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CHRISTIANE HÖRBIGER – AN EXTRAORDINARY WOMAN

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The life of legendary actress Christiane Hörbiger (1938 – 2022) was this: theatre, television, film and even a foray into publishing. A life undoubtedly full of satisfaction, but also with many challenges.

Talent and charm

Theatre, film, television but also charity, publishing and confectionery. These, in no particular order, are all the lives lived by Christiane Hörbiger, the legendary Austrian actress who passed away in her Vienna, at the age of 84, on November 30, 2022. From the Max-Reinhardt-Seminar, a true institution in the city, to the Romy for Lifetime Achievement in 2009, the career of the actress in the TV series Julia – Eine ungewöhnliche Frau was long and eventful, though often difficult, perhaps due to a merciless fate.

Like her parents

The second child of Attila Hörbiger and Paula Wessely, themselves cult actors, Christiane Hörbiger was born in 1938 in Vienna, newly annexed to National Socialist Germany, and spent most of her life there, contradicting the saying nemo propheta in patria that had claimed so many ‘victims’. Despite their careers, both parents advised young Christiane first to do an apprenticeship as a pastry cook and then to join Max-Reinhardt-Seminar, when her desire to become an actress became clear, just like those parents who, in the end, supported that choice.

Soon afterwards, after leaving the seminary for the filming of the drama Crown Prince Rudolph’s Last Love (Rudolf Jugert, 1956), Christiane Hörbiger got her first important role, playing Prince Rudolph’s last love, that Mary Vetsera who would die with him on the tragic evening of the Mayerling incident in 1889.

The debut

In the Ringstraße, and more precisely on the stage of the Burgtheater, she made her live debut in 1959 with Gotthold Lessing’s play Nathan the Wise, set in Jerusalem during the Third Crusade. The experience turned out to be negative, however, and the critics, who were not exactly constructive, convinced her that an experience abroad would probably be the right choice. So it was that the Städtischen Bühnen in Heidelberg was to be a sort of “Erasmus” for her, eager to prove her acting qualities by moving away from her “cumbersome” family of actors, as her sisters Elisabeth and Maresa had also decided to follow the same path as her parents.

After enjoying great success in Salzburg, where she starred in Ferdinand Raimund’s play Der Bauer als Millionär alongside her mother, Christiane finally received the right aknowledgement when she returned to the Burgtheater in Vienna, again performing in Lessing’s play. Further proof of the excellent work done, first and foremost on herself.

Success

Having left Vienna for the second time, for the same reason that had prompted her earlier departure, Christiane Hörbiger began to work at the Schauspielhaus in Zurich from 1967 onwards by performing both the greatest classics of German theatre, including works by Schiller and Lessing, and more modern Viennese plays by Schnitzler, Nestroy and von Hofmannsthal.

The great recognition usually comes with the extreme popularity that only television can provide. And in Christiane Hörbiger’s career, it was no different, since it was from the series The Legacy of Guldenburgs onwards that her face, beautiful and austere at the same time, became the symbol of strong, self-aware women.

As with the Countess Christine von Guldenburg, whom she masterfully played, having to face the most diverse adversities and doing so with great self-confidence will be the common thread linking many of her other, albeit different, roles. Just think of the Oscar-nominated dark drama Schtonk! (Helmut Dietl, 1992) or the typically Austrian comedy A Touch of Spice (Xaver Schwarzenberger, 1994), both of which were acclaimed by audiences and critics.

Rolling credits: Auf Wiedersehen!

Christiane Hörbiger’s life is all here: theatre, television, film and even a foray into publishing with Ich bin der weiße Clown (2008), an autobiography complete with 117 photographs and edited as a kind of curriculum vitae, with all her roles played on stage and before the camera. Following the mantra ‘I have to be the white clown, devoted to work, serious and poetic at the same time: I have to take what I play seriously’, the book recounts her life, made up of little and great moments, joys and sadnesses, success and fears, in an attempt, above all recommended, to enjoy life in every moment, every day more and more. In a nutshell, what she tried to do, after several awards, a tribute to her iconic career, a role as Unicef ambassador, a great commitment in the fight against cancer, two marriages, a beloved son and a last, important relationship with famous director and author Gerhard Tötschinger, whose sudden death also marked the beginning of the end of Christiane Hörbiger, who died, it is said, of a broken heart.

Her final resting place is at the Wiener Zentralfriedhof, in an honour grave in group 33G at number 19, and paying their respects were, among others, former president Heinz Fischer and several municipal representatives, further proving the close bond with her hometown.

Info: the page of Christiane Hörbiger on iMDb