Permanent Wittgenstein Exhibition in Trattenbach

Ludwig Wittgenstein taught elementary school in several small villages in Lower Austria between the years of 1920 and 1926. From 1920 to 1922 he was resident in the village of Trattenbach.

For some time Wittgenstein occupied a small room in a building called the “Schachnerstüberl” (no. 82, named after one of its owners), which now houses the exhibition. The “Schachnerstüberl”, built in 1838, is now under protection as a national historical monument.

The exhibition is not a collection of memorabilia; it does, however, contain some items related to Wittgenstein, such as the Cambridge bed that he designed. This object gives us a glimpse into Wittgenstein’s personality as a perfectionist, in line with the Wittgenstein house in the Kundmanngasse in Vienna.

A famous quotation from John Donne states that “No man is an island, entire of itself.” If we look at Wittgenstein’s life as an elementary teacher in Trattenbach and other villages, we might easily get the impression that he tried to be just such an island. People in Trattenbach surely perceived him as an island, since to them he was an aristocrat among the poor and a scholar among farmers and laborers. Unlike his neighbors, Wittgenstein did not speak the local dialect (or any dialect, for that matter), rarely visited the inns or went to church, did not dress in the way a teacher was expected to dress, and did not exchange greetings. A local witness describes Wittgenstein as a man who, to put it mildly, “made a strange impression”.

We know that in reality no man is an island. For that reason the exhibit has chosen to portray Wittgenstein in the context of local history. The focus of the exhibit is not Wittgenstein IN Trattenbach but, rather, Wittgenstein AND Trattenbach, as his residence there is closely tied to the history of the village and the times.

Initially, Wittgenstein chose to live in Trattenbach because to him it seemed to be the ideal place for his career as a teacher. The history of this Austrian village is interesting not only because of Wittgenstein, but because it provides us with a unique view of the sociocultural environment of the early 20th century. The exhibit has chosen to explore the historical development of Trattenbach before, during, after, and beyond Wittgenstein’s presence, as all history must be viewed in context.

Another Wittgenstein documentation is located nearby in Kirchberg am Wechsel, the site of the annual International Wittgenstein Symposia. Its theme is “Reality and Myth”. Seeing both permanent exhibitions in conjunction is recommended, since visiting both offers us a more complete understanding of the context in which Wittgenstein lived and worked, as well as offering us a glimpse of the rich and fascinating history of Austrian village life.