They have made democracy their business, whether as a software developer, university professor, museum director or in the parliamentary administration.
“A century after the founding of the First Republic, we want to reinvigorate Austria’s awareness that democracy and its inherent values are not self-evident. Democracy must be continually worked on.”
Dr. Monika Sommer is a busy woman. As the director of the Haus der Geschichte Österreich (House of Austrian History) since February of last year, she faces a daunting deadline: to get the long-awaited new museum of the country’s contemporary history ready to open in time for the November Centennial of the founding of the First Austrian Republic.
Good natured and level-headed, she never seems to break a sweat. Which is saying something, as the project has taken nearly 20 years to evolve from concept to reality. It is a vision that historian Sommer, with an impressive career in the museum field, has “held close to her heart for a long time.”
Located in the Neue Burg section of the Hofburg on Heldenplatz, the site for the new institution is rife with historical significance, perhaps most notably, or notoriously, for the balcony from which Hitler announced Austria’s Anschluss with Nazi Germany.
For Sommer, practicality, though, is more of a concern than controversy. She is looking into the possibility of moving into a more modern facility in the future, that would not only provide more space, but also more “architecture that expands our cultural symbolism of the Republic – and not just imperial history.”
But with challenges like tight budgets, reduced exhibition space and changing administrations, the time takes precedence over place. In less than a year on the job, she has single-handedly built up a 16-member staff while “simultaneously developing the concept, commissioning the architecture and defining the work processes.”
“After this decades-long debate over the founding of the Haus der Geschichte, what matters most now is simply getting it started and making it happen.”
Sommer’s vision is one of a platform for exchange and dialogue, especially on the role of democracy itself.
“In certain phases of our history, democracy has failed. We need to renew our interest in and start a new discussion on the issue. As citizens, we are responsible for this process and should form our own opinions.”