Austrian architect Hermann Bollé (Köln 1845 – Zagreb 1926) constructed and reconstructed numerous buildings in Croatia, among them the Museum of Arts and Crafts and the Mirogoj Cemetery in Zagreb.

Croatia in Europe through the ages

Croatian-Austrian and Croatian-German relations

Links between Croatia and German-speaking countries and their cultures are long-standing and complex. This is especially due to the fact that for almost 400 years, from the election of Ferdinand I as Croatian king in the 16th century, Croatia was an integral part of the Habsburg, then the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. As early as the 9th century, Frankish missionaries left clear traces of a close relationship in the Church in Croatia (Abbot Teudebetus of Nin, Bishop Adelfred of Nin and Gumpertus, a priest from Bijać, near Trogir). This was reflected in the cult of Frankish saints and ecclesiastical architecture. At that time, the Saxon Benedictine monk Gottschalk resided at the court of Prince Trpimir, contributing to the expansion of the order in Croatia, about which records have survived.

Matija Vlačić Ilirik

In the early 13th century, immigrants from German countries (known as hospites), primarily craftsmen and traders, then doctors, apothecaries and officials, participated in founding Croatian towns, mostly in northwest Croatia (Samobor, Varaždin and Križevci), and German weavers were mentioned in Dubrovnik (1420). Many marriages were contracted with the Croatian aristocracy. More significant German settlements were established after the Ottoman retreat in the 18th and 19th centuries, particularly in the abandoned areas of eastern Croatia. The newcomers embraced their new environment as their home, and integrated with the Croatian people, learning their language. They were well educated and connected with Europe, often adopting teaching, cultural and political roles. In the 17th century, Pavao Ritter Vitezović, a descendant of an Alsatian family who had settled in the Military Border, propagated in his entire work the Slavic unity and Croatian name. Bishop Josip Juraj Strossmayer, by birth and education an Austrian, eagerly advocated Slavic ideas.

Particularly vital links between the Croats and German culture were established during the Reformation in the 16th century. Croatian Protestant writers, Stjepan Konzul Istranin, Anton Dalmatin and Juraj Cvečić, worked in the Bible Institute in Urach, near Tübingen, while Croatian professors at German Protestant universities played an exceptionally important role: Matija Grbić (Grbac) in Wittenberg and Tübingen, Pavao Skalić in Königsberg and Matija Vlačić Ilirik in Wittenberg and Jena. Vlačić made a particularly important contribution to an encyclopaedia of church history from the Protestant viewpoint, and held an important position in the leadership of the circle to which Martin Luther belonged, following the latter’s death.

Croatian and Dalmatian coats of arms within the Hungarian coat of arms on the Plague Column at Graben in the centre of Vienna.

Close links with Austria had a particular impact on the development of education in Croatia. The first gymnasia in Zagreb (1607), Rijeka (1627) and Varaždin (1636) were founded by Jesuits from the Vienna College (Augustineum), and one of the most valuable, positive aspects of mutual relations was the Austrian higher education system, which developed at a time when Croatia had no similar institutions of its own. Many of the Croatian revivalists, such as Count Janko Drašković, Dimitrije Demeter, Ljudevit Gaj and Stanko Vraz, completed their university studies in Vienna and Graz. When the Austrian education authorities began reforms of the high school and higher education system in 1849, the positive effects were felt in Croatian gymnasia and universities.

Due to the many centuries of legislative, social and cultural links with Austria which we have already mentioned, up to the mid 20th century, the middle classes and aristocracy in Croatia were to a large extent bilingual, which is one reason why German authors were not extensively translated. Another factor was the preference for music, theatre and the fine arts over literature in the areas of Croatia which gravitated towards Austria. Austrian travelling theatre ensembles were common sights in northern Croatian towns from the mid 18th century onwards, while in the early 19th century, the first translations into the Kajkavian dialect were produced. German theatre thus favoured the development of Croatian theatrical and thespian culture.

Ivan Zajc (1832–1914), Croatian composer and conductor.

After the founding of the modern university system in 1874, Croatian students continued to attend faculties and higher education institutions in Austria which taught subjects not available to them at home, particularly in the arts. The musicians Blagoje Bersa, Božidar Širola and Jakov Gotovac studied or worked in Austria; Ivan Zajc graduated from the Conservatory in Milan and became famous in Vienna as a successful composer of operettas, moving back to Zagreb in 1870 to found the Croatian Opera. The city’s architect, the Czech Bartol Felbinger, who studied in Vienna, planned the centre of Zagreb from 1809 on according to the Austrian model. His work was continued after 1888 by Leo Hönigsberg and Julije Deutsch, who had also studied in Vienna. The Viennese Secession had a huge influence on Croatian artists in the late 19th century. Ivan Meštrović studied at the Viennese Academy from 1901 to 1904.

The first direct reflections of German literature among Croatian writers were felt in the 18th century, when writers from Slavonia, influenced by German writings of the Enlightenment, attempted in their works to re-educate their fellow countrymen. Thus Matija Antun Relković produced his Nova slavonska i nimačka gramatika (New Slavonian and German Grammar, 1767), which became the basis for later German grammars in Croatian. His son, Josip Stjepan Relković, published Kućnik (The Householder), written in popular decasyllables, which was a sort of practical handbook for the peasantry, based on a German original.

The Croatian revivalists were most affected by the poets of freedom, primarily Friedrich Schiller, though Johann Gottfried Herder also had a strong influence, with his Composition on the Slavs, published in the first issue of Danica in 1835. The Illyrians (Ljudevit Gaj, Antun Mihanović, Antun Nemčić, Stanko Vraz and others) translated German poetry, and most of them began their literary careers by writing in German. The introduction of absolutism and the forced Germanisation of public and cultural life after the 1848–49 revolution in Austria and Hungary led to the widespread rejection of German culture and literature. Croatian writers began to look for their role models in Slavic, Romance, English or Scandinavian literature, while continuing to focus the attention of readers on Romance and Slavic literature. It was only in exceptional circumstances that German literature was considered of any worth at all (e.g. the expressionism of Rainer Maria Rilke). German as a foreign language was also affected by the general atmosphere, and the teaching of other foreign languages, e.g. French, was strongly advocated. The situation eased by the close of the century, so that in 1897, the first history of German literature was published in Croatian (German Literature up to the Death of Goethe). German language journalism continued to be published in Croatia from 1879 (Kroatischer Korrespondent, Zagreb) to 1929 (Die Drau, Osijek). German reviews met the cultural needs, particularly in the 19th century, of the many German speakers and educated Croats in the country. The close contacts between German and Croatia in the past are still evident today in a great number of loan-words in Croatian dialects, some of which date back to Old High German.

New trends in German literature affected the Modern period in Croatia. The Munich journal Jugend formed the model for Mladost, edited by a group of students from Osijek in Vienna (1898). Expressionism also left its mark in Croatian literature. The articles of Antun Branko Šimić and his contemporaries display a vital interest in the turmoil in contemporary German poetry and art, for example the aesthetic understandings represented in the Berlin journal Der Sturm. The influence of the school of Neue Sachlichkeit writers during the Weimar Republic on leftist literature was also obvious: Erich Kästner, Hans Fallada, the early work of Erich Maria Remarque, etc. The German component was emphasised in the literary formation of Miroslav Krleža: his foundations in the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche, and his distinct critical judgments of various segments of culture. This is more evident in his essays on Rainer Maria Rilke, Hugo von Hoffmannsthal, Stefan Georg, expressionist lyricism, Hermann Bahr, Karl Kraus, and Heinrich von Kleist, than in his literary works.

The systematic translation of major works of German literature only began after the Second World War. The works of Franz Kafka, who had a great influence on Croatian writers during the 1960s and 1970s, were translated then, along with contemporary German authors such as Heinrich Boll and Günter Grass.

Apart from publications in periodicals, the first real literary translations from Croatian into German were produced only at the end of the 19th century, when Mažuranić’s epic The Death of Smail-Aga Čengić was translated, followed by Šenoa’s historical novel, The Goldsmith’s Gold and a collection of poetry by Petar Preradović. The novels of Ksaver Šandor Gjalski, published in the popular Universal Library by Philip Reclam, aroused more interest for Croatian writers, and works by Antun Gustav Matoš, Milan Begović and Josip Kosor were translated. The latter two also wrote in German. Begović took up theatrical work in Hamburg (1902–12) and Vienna (1912–15), while Kosor’s play Fire of Passion, written at the urging of Stefan Zweig, enjoyed considerable success on German and Austrian stages. The Austrian humorist Alexander Roda Roda, who grew up near Našice, in Slavonia, popularised Croatian people and places in his satirical and humorous work. A generation of writers with German roots wrote about the expulsion of the German population from the Danube basin (Schwaben) after the Second World War, while in recent times, Ludwig Bauer has done the same in his novels, particularly in A Short Chronicle of the Weber Family.

Croatian authors were translated more intensively from the 1950s on, and the launching of the magazine Most/Die Brücke in 1966 was extremely well received in German speaking areas. It included translated works from different periods and several issues were dedicated to criticism directed at the current state of affairs. Although there was a continuing interest on the part of the German public for Croatian authors, the 1990s drew more foreign attention to writers in exile than those established at home: Irena Vrkljan, Slavenka Drakulić, and in particular Dubravka Ugrešić and Slobodan Šnajder, whose play The Croatian Faust was better received in Germany than in Croatia. The poet Slavko Mihalić has also come to prominence since publishing a comprehensive anthology of Croatian poetry (Das Schangenhemd des Windes) in 2004.

A special place in the promotion of German language and literature in Croatia is held by the Chair of German Studies at the Faculty of Humanities in Zagreb, which was founded in 1895, though German Studies actually began earlier, in 1876, through the German Language Lectorate, only two years after the foundation of the modern university. By 1897, the Chair was already placed on a level with other German speaking universities in Austria-Hungary. German Studies spread to Zadar, Osijek and Rijeka, while fruitful cooperation was established with German experts in German and Slavic Studies. Zdenko Škreb and Viktor Žmegač achieved international reputations as interpreters and historians of German literature. A project led by Žmegač, in cooperation with leading scholars from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, carried out between 1978 and 1984, led to the publication of one of the best known bestsellers on the history of German literature, Geschichte der deutschen Literatur vom 18. Jahrhundert bis zur Gegenwart. Promoters of German language and culture and cultural and scholarly links between Croatia and Austria, and Croatia and Germany, are the Austrian Cultural Forum (founded in 1955, the year in which the Republic of Austria achieved full state sovereignty, and one of the oldest Austrian cultural institutions outside Austria) and the Goethe Institute in Zagreb.