{Austria} Dritte Mann Museum

November 21, 2011


Long time readers of this blog will probably know by now that, while I value a good science or history museum, natural or otherwise, I have a thing for quirky museums that cover topics off the beaten track, so to speak. You may also remember that I’m a big fan of movies, particularly old movies to be precise. So, you may begin to imagine how ecstatic I was on discovering that Vienna is home to the Third Man Museum (‘Dritte Mann Museum’), apparently the only museum world wide dedicated to a single movie, and one of my top ten favourite movies of all time to boot. I’m giving a heads up now that, due to my love of museums and movies colliding, this will be a rather long blog post, but if you love movies, and this movie in particular, it will be worth your while.

Third Man Museum entrance

For those of you unfamiliar with the movie (seriously, what have you been doing all this time?), or who haven’t seen it in a while and need a refresher, The Third Man is a British film noir from 1949, directed by Carol Reed with a screen play by Graham Greene. It stars Joseph Cotton as pulp fiction writer Holly Martins, who arrived in post war Vienna seeking bis friend, Harry Lime played by Orson Welles, who has offered him a job, only to discover that Harry was apparently killed in a traffic accident. Talking to Harry’s friends and associates he notices that a lot of things don’t add up and determines to find out what really happened to his friend. Interestingly, although the movie has gathered a world wide cult following, apparently the Viennese themselves aren’t great fans since they resented, and still do, the negative way their city was portrayed.


Third Man Museum poster

The museum stems from the private collection of Gerhard Strassgschwandtner, who for years collected anything and everything related to The Third Mann, before turning his hobby into a museum open to the public in 2005. The original collection of over 2,000 original objects and documents includes the film scripts and behind the scenes on set shots; historical film posters, promotional movie stills, cinema programmes and video/DVD covers from over 20 countries; newspaper cuttings of the time and over 80 editions of Graham Greene’s novel. A room dedicated to Anton Karas’ chart topping film score ‘Harry’s Theme’ is lined with record covers and sheet music and displays the museum’s prize possession – the original zither on which Karas created his composition. The hitherto old fashioned considered folk instrument became the most popular instrument of the 1950s due to the tune’s success. On a ‘juke box’ (a computer with joy stick), you can listen to over 400 (!) cover versions, from the Beatles to an Hawaiian rendition. Other interesting exhibits include the private photo collection from Anton Karas’ wine tavern, which he ran in the 1950s and 60s, displayed exactly as it was hung in its original location, and the collection of curious to bizarre music boxes from around the world playing Harry’s Theme, which became popular souvenirs at the time.

Anton Karas' zither

A fun feature is the original Viennese canal sewer grid where, without giving too much away for those new to The Third Mann, you can recreate one of the movie’s iconic scenes – did you know that it was filmed with a fake sewer grid as the real ones were much too thick to stick your fingers through?! But the highlight of our visit had to be viewing a short clip of the movie itself on the historical film projector from 1936, the same kind that the movie would have been shown on when it aired in Vienna in 1950. The clip is limited to two minutes for legal reasons, as they don’t have a screening licence, but the Burg Kino cinema just a few blocks away has regular showings of the full movie several times a week. The clip is in English, of course – as a letter among the original documents states, if there is one movie that should never, under any circumstances, have been dubbed, it is The Third Man, and one can only imagine, from the dubbed version, how good it is. Anyone familiar with the German speaking countries’ love of dubbing foreign movies, will appreciate the significance of this.

Harry Lime Theme album covers

Since its opening, the museum has twice been extended, first in 2007 to include the exhibition “Harry Lime’s Vienna”, which gives the historical context of Vienna during the time of post war occupation 1945-55. According to Strassgschwandtner, this is particularly important for overseas visitors, especially younger ones, who often have no idea of Austria’s history. Here, quotes from the movies sit alongside original documents, newspapers, letters, photographs etc. offering a different way of presenting and conveying history. Then, in 2009, the museum was extended again to include the special exhibition “The Third Mann in Japan”, which, with over 100 original exhibits, gives an idea of the incredible cult status the movie has achieved in Japan. One of the train stations on Tokyo’s metro network even plays Harry’s Theme to announce approaching trains! And, if you correctly manage to count the number of times the movie’s closing scene features in the exhibition, you can collect a wee prize from the ticket desk.

1930s film projector

This museum really is a labour of love, which you cannot fail to notice regardless of what your sentiments about the movie are, and one carried out at high quality and with attention to detail. It’s still run and funded entirely privately by Strassgschwandtner and his partner Karin Höfler, who in ‘real’ life work full time as a Vienna tour guide and a Japanese interpreter respectively, which is why it’s only open on Saturday afternoons or by special arrangement. The collection continues to grow and is also improving in quality as new pieces fill gaps or replace poorer examples already on display. The €7.50 (discounts available) entry fee may put some people off, and to be honest, if you’ve never seen the movie you probably won’t get that much out of your visit other than a unique view of Vienna’s post war history, but if you’re familiar with the movie you can easily spend enough time there to get your money’s worth (all interpretation is available in English as well as German) and if, like me, you’re a fan, you’ll regret not visiting and be happy to give this gem of a museum your support!

'Harry Lime's Vienna' exhibit


My thanks to Gerhard and Karin for taking the time to talk to us about their museum, and for the press kit which greatly helped in writing up this blog post. By the way, real fans of the movie can also go on a walking tour around town retracing the various movie locations, or go underground for a tour of Vienna’s sewers which now boast one Europe’s most modern waste water treatment facilities.

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4 Responses to “{Austria} Dritte Mann Museum”

  1. Travelwriticus Says:

    I visited the museum in 2007 twice. It was much fun to discuss the exhibits with the owners of the museum. Btw thanks for the info about the Japanese train station. I didn’t know this detail.


    • jennifuchs Says:

      The owners are such lovely people! So nice and helpful and happy to chat to visitors. I would definitely go back if I am in Vienna again.



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