Diplomat speaks to the Austrian Ambassador about the Embassy’s 150 Years at 18 Belgrave Square, London SW1
According to an announcement made in The Morning Post newspaper on 11 October 1866, the Austrian Embassy and the Ambassador relocated from their former location in Chandos House to Belgrave Square, where they have been ever since.
Congratulations on this tremendous anniversary. Can you outline the ways in which you’ll be celebrating 150 years at 18 Belgrave Square?
We have already dedicated some concerts to this jubilee, but the main festivities will take place on the evening of 10 October 2016, when the Embassy will host an exclusive Gala event – an Austrian-style ball – featuring Austrian opera singers as well as music by Johann Strauss. Guests will include high-ranking representatives from the UK and abroad, as well as some of Belgrave Square’s diplomatic community.
I am particularly pleased with the logo that we had specially designed for the occasion. It is being used in email correspondence and on invitations for various events taking place at the Embassy.
The building must have hosted many important occasions and famous people over the years. Are there any particular highlights?
The Austrian Embassy has always been a lively and busy place with many events and cultural functions taking place on its premises. Examples include a meeting on the eve of World War I in August 1914 hosted by Ambassador Count Mensdorff, with guests like Lord Kitchener and Prince Ali Mohammed Pasha; a huge fancy dress Congress Ball in December 1935 hosted by Ambassador Baron Frankenstein celebrating the famous Vienna Congress of 1815; several state visits by Austrian Chancellor Julius Raab in 1954 and Austrian Foreign Minister Dr Bruno Kreisky in 1960; Queen Elizabeth II and President of Austria Franz Jonas at a state banquet in 1966, and the Princess of Wales attending a dinner dance in April 1986.
In what ways has Austria’s relationship with the UK grown and developed over the past 150 years? Again, what are the major highlights?
Bilateral relations between Austria and the UK are excellent and intensive. In foreign policy issues we have largely parallel interests and share common values. Last year, we saw an increasing number of bilateral government visits.
Bilateral trade relations have reached new record levels: trade in goods and services amounts to €10 billion. 240 Austrian companies have invested 6.5 billion in the UK creating 32,000 jobs. There is an ever-increasing number of British visitors, (almost 900,000 in 2015), who enjoy our cultural heritage sites, skiing or hiking in our mountains.
London and the UK are attractive destinations for young Austrians to study at renowned UK universities, work in banking and creative industries, and found start-up companies. On a per capita basis, Austria has the fourth-largest contingent of students at Oxford University.
For many Britons, Austria is first and foremost a country of beautiful landscape and a rich cultural heritage.
We are eager to live up to this legacy by engaging in numerous cultural projects with British institutions. The Austrian Cultural Forum is just one institution that offers a wide range of cultural events in the UK.
I wanted to touch on a recent trend of missions in London moving out of the centre of town and into their own compound. Is the Austrian Embassy here to stay in Belgravia for the foreseeable future?
There are various reasons for this trend, one of them being that the long-term leases of these embassies in some prestigious locations have either expired or are coming to an end, thus some embassies are seeking more cost-effective new premises, rather than paying commercial prices on their current locations.
Another reason, of course, is the security factor. Specifications for buildings such as embassies and foreign representations have changed enormously in recent years. While representative buildings and the area used to be the main asset for choosing the location of an embassy, nowadays buildings must comply with specific safety and security measures in order to grant a safe environment for staff and visitors.
Do you think it is important for countries like Austria to have such a prominent address for their diplomats, and in such a prestigious neighbourhood like Belgravia?
Austria is happy and proud to have had the opportunity to spend 150 years in the same wonderful building on Belgrave Square. Although many embassies in Belgravia, Mayfair and Kensington have been sold or their contracts have not been renewed in the past three or four years, there is still a large number of embassies in central London. There are 17 embassies and cultural institutes on Belgrave Square alone! The Austrian Embassy is the oldest one on Belgrave Square.
How does the celebratory publication aim to commemorate the Austrian Embassy’s rich history in the UK?
In cooperation with prominent Austrian historians, the Embassy will produce a jubilee publication with references to the history of the building – spanning from 1866 until today – including all serving Ambassadors, the two World Wars and other memorable events, as well as facsimiles of original documents and numerous past and present photographs.
How many embassies does Austria have around the globe? Which are considered the most important?
Austria has 80 Embassies, eight general consulates, 300 honorary consulates and 29 cultural fora worldwide, in locations including Brussels, New York (Permanent Mission), Washington, London, Berlin, Paris and Geneva (Permanent Mission).
Can you offer some examples of similarities and differences between Austrian and British culture?
In terms of similarities, both the UK and Austria are full of historic heritage, not to mention the intermingling of cultures and ethnicities, adding a wide spectrum of traditions. In both countries there are a huge number of cultural events on offer. And both countries are full of natural beauty and diversity.
As for differences… Austria and Vienna are a melting pot of the former monarchy, whereas Great Britain has a diverse ethnical composition due to its history with the Empire and the Commonwealth. In the UK, there is a tradition of cultural philanthropy and foundations, whereas Austrians are used to the tradition of state support for the arts.