap on Vienna’s airport tarmac for British and Americans including notorious Russian spy Anna Chapman and Novichok poisoning victim Sergei Skripal.

A tour of the city is a must for fans of spies and spying. Here are some of Vienna’s highlights, for your eyes only.

Vienna: The World’s Spy Capital is a Waltz of Espionage & Deception

BY
SPYSCAPE
5
MINUTE READ
Share with Twitter
@SPYSCAPE
Share
Share to Facebook
Share to Twitter
Share with email

As a bridge between East and West Europe, Vienna and espionage are practically synonymous. Austria’s capital is known for its coffee houses, opera, Viennese waltz, labyrinth of tunnels, and lax laws on foreign spies, making it a leader in culture as well as the dark arts. At least 7,000 operatives are thought to be plying their trade in Vienna, the world capital of spies.

The Viennese Waltz was danced in ballrooms of the Habsburg court in the 17th century


Vienna, Cold War Playground

Soviet officers were drawn to the Austrian capital after WWII, turning it into a battleground between socialist and Western intelligence services. NSA spy Ronald Pelton and CIA traitor Edward Lee Howard met their KGB contacts here, while British operative Kim Philby smuggled left-wing activists through the city sewers in his pre-MI6 days.

As recently as 2010, Russian spies were exchanged in a spy swap on Vienna’s airport tarmac for British and Americans including notorious Russian spy Anna Chapman and Novichok poisoning victim Sergei Skripal.

A tour of the city is a must for fans of spies and spying. Here are some of Vienna’s highlights, for your eyes only.

Article Ad
Article Ad
Article Ad

Vienna’s cafe culture - founded by a spy

Vienna has always teemed with secrets largely because the only espionage activities considered illegal in Austria are direct targeting of Austrian state secrets.

Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius grasped Vienna’s geographic importance in 180 AD and the city eventually became capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1556 after the Habsburgs gained Hungary and Bohemia.

Polish operative Jerzy Kulczycki spied on the Turkish camp in the late 1600s and was rewarded by being given his choice from the spoils of war. Rather than gold or expensive fabric, he chose bags of coffee and he is credited with founding Vienna’s first of many splendid cafés.

Café Frauenhuber, established in 1824, is a former bathhouse where Mozart and Beethoven later played concerts but Café Central offers a more modern link to espionage. The iconic Viennese coffee house was a rendezvous point for spies during WWII and the Cold War. Philby was reportedly a regular as were psychiatrist Sigmund Freud and Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky.


Touring ‘The Third Man’ sewers

Far below Vienna’s Gothic towers, baroque domes, and Hofburg palace lies Vienna's sewer system. Some 23 feet below street level, the network of tunnels crisscross 1,500 miles of the city, allowing people to pass through unseen. Built in the 1830s, the tunnels remain virtually unchanged. As a young idealist in 1933 and ‘34, Philby met his first wife in Vienna and helped those resisting the fascist government escape through the sewers.

Carol Reed’s film noir The Third Man (1949)- starring Orson Welles and based on a novel by MI6 officer Graham Greene - shows murky, post-war, bombed-out Vienna and its gritty tunnels.The film may have been inspired both by Philby and Greene’s recruit, Austrian journalist and Soviet spy Hans-Peter Smolka. Greene even named one of the bars in the screenplay ‘Smolka’ after his agent offered advice on filming.

Tunnels tours now allow visitors to explore the underground passages and highlights include The Third Man’s original spiral staircase that leads to the ‘cholera sewers’, the backdrop for several seminal moments.

Two-thirds of the movie locations in the sewers still exist, as does the Riesenrad Ferris Wheel built in 1897 to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Emperor Franz Joseph I in 1898. In 1879, he formed an alliance with Prussian-led Germany, and the king’s ultimatum to Serbia in 1914 led Austria and Germany into WWI.

Vienna: A Study in Spying

The Austrian National Library has a full archive of documents on the Gestapo's secret operations in Vienna and a collection of declassified reports on the activities of Soviet and Western intelligence agencies in the city. But the library also has its own dark past.

The Anschluss - the annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany on March 12, 1938 - was also a dark chapter in the history of the library. A few days after the annexation, the Gestapo arrested Josef Bick, director-general of the National Library, and sent him to the Dachau concentration camp. Paul Heigl, who had strong links to Germany’s secret police, was appointed provisional head of the library. Under the guise of acquiring treasures, Heigl stole 52,000 objects from Jewish institutions (many of which were later returned).

Vienna: A Tour of Espionage History

Vienna beckons with a history that unravels through coffee house intrigue, Cold War operations, and clandestine international diplomacy. Why not unveil the enigmatic secrets concealed within the city's elegant façade by immersing yourself in a spellbinding fusion of espionage and cultural opulence?

Read mORE

RELATED aRTICLES

Gadgets & Gifts

Put your spy skills to work with these fabulous choices from secret notepads & invisible inks to Hacker hoodies & high-tech handbags. We also have an exceptional range of rare spy books, including many signed first editions.

Shop Now

Your Spy SKILLS

We all have valuable spy skills - your mission is to discover yours. See if you have what it takes to be a secret agent, with our authentic spy skills evaluation* developed by a former Head of Training at British Intelligence. It's FREE so share & compare with friends now!

dISCOVER Your Spy SKILLS

* Find more information about the scientific methods behind the evaluation here.