Season 1
Episode 25: Vienna: Timothy Leary’s Long Strange Trip

The high priest of LSD & the Chancellor of Austria

Passport  travels back in time to tumultuous 1970s Vienna to uncover how acid trips, Timothy Leary, renegade filmmaking, unorthodox diplomacy, and a political miracle transformed the city.

Vienna is a city of Old World baroque charm, cafés, and waltzes. It consistently ranks as one of the best places to live in the world. It’s the city of Mozart, Freud, Klimt, and Strauss.  Except this story is less Blue Danube, more Orange Sunshine. 

This week, Andrés and guest producer Aisha Prigann plunge into a 1970s acid flashback and return with a tale of mind expansion, revolutionary politics, and the dangers of meeting your idols.  It’s the story of a group of accidental filmmakers getting caught up in a psychedelic act of diplomacy starring the Chancellor of Austria and Timothy Leary, the high priest of LSD on the run from the law. What kind of mad chemistry could have made this happen? And how did the manic sparkle of the 1970s transform Vienna into the city it is today?

MORE TO EXPLORE

SAVED PINS

  1. HAWELKA CAFÉ 
    A classic Viennese café, home to writers, artists, cabaret performers and Avant-Garde filmmakers from the mid-50’s to the 70s.
  2. THE THIRD MAN AT THE BURGKINO
    Experience this classic film noir set in postwar Vienna on the big screen at one of the worlds oldest cinemas.
  3. BRUNO KREISKY STREET IN THE 1ST DISTRICT
    Kreisky’s namesake street leads to the Ballhausplatz – the baroque palace where spent countless hours as Chancellor.
  4. THE AUGARTEN
    The city’s oldest baroque garden with ornamental flower beds and tree-lined promenades, enormous WWII anti-aircraft bunkers, and the Film Archive Austria.
  5. THE BRISTOL HOTEL
    An art deco grand dame that was Timothy Leary’s home while in exile in Vienna.

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Get The Ticket – the Passport newsletter with amazing new stories. 

This episode of Passport was written by Aisha Prigann, produced by Aisha Prigann and Andrés Bartos, and edited by Harry Stott and Neil Innes.

Big thanks to Alexander David, Robert Horn, and Maja David Shipp for sharing their stories, to Alina Lerias and Kira David, and a special thanks to Michael Brauner. Helene Maimann’s excellent documentary and book about Bruno Kreisky were important sources for this piece. 

The music on this episode was written by the wonderful Nick Turner, with extra tunes from The Moody Blues, Frankie Wa, Glad Rags, CTS, Louis, Johan Strauss and Dmitri Shostakovich.

The show is mixed and mastered by Julian Kwasneski

Eliza Engel is our production assistant. 

Stacey Book, Dominique Ferrari and Avi Glijansky are in a Canary yellow Porsche chasing down the best chocolate cake in Vienna. They also executive produce the show. 

Which is hosted by Neil Innes and a man who sometimes floats in a big fantastical egg and always waltzes in a fool’s mask, Andrés Bartos.

We’ll see you in the next place.

EPISODE 25 – TRANSCRIPT

 

ANDRÉS: Do we need to set this up somehow?

AISHA:  Do you set up an acid trip for someone? Don’t be afraid Neil, don’t be afraid. It’s going to be okay.

[Laughter]

ANDRÉS: Yeah. That’s probably a good way to start.

AISHA: We’re here for you.

NEIL: I’m in a safe place

[Laughter]

AISHA: and we’re here and we love you

NEIL: Love you guys too.

[PASSPORT MAIN TITLE]

ANDRÉS: A destination isn’t always a place.

NEIL: Sometimes it’s a new way of seeing things.

I’m Neil Innes

ANDRÉS: And I’m Andrés Bartos.

NEIL: From Frequency Machine, this is Passport.

ANDRÉS: Your ticket to everywhere.

[END MAIN TITLE]

[Song playing]

NEIL: Baroque charm, cafes and chocolate cake. Freud, Mozart and Klimt. And waltzes, of course, everybody waltzes in Vienna.

ANDRÉS: The image of the old imperial city persists, occasionally spiced up with a little Cold War intrigue. There’s a reason why The Third Man, that classic staring Orson Welles, still plays three times a week at the Burgkino cinema in the city center.

NEIL: Foreigners aren’t alone in their romance with this old-world Vienna. Plenty of locals share a longing for a city that never was.

Because below the surface, there has always been something a little stranger, more absurd and more rebellious than all that imperial dignity would have you believe.

ANDRÉS: This is not a story about the city of Empress Sisi and Mozart’s chocolate balls. This Vienna is a little less Blue Danube, a little more Orange Sunshine: acid trips, renegade filmmaking, a psychedelic act of diplomacy and a political miracle.

And how meeting your icon is rarely what you expect. This is the story of how Timothy Leary came to Vienna after he escaped a U.S. prison, hoping to get political asylum in Austria.

NEIL: On today’s episode of Passport, Aisha Prigann and Andrés Bartos climb into a time machine and dip below the surface.

Why would the Chancellor of Austria hook up with a group of hippie underground filmmakers to help out Dr. Timothy Leary, the fugitive high priest of LSD? What kind of wild chemistry would make that happen? And did that manic sparkle of the mad 70s rub off on the city that Vienna is today?

You have a very close connection to Vienna.

AISHA: I was born there.

ANDRÉS: What do you think of when you think of Vienna?

NEIL: Mozart and footballs?

ANDRÉS: Do you think about Mozart’s chocolate balls?

[Laughter]

AISHA: No. No. I mean, I think about my family, I think about really great art and I think about creepy men in basements.

ANDRÉS: Yeah.

AISHA: Not so much Vienna though.

Actually, now I’m going to be very Viennese.

ANDRÉS: Yeah.

AISHA: That’s the rest of the country.

ANDRÉS: Right

AISHA: It’s not us

ANDRÉS: Well the creepy men in basements dress a little better.

[Laughter]

ANDRÉS: The times that I’ve been to Vienna, I always have this feeling that everybody’s talking about me.

[Laughter]

NEIL: They’ve never seen anything like you.

ANDRÉS: Yeah. I don’t think it’s even that complimentary. It’s probably like, did you see those pants? I know. Particularly the last time we were there, this Christmas, it definitely felt like the history is really close. And there’s a lot of it.

NEIL: You would never think about LSD when you think about Vienna.

ANDRÉS: Definitely until I met your family Aisha, I didn’t really think about LSD in Vienna.

[Laughter]

AISHA: Oh wow. Okay, well, I’m glad we’ve expanded your mind.

[Laughter]

ANDRÉS: There’s nothing quite like the experience of having a 60, 70-year-old person make you feel like you’re the square.

[Laughter]

[Song playing]

AISHA: When I walk around Vienna, the city I was born in, I can understand why it has topped the ranking of best cities in the world to live in for 10 years running. It’s green, kid friendly with little crime, full of beautiful buildings that are scrubbed clean with astonishing regularity. It’s a city with lots of layers and a dark past.

As a kid, few things impressed me as much as the massive World War II bunkers in the Augarten, now surrounded by bright wild flowers. Along one side, someone has written the words, never again.

ANDRÉS: Vienna is an international city now. You can see it in places like the Brunnenmarkt in the 16th district, an open-air market where you really get a sense of Vienna’s diversity.

There are more official symbols too, like the sprawling United Nations complex in Transdanubia.

AISHA: There’s summer afternoons at the Heuriger, a traditional wine tavern, in the vineyards that hug the hillsides around the city. Water sports on the Danube, an aperitif at an outdoor cafe on the canal.

ANDRÉS: The city moves at an unhurried pace.

Back in the 15th century, a travel writer observed that the Viennese are gemutlich, people of leisure who are always singing and eat too much. And some of that is still true. You can spend hours sitting in a cafe, eating amazing food or nothing at all. A single cup of coffee, and you can hang out forever.

And tolerate the gloriously bad-tempered waiter.

AISHA: The Viennese are famously grumpy, despite the great quality of life, health care, education. Pope Paul VI was onto something when he called Austria “la isola felice”, the island of the blessed, in 1971. Although the youth of the day would probably have disagreed.

ALEXANDER: I remember Vienna being the city especially fit for the older generation. And there was very little space for the younger generation, especially for the cultural expressions of the younger generations.

ANDRÉS: This is Dr. Alexander David, a former advisor to the city of Vienna on drug treatment programs.

AISHA: He’s also my uncle. This is going to be a bit of a family story, which is also very Viennese.

It all started with an anecdote I heard growing up. A funny little story about some filmmakers and Timothy Leary and the Chancellor, which I didn’t even believe at first. But it fascinated me and the more I looked into it, the more I realized it wasn’t just true, but actually it says a lot about the place I’m from.

ANDRÉS: Vienna is a town where everybody knows everybody, and the town Alexander grew up in was grim. Post-World War II grim.

ALEXANDER: When I was a child, there were still many bombed houses and many poor people on the streets. You would see poverty on the streets. You would see invalids, you would see many, many damaged houses. Then I realized that within a few years from most people being underweight that changed to most people became overweight or slightly overweight.

And then I know a certain modest progress in luxuries would start, but that kept everybody so busy that many other things were neglected.

[Song playing]

ANDRÉS: By the early 1970s, Alexander was a young medical student living in a commune in Vienna’s 4th district. He was politically engaged, trying to address some of those neglected things.

AISHA: Students were marching for university reform, students’ rights, women’s rights. They were demanding that Austria confront its Nazi past and like so many around the world, they were protesting the Vietnam War.

ANDRÉS: The psychedelic revolution was also reaching Vienna. A little later than most places in the West. See, there’s, there’s an old joke attributed to everyone from Gustav Mahler to Abraham Lincoln. When the world ends, I’ll go to Vienna where everything happens 10 years later.

AISHA: Back then Vienna was still a gray, unfriendly city. Close to the iron curtain, but a neutral party in the Cold War, deeply conservative and Catholic.

ANDRÉS: This was the part of the country resentful of change and anything remotely resembling youthful rebellion, freedom, and rock and roll.

ALEXANDER: I remember the Beatles once came to Austria to shoot one of their movies, Help, in the Austrian Alps.

[Austrian clip of Beatles arriving]

ALEXANDER: Can you imagine the Catholic youth organizations would come to Salzburg airport to protest against the Beatles, who they called apes. They said the apes should go to the zoo. This was very typical.

AISHA: But change was coming, not sluggishly, but in a giant wave unleashed by the recently elected Chancellor of Austria who tapped into the dreams and desires of a new generation.

ALEXANDER: It was like a pressure cooker where the lid has been taken off. You know, there was a time when this energy was released, you could feel it.

ANDRÉS: And even though the future Chancellor was older than them, the youth recognized him as one of their own. They voted for him in huge numbers and helped bring about what some call the biggest political miracle in modern Austrian history.

The election of Bruno Kreisky.

AISHA: We’ll get back to him later, but first here’s another youthful idol, riding in on that wave of change, on that energy erupting from the pressure cooker, Dr. Timothy Leary.

[Song playing]

AISHA: On the run from U.S. law enforcement and the vindictive reach of president Richard Nixon.

ANDRÉS: Nixon had cast Leary as the villain in his war on the counterculture, labeling him the most dangerous man in America. Catching Leary would show his critics that he was cracking down on the hippies and the freaks

AISHA: A lot has been written about the two or so years Timothy Leary spent in exile, about his time in Algeria, Switzerland, and Afghanistan, but not about his brief stay in Vienna, where he arrived one frosty morning in January 1973.

[Song playing]

ALEXANDER: He had a very fashionable canary yellow Porsche. He came with his girlfriend, her name was Joanna, and he stayed in our commune. We had two apartments, one above the other, in the center of the city. They stayed with us.

ANDRÉS: Dr. Timothy Leary, the pope of dope, the high priest of LSD. Harvard professor turned psychedelic scientist, candidate for governor of California, counterculture icon, the man who called on the youth to turn on, tune in and drop out.

AISHA: And a brief guest of my uncle’s commune.

[Dr. Timothy Leary speaking]

AISHA: He showed up with his much younger girlfriend, Joanna, a European jet-setter who was into the romance of being on the run.

ALEXANDER: As soon as they arrived, she went to our stack of records. She was looking for a record by the Moody Blues and there was a song called Timothy Leary is Dead.

[Song playing]

ALEXANDER: She put that on. He was obviously pleased that we have this record and played it in his honor.

ANDRÉS: What was Timothy Leary doing in a commune in Vienna, listening to the Moody Blues? This was the penultimate stop on a wild ride that had begun in San Luis Obispo, California, about two years earlier.

[Song playing]

AISHA: Dr. Timothy Leary started out pretty square. For years, he was a suit wearing psychologist at Harvard. This is where he began conducting experiments with LSD, including on himself. The experiences were so transformative, he abandoned academia to bring LSD to the world, converting rock stars, poets and young people everywhere.

ANDRÉS: This did not sit well with the law and order establishment. And Leary got busted for weed under very dubious circumstances. He was sentenced to 10 years in California. Plus, he was facing another 10 on similar charges in Texas.

AISHA: A psychedelic doctor wasn’t about to spend the next two decades behind bars. With a little help from the brotherhood of eternal love, traders and orange sunshine and Afghan hash and the weather underground, a radical leftist militant organization, or as Leary called them, acid revolutionaries turned on freedom fighters, he mounted a spectacular prison break.

ANDRÉS: Operation Ju-ju Eyeballs. Leary, almost 50, climbed a tree to the prison roof, pulled himself along a telephone cable 25 feet up in the air, swung over a barbed wire fence, shimmied down a wooden telephone pole, ran zigzag into a ravine and over to the highway where two weathermen picked him up and drove him to freedom.

[Car accelerating]

AISHA: This represented a fusion of radical movements, sometimes oversimplified as drugs, dynamite, and guns, that even surprised some segments of the counterculture, that Dr. Timothy Leary had become convinced that they all needed each other.

[Dr Timothy Leary: In the last few years, we have seen two great movements emerge in the United States. One is the cultural revolution of people who turned on and dropped out of the pig establishment at the same time that many of the brothers and sisters have enlisted in the external struggle, the political revolution. There cannot be one without the other.]

AISHA: The Weather Underground had arranged for Leary and his wife, Rosemary to hide out in Algeria with some serious political revolutionaries, who Leary initially embraced with enormous enthusiasm.

[Dr. Timothy Leary: And since we’ve been in Algeria we’ve been under the wise, benign, and loving protection of the Black Panthers led by the genial genius Eldridge Cleaver.]

ANDRÉS: The love didn’t last long. The Black Panthers were in exile in Algeria and Leary’s free-spirited ways clashed with their revolutionary discipline and protocol. Eldridge Cleaver wasn’t into acid, and he felt psychedelics would undermine their struggle.

AISHA: Things got so out of hand, that Cleaver briefly put Leary and his wife Rosemary under house arrest.

This did not sit right with Leary and the couple escaped to Switzerland with the help of a wealthy arms dealer. But the conservative Swiss authorities soon tired of Leary’s endless stream of counterculture visitors, much like Cleaver had done.

[Eldridge Cleaver: Dr. Leary seems to wither away without an audience. He needs people around him who have a worshipful attitude towards him, he has the need to be seen as a high priest, as a god.

ANDRÉS: This might be one of the few things that conservatives Black Panthers ever agreed on. Timothy Leary was a pain in the ass.

AISHA: So he looked around for another neutral country that might grant him asylum. By this time, he and Rosemary had split up. He had hooked up with a hippy socialite called Joanna, and they were on an acid binge.

With the last of his money, he bought a canary yellow Porsche.

[Song playing]

ROBERT: …Porsche Targa, yeah. Two seater. Joanna was wearing jeans and the mink short coat, elegant young lady.

AISHA: This is Robert Horn, a maker of fine leather goods and one of the most well-dressed men in Vienna. He credits the excellent health of his spine to always wearing handmade leather shoes, even back in 1973, when he was an accidental filmmaker with an enormous mop of curly hair.

So yes, the film. A film I’d heard so much about, but never actually seen. Supposedly it was a documentary about a self-help group called Release. They set up land communes where former addicts, artists, doctors, and social workers help people get off heroin. While reading Timothy Leary’s Starseed, a tripped out tale of time ships and transient mutants, I came across this:

ANDRÉS: Chancellor Kreisky of Austria had invited me to come to Vienna to make an anti-addiction film. We were offered a three-story ambassadorial house. They wanted us to help them bring Austria into the 20th century.

Wait, what the Chancellor of Austria, you mean Bruno Kreisky? What did he have to do with any of this?

AISHA: Turns out everything.

[Song playing]

NEIL: In the space of like three minutes you go from prison to prison escape to Algeria to Eldridge Cleaver to… wow.

[Laughter]

ANDRÉS: It’s a, it’s a crazy thing that could only happen in the late sixties and seventies, where you have a figure that literally is the pope of dope. Like it’s not, it’s not just a moniker. He is a representative of a movement. So he’s like shuffled around the world like he’s a world leader, you know, except he’s a very high man, you know, advanced age.

AISHA: But I think, I think these two movements are really trying to kind of join forces against, you know, let’s not forget like the Nixon administration and a lot of the governments around the world were incredibly oppressive. They were really cracking down on people in very dubious ways, you know, doing very illegal shit to get people behind bars, just for thinking differently.

NEIL: Yeah.

AISHA: And so I think the psychedelic revolution that was represented by Leary and like the political revolution that was represented by the Panthers and, you know, whatever the Weather Underground was doing, they, they tried to kind of find a common ground to fight the fight together. But, um, there were obstacles, serious obstacles.

ANDRÉS: You mean, like Leary’s ability to concentrate.

NEIL: It’s like, it’s like babysitting the kid who pulls milk in your hand bag.

AISHA: There’s a lot going on.

ANDRÉS: There’s a lot going on. And this is, this is something that you kind of forget in all this and this, you, you kind of picture it as the adventure of this Harvard professor gone awry, but really, he’s, he’s on the run.

AISHA: Yeah, he is.

ANDRÉS: He’s a fugitive from the law.

AISHA: and with like, Nixon, personally being invested in bringing him back and putting him in prison, you know, and, you know, Nixon didn’t shy away from doing some dirty shit.

ANDRÉS: Yeah.

NEIL: So he takes his young girlfriend, he gets in his yellow porshe, he puts on holiday road and they have like a little, little vacation.

[Laughter]

ANDRÉS: And there they go, from the Swiss Alps in to Vienna.

[Song playing]

NEIL: Amazing.

After the break, more from Vienna, the accidental filmmakers, Timothy Leary, and the marvelous Bruno Kreisky. See you in a bit.

[Song playing]

AISHA: One day in December 1972, in the commune in the fourth district.

ROBERT: The bell rings, the telephone. It was the office of the chancellor. The Bundeskanzler wants to see us. It’s an important thing and we should come there in a week or so.

AISHA: Wait, they actually told you on the phone that the chancellor himself wanted to see you?

ROBERT: Yes, it was the protocol chef who made the phone call for the boss.

AISHA: The boss being Bruno Kreisky, the “sun king” chancellor. Remember when U.S. president Gerald Ford tripped down those airplane stairs? Well Kreisky was the international leader who helped him to his feet.

ANDRÉS: For many Austrians, he was the man who brought their country into the modern world.

His election win in 1970 marked a turning point, socially and politically. It stunned the conservative party. They were the ones who provided the chancellors. A social democrat holding the office was unheard of. And he was Jewish too. This was astonishing. Even Kreisky was surprised.

AISHA: A media genius and masterful diplomat, he stood for modernity, progressive politics and openness to the world. He inspired such euphoria, one German magazine featured him on the cover with the words “Kreisky is God.” Even today, when you mention his name to people over a certain age, they’ll get this warm, wistful smile. He was their Bruno.

When I asked Robert if he was surprised to get a call from the chancellor’s office, he asked me a question instead.

ROBERT: Do you have personally have acid experience? I just want to know, or something like psilocybin and mescaline?

[Laughter]

AISHA: Um, a little, a little, a little.

ROBERT: Okay, so that was important because then you might understand, because we, at that time, our selbstverstandnis was

AISHA: that’s the way we saw ourselves

ROBERT: We are like an avant garde of the avant garde.

We are a bit curious, why not more people ask our advice? We have so much to tell them. So I thought, well, finally, they understand where they have to call when they have a problem with the youth culture. Finally, they found the experts. It’s cool, they could’ve called earlier, too, why not, but we’re good that they call now.

AISHA: On the day of their appointment, the self-confident avant guard of Robert and his fellow filmmakers went to see the chancellor.

They have been told to bring their documentary.

ROBERT: They wanted to see it because I think they were afraid that it might be something like we all should shoot up heroin and throw over the government. Long live the revolution. So they wanted to check.

AISHA: By now they’d film most of their interviews and done some arty montages, but it was still a rough cut with lots of black leaders spliced in where scenes were missing and no sound.

ROBERT: We came there. It was rather early, 10 o’clock or so, and I remember I was a bit shocked. I thought Kreskey is a more taller man than he was because in television, he looked like five centimeters taller. And he was a bit astonished that he sees these three long haired elements, because he was used to journalists that don’t look like that.

ANDRÉS: Let’s take a moment here to acknowledge how odd it is for the leader of a country to call on three long haired elements. I mean, Kreisky was accessible, no doubt. He famously left his phone number listed so many Austrian citizens could call him day or night, but he had called them. And regardless of how much sense that made to the acid enlightened avant garde, it probably doesn’t anyone else.

AISHA: Remember, everybody knows everybody in Vienna.

[Song playing]

AISHA: At the beginning, there wasn’t even a film, just a long written exposé on drug addiction, which took a pretty radical approach. Forget prison and psychiatric hospitals, addicts needed therapeutic communities, where they could learn to help themselves.

This was way too radical for the editor in chief of the newspaper where Robert and his friends plan to publish.

ANDRÉS: But the editor was also impressed with their work. So he got them to sit down with the department of education, which had a little money for interesting educational film projects. Okay then, the avant garde said, we are now filmmakers.

AISHA: Accidental filmmakers.

So, through various maneuvers, we won’t get into here, the avant garde ended up catching the attention of the head of the national bank. He liked the idea of these young guys in their documentary. Oh yeah, and the director of the national bank, an old socialist, was also a friend of Kreisky.

ANDRÉS: And so a few weeks later, the avant garde was sitting across from the man holding the highest office in the land.

ROBERT: I remember he said, “wir haben hier diesen Larry”, Larry, he was pronouncing it the ancient way, not Leary, but Larry.

ANDRÉS: Meaning we have this Leary thing. Leary, the chancellor told them was looking for a safe haven, a place that would grant him political asylum. And the chancellor was trying to help him out.

Maybe their film could be of use…

[Film projector playing]

AISHA: When their film began to play in the projection room, it really started to sink in. This wasn’t just anybody watching their rough cut, this was the chancellor. Whenever there was a missing scene, the room plunged into complete darkness. The absence of sound amplified every uncomfortable noise.

Robert wandered what the chancellor was thinking. Are these hippies making an experimental film?

ANDRÉS: After the screening, the chancellor withheld his opinions on what he’d seen and went straight to the Leary thing.

AISHA: This has always been one of the big questions for me: why did he want to help Leary? Kreisky, the impeccably dressed socialist with his Viennese sense of humor and intellect, who quoted Bertolt Brecht and was passionate about politics and like all good Viennese, his dogs.

ANDRÉS: And Leary, the hedonistic professor who cited Eastern philosophy, hung out with rock stars and did yoga.

The leader of the psychedelic revolution.

AISHA: But Robert reminds me, Leary had a circle of influential supporters.

ROBERT: He had a network of intellectuals and people who were not super pro-American who supported him with connections and said he’s a political prisoner. Friedrich Dürrenmatt calls his friend Kreisky…

AISHA: The playwright?

ROBERT: Yeah, the famous author. That time, a most renowned, very important author. Now it’s a bit dated, but then he was on top of his importance.

AISHA: Why do you think Kreisky agreed to this? Just as a favor to Dürrenmatt?

Robert: I don’t know. I think it has something to do with his profile. He was always, you know, small Austria, but he was doing big international politics and he liked it very much to do things on a large scale.

AISHA: Austria might’ve been small, but Bruno Kreisky was determined to make it the bridge between East and West at a time when the iron curtain made that seem all but impossible. International diplomacy was his passion. Back when he was Foreign Affairs Secretary, he gave sound advice during the Cuban missile crisis.

And as chancellor, he was the first Western leader to sit down with Arafat and the Palestinians. In a conversation with filmmaker and historian Helene Maimann, the former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt described how Kreisky’s decisions as the leader of a small country didn’t carry much weight. But as an individual, he commanded great authority.

He was taken seriously from Washington to Moscow, to which my Maimann responded, some said he was too big for a country like Austria.

ANDRÉS: Robert speculates Kreisky might’ve also wanted to stick it to Nixon. There’s no evidence of this, but there was certainly no love lost between them. Kreisky was tight with other social democratic leaders in Europe who were all unanimously outraged when Nixon bombed Hanoi in December 1972.

[Hanoi bombing protests]

ANDRÉS: Nixon’s most vocal critic, the Swedish prime minister, was a close friend of Kreisky.

AISHA: I wonder if there was an even more personal dimension. Kreisky had been a political prisoner in the early 1930s and when Nazi Germany annexed Austria, he was forced into exile. He and Leary were very different men pursuing their goals in very different ways, but who knows?

ANDRÉS: The only thing we do know is that Dürrenmatt gave his friend Kreisky a call and Kreisky respected Dürrenmatt.

ROBERT: If Dürrenmatt calls him, then this is not like some, I don’t know, radical long-haired idiot. Dürrenmatt, the Swiss author, elderly gentlemen, called Bruno Kreisky, can’t we do something for him, give him asylum. So Kreisky then probably asked, uh the drug thing?

AISHA: The drug thing was a problem for Kreisky. He had to find a way to make Leary’s asylum palatable to people who had not yet turned on and tuned in.

ROBERT: There’s this movie being made. They understand this problem. So okay, call them. That is cool because they know how to speak with him.

So that is why how we came into that diplomatic network.

AISHA: Three long haired envoys of the Austrian Republic on their way to meet Dr. Timothy Leary, entrusted with a clear mission:

ROBERT: We want that he makes a statement that makes perfectly clear he does not advocate taking drugs and if he does this statement, then he can expect political asylum.

[Song playing]

ANDRÉS: So if the high priest of LSD wanted asylum in Vienna, he’d have to speak out against drugs. Sounds like a fool’s errand, right? But the filmmakers were hoping that maybe he’d be inclined to speak out against heroin, especially if it meant a safe haven from tricky dick Nixon and U.S. law enforcement who were closing in.

[Song playing]

AISHA: So remember, Leary had escaped Algeria and gone to Switzerland where time was running out. He had five days to get out of the country before the authorities planned on handing him over to the Americans. Since hooking up with Joanna, he’d been caught up in her world. High society parties, plush hotels, champagne and LSD, a glittery escape from a reality that was anything but.

Nixon was getting regular updates and must’ve felt certain this was it. The so-called most dangerous man in America would soon be back behind bars.

ANDRÉS: All Leary knew was Austria had no extradition agreement with the U.S. and the chancellor had extended an invitation to participate in some anti-addiction film. So on December 29th, 1972, Leary and Joanna, high on acid, piled into the Porsche and made for the Austrian border. Nixon must’ve been furious.

AISHA: Robert and the other filmmakers, and my uncle Alexander were psyched.

ROBERT: He was like a, the prophet. No, not the prophet, but the spokesman. He was one of the old academic establishment who left that. For us, he was a super person.

AISHA: But things didn’t turn out quite as expected.

ANDRÉS: Meeting an icon in real life can be a real let down. Even more so when that person is in a desperate situation.

AISHA: Alexander, Robert and their friends thought Leary and Joanna would stay at their commune. But after a few days, Leary asked the film collective to find them a hotel. They wanted privacy. These were stressful times.

ROBERT: They moved into the Bristol Hotel, one of the three most expensive hotels of Vienna. He was like a top socialite star and he was handing out acid into the mouths of people, come open your mouth, swallow this. Yeah, he really did that.

ANDRÉS: Alexander remembers Leary differently, but he also struggled to reconcile the man and the myth.

ALEXANDER: He was absolutely egalitarian. There was not, not a bit of arrogance, he was a good man, but he was slightly confused. It was not always easy to reach him. You know, he was sometimes one of these Hieronymus Bosch pebbles, you know, like, like a big egg, you know, that he would sit in and nobody could really reach him. Floating through a fantastic world.

AISHA: So Leary was in a big egg. Kind of like in that Moody Blues song, Timothy Leary is Dead.

No, no he’s outside, looking in. This is definitely the impression you get watching his interview in the accidental film.

Yes, after years of hearing about it, I finally got to see Leary’s infamous statement.

[Song playing]

AISHA: In the film, Timothy Leary is sitting on a couch at Robert’s parent’s apartment. His eyes, shiny and distant, rarely meet the camera, but travel the fantastic worlds beyond the ceiling. His voice is soft, gentle, almost monotone as he reads from the printed statement in his lap. Unfortunately, he was dubbed over in the film.

Otherwise we’d play an excerpt here, but it starts something like this.

ANDRÉS: Humanity is in a crisis situation today; the symptoms are everywhere. Emptiness, cynicism, environmental pollution, unnecessary poverty. This crisis is not only political, but also spiritual, psychological, neurological, emotional. This is not as obvious to most people as it is to the young who are looking for a better world and a who are unwilling to accept and perpetuate the old ideas that created these problems in the first place.

One of the most puzzling symptoms of this crisis of our youth is the mysterious addiction to drugs.

AISHA: Halfway through the interview, things take a strange turn. The scene cuts to a gray, desolate quarry littered with unfinished stone sculptures. Timothy Leary, and Joanne are playing hide and seek. They are laughing, waving at camera.

ANDRÉS: In voiceover, Leary compares drug addicts to epileptic schizophrenics and geniuses. By now, Leary and Joanna are holding hands and walking along a barbed wire fence. There’s a guard tower behind them, a lookout along the iron curtain. They’re at the Hungarian border. Timothy Leary is carrying a gigantic fool’s mask.

AISHA: A fool’s mask. Black and white, with a pointed nose and a big grotesque grin.

ROBERT: Timothy always traveled with a huge fool’s mask from the Basel Fasnacht.

AISHA: The Fasnacht is the Carnival of Basel, in Switzerland, where the fool is a prominent figure.

ROBERT: And he gave it to me and said, Robert, I officially declare you now to be the keeper of the fool’s mask.

You always have to carry it when I’m around. On one hand, I was honored, Timothy Leary’s personal keeper of the fool’s mask. Okay. But on the other hand, it was a bit, I didn’t understand the whole thing. So, it was a bit weird.

[Song playing]

ANDRÉS: Yeah, when you watch him in the interview, it, it’s not exactly a hostage video…

[Laughter]

NEIL: I know what you mean.

ANDRÉS: But he’s definitely, his heart isn’t in it.

AISHA: The main subject of the film is this release self-help group. And then it’s intercut with interviews with someone from the socialist party talking about the political aspect of drug policy.

Then there’s some psychiatrists that they interviewed. So, you know, they, they were, they were trying to do something that was part documentary, but also a bit more avant garde where they had these montages.

ANDRÉS: Yeah. So basically, the worst part of the movie is the Timothy Leary interview.

[Laughter]

AISHA: It just doesn’t fit.

NEIL: They didn’t get the cameo they wanted.

AISHA: It doesn’t fit at all.

[Laughter]

ANDRÉS: At this point in the film, Timothy Leary’s statement had not really done what it was supposed to do.

ROBERT: I realized that he felt very bad, but the idea that he should condemn drugs.

AISHA: So, Leary tried to have it both ways., saying hard drugs are dangerous without saying so himself.

ROBERT: He said, and I remember these words, but wise observers tell me that there is this great problem from hard drugs.

AISHA: The wise observers being the filmmakers.

ROBERT: His statement was really a schas. Yeah.

ANDRÉS: That’s a shit in Viennese.

ROBERT: It has nothing to do with the brilliance of his books.

AISHA: Here’s Alexander’s take on it.

ALEXANDER: Timothy Leary, an immensely sympathetic man and a man with a lot of charisma probably had taken one too many of these field trips and his speech was not coherent.

So, when the recording was made, it was not very obvious what he wanted to say.

ANDRÉS: Quite the understatement on the statement, it spins out into all sorts of directions. Leary refers to people struggling with addiction as those who are mysteriously different.

AISHA: But he does give a pretty insightful assessment of the underlying reasons for substance abuse.

He criticizes the criminalization of addicts. He calls for empathy and understanding and treatment approaches. This all seems very obvious until you realize that in the early 1970s, many of the therapies were medieval. I actually think there’s some good stuff there. Even if it gets a bit delirious and lost.

ANDRÉS: Off screen, things were not looking good either. Timothy Leary was running out of money and planned to sell the Porsche. But then a friend of his showed up in Vienna, took it for a spin and crashed it on an icy road. The police let the friend walk away after he insisted he was president Nixon’s nephew. The story was so crazy, the officers were afraid it might be true.

Vienna was cold and dark and Leary was getting paranoid. Not without reason. Here’s Alexander.

ALEXANDER: The CIA started to stand watch outside our commune. When we would come down on the street, there were these unmistakable American agents who would look the other way when we pass by.

So we of course, we would approach them and say something like, excuse me, sir, could you tell us which time it is and things like that, just to let them know, you know. Then Joanna got, uh, jaundice, she became very yellow and was obviously not all right.

AISHA: No money, a mounting hotel bill and now hepatitis. The friend who had crashed the Porsche started selling Leary and Joanna on the idea of Afghanistan.

That’s where they should go. Warm, sunny Afghanistan. At the time Kabul was a mystical, magical stop on the hippie trail from Europe to India. Here’s Robert.

ROBERT: We saw that they left with the car from the Bristol Hotel next to the opera. I said, why don’t we drive to the airport and see what’s happening?

ANDRÉS: At the airport, Timothy and Joanna were getting ready to board a flight.

ALEXANDER: We were really more than surprised that he chose Afghanistan, because some of us had been to Afghanistan before, we knew Afghanistan. He obviously did not know.

AISHA: Robert and Alexander were confused why he would want to leave Austria, but Timothy Leary had made up his mind.

ROBERT: Robert, we have to do what we have to do, that’s what he said. I said, well, you are the master, it’s your life. But you know, once you leave neutral Austria, they will have you in no time and you go back to jail. Are you aware of that? And he said, we have to do what we have to do.

[Song playing]

ANDRÉS: And that is, of course exactly what happened.

Afghanistan didn’t have an extradition agreement with the U.S. either, but Nixon knew it was easier to play dirty in Afghanistan than an Austria. U.S. drug enforcement agents and embassy staff put together an elaborate plan and essentially kidnapped Timothy Leary on the runway in Kabul, flew him back to America and sent him to Folsom prison.

Alexander again.

ALEXANDER: We were of course, disappointed to hear that he had been arrested and flew back to the U.S.

AISHA: And Robert.

ROBERT: And then slowly the aftermath came. The bill from the Bristol hotel, you know, some 25,000 shillings.

AISHA: In today’s dollars, that would be about 10 grand.

ROBERT: If you have to do with big stars, that costs you, that’s how it is. He’s still the star and he has his statement and he will not get his asylum, but okay.

It’s part of the thing, maybe that was not so clever because it ruined the film, but okay. We promised it to the people who gave us the money we, we said we will do it. We did it. It’s okay.

AISHA: The film aired on Austrian television and played at a small brand-new cinema, the Freies Kino, which showed alternative and political films and was run by film students.

ROBERT: We also brought it to the festival in Cannes, so on the paper it looked nice. But if somebody is a cineaste, he might say from the cineaste point of view, this movie is not interesting. And he would be right. Yeah.

[Song playing]

ANDRÉS: The brief stay of Dr. Timothy Leary in Vienna is a tiny blip on the historical radar, an anecdote to tell friends at a dinner party, but it speaks to something greater. Underneath it all, the desire for change was rising to the surface and shaking Austria from its conservative slumber.

ALEXANDER: Just the idea that Kreisky himself would allow Leary to come to Austria shows the liberal spirit of that time.

Something that would not have been possible before Kreisky and maybe not possible after Kreisky.

ANDRÉS: Bruno Kreisky would serve four consecutive terms, three with an absolute majority from 1970 until 1983.

AISHA: The enormous public support allowed his government to produce a flood of legislation. Equal rights for women and marriage in the workplace, the 40-hour work week, free school books, free school buses.

His government legalized abortion, decriminalized homosexuality, and overhauled the antiquated legal system. And the changes that the student protesters like Alexander had demanded, those happened too. Students got a greater say in the university system and fees were abolished, making higher education accessible to all.

New streets and tunnels got built, the first subway and unemployment was just 2%, the lowest worldwide. Kreisky really believed in a fair, more just society that looked out for the welfare of all its citizens and put it into practice.

He also believed it was the best bulwark against extremism, which he had witnessed and suffered firsthand, but Kreisky didn’t work this miracle on his own.

Speaking to the Austrian people at an event later in life, he said this:

[Kreisky speaking]

ANDRÉS: Make sure you take good care of politics. Because politics is far too serious to leave in the hands of politicians alone.

ALEXANDER: Kreisky was the catalyst. He was very sensitive to the aspirations and the hopes and desires and the needs of people in the 20th century. It was a golden time of Austrian politics.

AISHA: It was astounding, really, that a country is conservative as Austria could make such a sudden leap forward.

[Kreisky speaking]

AISHA: Ever since I began thinking politically, my motto in life has been to push back against this notion of there’s nothing one can do, because you can always do something, in every situation.

Maybe he got so much done because he sat down and talked to everyone and listened. He talked to international leaders, even those vilified by others, he talked to Austrians.

Those who agreed with him and especially those who didn’t. He talked to people he’d meet on the street when he walked his dogs. And he talked to the students, even the radical ones. At a time when the world was a chaotic, tumultuous place, he gave people the feeling that he cared, that he was looking out for them.

ALEXANDER: Vienna did not lose its conservative dimensions, but much more space, much more participation was given to younger people. It still retained a lot of its conservative dimensions, especially in classical music, in the opera, in architecture, but added to that was a very lively, cultural change.

[Song playing]

ANDRÉS: The legacy of Bruno Kreisky is visible all over Vienna, not just in the squares and streets and parks named after him.

There’s even a rock band called Kreisky, but in Vienna, the international city with it’s United Nations office, the Kreisky era complex that dominates one side of the Danube and the Kreisky Forum for International Dialogue. In Vienna, the egalitarian city with a social safety net that has made it one of the top ranked cities to live, a university town with a vibrant community of local and international students.

And when the government tried to introduce tuition fees a few years ago, the students took to the streets in protest. Like many people, the way of life that Kreisky helped build, it’s part of them now.

AISHA: This got me thinking of conservatism and progressiveness in Vienna. The Vienna I knew as a kid in the eighties and early nineties, it didn’t have the wild sparkling energy of the city my uncle describes.

It still felt kind of gray and traditional and uptight. This was partly because the city didn’t clean it’s soot covered buildings as diligently as it does now, but it was also an attitude thing. Old ladies would yell at my cousin and me for playing on the lawn in the park. If we made noise on the tram, some old guy was guaranteed to say something, and it was usually something antisemitic.

So I decided to call my cousin Maja, who lives in LA now to see how she remembers it.

[Phone ringing]

AISHA: Hi. It is weird to speak to you in English

MAJA: Very weird. I feel like I’m speaking to my English teacher.

[Laughter]

AISHA: I asked her about the Vienna of our childhood.

MAJA: Vienna was this gray, little provincial town. There were more old people still, you know, that survived the war, old Nazis, you know.

I mean now there’s new Nazis, unfortunately, too. I think it has opened up a lot. In comparison to 20 years ago, growing up in the eighties, it’s a very different feel. It’s more, it’s more dynamic. It’s more open to young people. You have way more places where young people can go out.

ANDRÉS: It’s like the Kreisky years sowed the seeds for what Austria, but especially Vienna would become. But for a lot of people, it took a while to really see what was growing around them.

Remember everything happens 10 years later in Vienna. Something about that old joke holds true.

[Song playing]

AISHA: When you get down far enough, when you brush away the dust and dignity of old age, you see that a lot of the most emblematic stuff was pretty rebellious at first.

Mozart? He was the original rockstar. Cafes? Dens of dangerous thought that fueled revolutions. In the 1780s, police put radical coffee houses under surveillance.

ANDRÉS: Today, Viennese coffee culture is a UNESCO cultural heritage. Perception shift, even in Vienna. The radical spirit of the 1970s faded, but the changes solidified. Nowadays most locals have embraced the freedoms and social protections gained during the Kreisky era as part of their tradition.

AISHA: This all started with an old family anecdote, but along the way, it turned into something else. Behind the jokes, the fools mask, the historical blips, is an era of experimentation that opened up new worlds and possibilities.

Timothy Leary believed in the power of LSD and consciousness expansion. Bruno Kreisky believed in the power of dialogue and bringing democracy to every aspect of society. We live in a time when too many of our politicians are idiots, demagogues, and opportunists and Bruno Kreisky reminds me that we can do better.

Like one of my younger cousins said, what we need is another Kreisky, better yet a female Kreisky.

ANDRÉS: On the surface, Leary and Kreisky are very different. But the more time we spent with them, the more similarities we saw. They were both deeply loved or fiercely hated. They were here hailed as gods, priests and prophets.

They weren’t gods, of course, or even saints, but they did have a vision. They were ahead of their time. The true avant garde.

AISHA: What stood out for me more than anything was their belief that they were building a better and freer world. I don’t know what Dr. Leary and Dr. Kreisky would have talked about if they’d ever met. The prankster and the diplomat, maybe a bunch of filmmakers they both knew or about the need to dream, to dream better.

ANDRÉS: The nostalgia for the city is one thing. But then what about your relationship to, you know, that, your parents’ generation and that whole thing that went down.

AISHA: When I was in my twenties, I definitely, I felt so envious. I was like, you guys got to do all these amazing things. You know, there was a moment where you could just be very free and very reckless and try all these things that had never been tried before.

So there was no consequence or darkness to it yet because it hadn’t been tried before. You know, just being the ones to break the mold. But now that I’m older, I feel that it was also, I mean, I’m glad I didn’t grow up in postwar Vienna, you know, I’m glad I didn’t have the childhood in that era because they had to break the mold because that mold was so dark and like a straight jacket.

So, you know, I think I’ve had, I have a more nuanced appreciation of what they did, but I definitely appreciate what they did.

ANDRÉS: And what about with the, in terms of the anecdote of Leary?

AISHA: I think I went in feeling that Leary, you know, having more of like a superficial, Leary’s a bit of a joke attitude about him.

ANDRÉS: Right.

AISHA: And I think actually researching the story, I come out feeling a greater sympathy for him, even though he is a very complicated individual. And I think there’s some big shadow areas in his story that actually have less to do with, with his founding and LSD religion.

ANDRÉS: Yeah.

AISHA: Um, but I, I think I developed a much more sympathetic appreciation for him.

And Kreisky, I loved going in and I love him more now.

[Laughter]

NEIL: I love Kreisky. Jesus.

ANDRÉS: The thing about Kreisky that’s fantastic is that he seems like a real person who actually is present and gives a shit.

NEIL: He’s a man who would like pick you up if you ever fell down a flight of airplanes steps.

ANDRÉS: Even if you were Gerald Ford and couldn’t chew gum and walk at the same time, which is true, look it up.

[Song playing]

ANDRÉS: All right. Here are this week’s saved pins for your trippy trip to Vienna.

Number one. Have a coffee at the Hawelka Cafe. The Hawelka is a classic Viennese café, where the art scene gathered from the mid-50s to the 70s, attracting writers, artists, cabaret performers, and our accidental filmmakers. Located in the old city center, it’s close to the Jewish Museum and the iconic St. Stephens cathedral.

NEIL: Number two, watch The Third Man at the Burgkino. Take another trip back in time with this 1949 film noir sent in postwar Vienna. Written by Graham Greene, directed by Carol Reed and starring Joseph Cotton and Orson Wells.

ANDRÉS: Number three, visit Bruno Kreisky Street in the 1st district.

This small street in the old city center meets the Ballhausplatz, home to a baroque palace that houses the Office of the Federal Chancellor, where our Bruno Kreisky spent countless hours. The Hofburg, the old imperial winter residence, is just around the corner, smack dab in the middle of the most classical of Viennese neighborhoods.

NEIL: Number four. Walk around the Augarten.

There’s lots to see in this public park: the city’s oldest baroque garden with ornamental flower beds and tree-lined promenades, two enormous WWII anti-aircraft bunkers, and the Film Archive Austria, which hosts an outdoor cinema in the summer months. The Karmeliter district – the historical Jewish quarter – is close by and has lots of good places to eat.

ANDRÉS: Number five, of course, is the Bristol Hotel. The Bristol Hotel still exists. This art deco grandam, where Timothy Leary left a huge hotel tab sits across from the Viennese state opera and has rooms named after famous singers, conductors and composers. U.S. forces occupied the hotel after World War II and the Bristol bar was popular with American diplomats and officers during the Cold War.

So, if you want to get a little bit of that layered Viennese history, this is the place to visit.

NEIL: That’s it for this week, guys. Thanks so much for listening. Next week, we’re headed to Oaxaca, Mexico, for very special look at the day of the dead. It’s history and it’s ever changing face and what it means for the country. We’ll see you next week.

This episode of Passport was written by Aisha Prigann, produced by Aisha Prigann and Andrés Bartos, and edited by Harry Stott and myself.

Big thanks to Alexander David, Robert Horn, and Maja David Shipp for sharing their stories.

To Alina Lerias and Kira David, and a special thanks to Michael Brauner. Helene Maimann’s excellent documentary and book about Bruno Kreisky were important sources for this piece. You’ll find more about them in the show notes.

The music on this episode was written by the wonderful Nick Turner, with extra tunes from The Moody Blues, Frankie Wa, Glad Rags, CTS, Louis, Johan Strauss and Dmitri Shostakovich.

The show is mixed and mastered by Julian Kwasneski.

Eliza Engel is our production assistant.

Stacey Book, Dominique Ferrari and Avi Glijansky are in a canary yellow Porsche chasing down the best chocolate balls in Vienna. They also executive produce the show.

Which is hosted by me, and a man who sometimes floats in a big fantastical egg and always waltzes in a fool’s mask, Andrés Bartos.

We’ll see you in the next place.

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© 2018, Frequency Machine Studios.
© 2018, Frequency Machine Studios.