We know that Sigmund Freud spent almost his whole life in Vienna.
We know that the Nazis burned his books in Berlin in 1933. He said: “What progress we are making! In the Middle Ages, they would have burned me. Now, they are content with burning my books.”
We know that he left Vienna in 1938 and moved to London where he died a year later.
But do you know where Sigmund Freud was born?
His birthplace is Příbor – a small town (almost 9000 inhabitants) in the Moravian-Silesian Region of the Czech Republic. When Freud was born in 1856 the town was called Freiberg.
Good news: his house of birth still exists! At the beginning of the 20th C it looked like this:
House No. 117 belonged to the family of the locksmith Jan Zajíc. Jakob, a wool merchant, and Amalia Freud lived on the 1st floor. In 1856 their son was born here and they gave him the name Sigismund (he changed it later to Sigmund), to which they added Schlomo after his grandfather and Simcha which means “joy” in Hebrew – the same as Freud in German. However, the family stayed in Freiberg only for three years, after that they moved to Vienna.
Freud often recalled his birthplace in his notes, of course, he kept nice memories in his mind such as those of the meadows with dandelions, his nanny Monika Zajícová and the small streets where he used to play. But there is another important memory that is connected to Příbor. As a pupil, he kept a correspondence with his friend Emile Fluss, who was a son of a rich manufacturer. As a 16-year-old student, Freud spent his holidays with Fluss’ family and he fell in love for the first time in his life (with his friend’s sister Gisela). However, he never returned to his birthplace…
Foto: Alexander Ch. Wulz © Sigmund Freud Foundation
Sigmund Freud spent almost his whole life in Vienna, most of the years in house No. 19 in Berggasse, where he opened his practice.
This is a picture of the waiting room.
Foto: Florian Lierzer © Sigmund Freud Foundation
Not only patients with all their problems, phobias and depressions were waiting in that room, but Freud invited his friends every Wednesday here. They used to debate, drink black coffee and smoke nonstop. Once, when the friends were leaving, Freud’s son Martin peeped into the room and because it was full of heavy smoke, he was surprised nobody had suffocated. Freud smoked about 20 Havana cigars daily!
Nowadays, there is a museum in that house. But if you come here looking for his famous couch, you are at the wrong address.
Freud’s couch – one of the most famous pieces of furniture in the world
Madame Benvenisti was one of Freud’s patients. She told Freud that if she was going to have her head examined, she might as well be comfortable. So she bought him a plain, beige sofa which Freud covered with Persian carpets and piled up with velvet pillows. Another patient, Ms Hilda Dolittle said about that couch that it knew more secrets than a confessional chair in the church. How many fears, hysteria, pain, dreams, traumas and nightmares did it have to stand?
Patients laid down on it to speak out everything. And how it began? There was again a woman! The patient Ms Fanny Moser. Freud was practising hypnosis, he asked her to lie down and said: “You are very getting sleepy…” But she was not at all! She insisted to tell him her story without being interrupted by him. Freud realized that if he just let patients talk they will let down their defences, and the unconscious will be revealed. So the new therapy – psychoanalysis was invented and it became embodied by a single piece of furniture: the couch.
After occupying Austria, the Germans – thanks to interventions of some influential people and a “ransom” of 12 000 Dutch guilders which was paid by Freud’s friend – the French author and psychoanalyst Princess Marie Bonaparte – enabled Freud and his family to leave Vienna and move to London. Three railway cars were full with their furniture and other objects. The couch had left for London as well. If you want to see that original sofa you have to go to London too and visit the Freud Museum there.
But do not worry, in the birthplace of Sigmund Freud, in Příbor, you can lie down on its copy. Also, you do not need to be afraid that this piece of furniture will break under the weight of all problems, sleepless nights and worries because it is made from copper. Believe me, everybody wants to lie down on it at least for a moment to take a picture, even in the winter when you risk your bottom being frozen to the cold metal. In doing so, you can also think about the inscription you will find there: Sit down and meditate – stand up and act.
In Freud’s house of birth, there is no furniture but you can enjoy a multimedia exhibition which is made with the typical Czech humour – you can read some of Freud’s quotations and laugh at caricatures from the Czech cartoonist Vladimír Jiránek.
Here you can see some of them:
(Click on the picture and then on “i” to get the English translation.)