Christopher Wendt, March 24th 2021
This childlike aping of official measures, that perhaps in foreign states might prove themselves to be necessary and useful, testifies to the Viennese government’s fervor for issuing orders without having itself come to clarity over the consequences of these nonsensical decrees. Hereby the Viennese government renders by itself the best proof of the incompetence and intolerability of its governance.
The whole population therefore rightly demands to finally be released from red Vienna, which is only the playground of selfish and all-powerful soldiers’ and workers’ councils, which find their only purpose in life in wrangling the modest, virtuous, industrious, and fatherland-loving people of the Alpine lands in the bindings of egoism, in order to erode their beggarly existence through the spirit of Bolshevism to the point of insufferableness.
With these bitter words, Josef Alois Probst, the mayor of the small Tyrolean town of Landeck, in the Upper Inn Valley, harangued what he perceived to be the callous overreach of the Austrian central government in late March of 1920. Charges of unjustified external intrusion into internal Tyrolean affairs were of course nothing new to the province’s politics. Especially under the empire, a sense of Tyrolean particularity was fostered that was based on the protection of certain rights and privileges. Historically, these rights included the exclusive protection of the Catholic faith and limitations on Tyrolean militia being deployed beyond the defense of its own borders. These contributed to impulses for maintaining a measure of autonomy for the crownland within the monarchy, and these currents carried over into the republic.
Landeck, in the Upper Inn Valley, around 1915.
(Bildarchiv Austria – ÖNB: 69.630 B)
But what exactly was the measure that the Landeck administration was protesting? Was the province actually being governed by the Viennese “councils,” acting in full disregard of Tyrolean customs? In truth, despite the charged language present in the petition, its authors were protesting something much more mundane, but which had to do exactly with the season in which we are now (gradually) transitioning towards: summer. They were protesting the annual reintroduction of daylight savings time, or Sommerzeit.
Daylight savings time was first introduced midway through the First World War by the core Central Powers, the German Empire and the Habsburg Monarchy, as a way to save energy and maximize the efficiency of workers. Accordingly, from May 1 through September 30, 1916, the clocks were moved forward an hour, meaning that—as is usual today—waking hours were centered around daylight.
Across parts of Austria-Hungary (and Germany, for that matter), the new measures were often met with skepticism, confusion, and disapproval. Whereas commentators grasped parts of the rationale behind Sommerzeit, they wondered if the benefits gained from moving the clocks forward actually appeared in practice. Further, there was a perception that disruptions to such a basic thing as time, especially during a period defined by the ongoing deprivation and insecurity of war, might only further increase everyday hardships for normal people.
An article in the liberal Innsbrucker Nachrichten that appeared in late September 1916 to mark the end of the first period of Sommerzeit made just these points in arguing that a full review of the costs and benefits of the clock-changing measures was necessary. As the author explained, the point of Sommerzeit was first and foremost to win an extra hour of daylight for workers. By starting and finishing earlier during the summer, it was hoped that they could make better use of natural light, preserving fuel and lighting materials. Besides the material concerns, there was a moral argument (or at least aspiration) to be made. As the paper explained, it was hoped that by providing workers and officials with more daylight in their post-work hours, they would take up healthier and less wasteful pursuits than spending their time in coffee houses or taverns.
Although these were the grounds for introducing daylight savings’ time, the author found that its end results left much to be desired. If in high summer the time change offered workers more natural light, come September artificial light was needed for the mornings. Sommerzeit also apparently caused problems in schools, where younger children were going “sleepily” to their classrooms. Worst, however, was the opinion of those involved in agriculture, who saw Sommerzeit as the “violation of the naturally ordered, astronomical time.” As the article explained, farmers were accustomed to beginning work at a certain hour and continuing until dark. Moving this hour earlier effectively created a longer workday and disrupted the normal rhythms on the farm. For example, cows that, following the “law of nature,” were accustomed to being roused later became ornery and refused to be milked.
Then there was the question as to how far Sommerzeit had actually been implemented across Tyrol in 1916. In the Eastern Puster Valley (Pustertal), it was reported that farmers had held to their old hours through the summer and greeted October 1 as the return to the “good, old time.” The paper also claimed that in most cases, parish priests had continued to hold masses at their accustomed hour, meaning one hour later than usual with the new Sommerzeit. Although the article professed that more information was needed before deciding whether this new invention should be resumed the following year, it admitted “that in our area the voices of rejection [of Sommerzeit] far exceed those of praise.”
“The End of Sommerzeit.”
Headline from the Innsbrucker Nachrichten
Despite the apparent dissatisfaction that it inspired, particularly in rural areas of Austria, Sommerzeit was renewed by the imperial government in 1917 and 1918. With the end of the war and the monarchy’s collapse, it might be expected that this measure would be abandoned. However, per central government decree, Sommerzeit was reintroduced on April 28, 1919, to last until September 29. By the time it came into effect, however, some provincial governments had already decided that they would take a different course. A telegram from Klagenfurt to Innsbruck from April 17 announced, for example, that Sommerzeit would not be enacted in Carinthia that year.
In Austrian Tyrol—that part of the crownland not fully occupied by Italy after November 1918—local mobilization against Sommerzeit also began early. Already in March, complaints from municipal councils in Kitzbühel and Schwaz made their way to the provincial government in Innsbruck. The letter from Kitzbühel, signed by its mayor, charged that the clock-changing measures were “totally worthless” in the countryside and urged that “it was time to do away with this memento left over to us from the war.” In the end, Austrian Sommerzeit in 1919 lasted a little more than a week before it was retracted by Vienna.
Perhaps it was the expectation that time would remain as it always had been in the summer of 1920—that the “good, old time” was here to stay—that brought forth the energetic, defensive reaction from parts of the Tyrolean population to the news that Sommerzeit would return that year. The municipal leaders from Landeck, who had strongly disparaged the measures as signs of socialist Vienna’s overreach, were therefore not alone in their displeasure over the time shift, which was to last from April 5 through September 13. A petition from Lienz in East Tyrol calling for the clocks to be turned back warned that “this remnant of the war (Kriegsüberbleibsel) remains among the population still from the last years a bad memory.” Further, it intoned that while one could easily set the times for trains and office appointments one hour earlier, “never…does nature allow itself to be forced into such a sham.”
Likewise, in mid-May, the municipal council of Schwaz, downriver of Innsbruck in the Lower Inn Valley, also called for a return to the “old time.” Within, council members noted that a local reversion had already been made, “since from all circles of the population complaints and grievances flowed steadily in.” The petition named three particular points of friction resulting from Sommerzeit that had compelled it to return Schwaz to the “old time.” First, families with many children had trouble getting them off to school. Second, farmers were split between the “new time” held by the school and church, and the “old time” maintained in their farm labor. Third, the district itself was split by the time change: only in more urbane Schwaz was Sommerzeit actually recognized, while in the countryside the “old time” reigned—a circumstance that led to continual “disorder.” Echoing a common refrain, the municipal council cautioned that “one should prudently not violate the laws of nature.”
Schwaz, in the Lower Inn Valley, around 1910.
(Bildarchiv Austria – ÖNB/Mzik 186.275 B)
A worried report from the district captain of Landeck district reveals that similar circumstances prevailed also in the western end of Tyrol. Despite repeated calls for rural municipalities and parish churches to set their clocks to Sommerzeit, none had apparently done so, and the official professed he harbored “no illusions” that further admonitions to this end would have any effect. As he wrote to Innsbruck, “the current situation, which has been brought about through [Sommerzeit], that only the public—better said, state—offices and institutions, such as the post, railway, etc. follow Sommerzeit, while all local factors (church, school, municipality, etc.) ignore it, gives occasion to numerous confusions and misunderstandings.” The municipal administration in the city of Landeck—from which Mayor Probst’s complaint originated—had already decided on April 8 (a full 3 days into Sommerzeit) to rescind the measure and to return the town’s official clock to its old time, apparently with the support of local factory owners. Facing a upswell of public dissatisfaction, the district captain closed his report by cautioning his superiors against using coercive measures to enforce an obviously unpopular measure, and enquiring whether it would not be better to revert local state offices back to the old time.
Meanwhile, regional politicians and the leaders of the Tyrolean provincial government had taken notice of the growing popular dissatisfaction to Sommerzeit. Already in mid-April, Hans Peer, a member of the Tyrolean People’s Party (Tiroler Volkspartei – Tyrol’s Christian Social Party) introduced an emergency motion in the regional parliament (Landtag) that called on Innsbruck to pressure Vienna into ending Sommerzeit, and appealed to the Tyrolean government to adjust its official hours back to the old time. Indeed, on May 1, 1920, provincial authorities directed a message to Chancellor Karl Renner himself, in which they laid out their objections to Sommerzeit, and explained that Tyrol would soon do away with the measure on its own if the Austrian federal government did not act first—a threat that was carried out on May 14. Accordingly, Sommerzeit in Austrian Tyrol officially ended on May 24, 1920, with the exception of clocks that regulated the state railways and the postal service.
After 1920, Sommerzeit did not return to Tyrol for the remainder of the First Republic. While the decision not to institute Sommerzeit, even for the railways, may have been partly influenced by the decisively negative local reaction of past years, it was also shaped by the needs of international travel and commerce. As the Innsbrucker Nachrichten noted in February 1921, since Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Switzerland—countries with strong transit links to Austria—had decided against changing the clocks that year, it made little sense for Austria to do so either. In fact, it was only in 1940, after Nazi Germany had annexed Austria in 1938, that Sommerzeit was reinstituted, again as a wartime measure. Once more, however, it failed to stick, and was discontinued after 1948. Finally, in 1979 the measure was reimplemented, and it has continued through today after being standardized within the European Union. The story does not end there, though, as over the last few years Sommerzeit has again returned as a matter of controversy at the European level.
Turning back to earlier times, however, I believe that these post-war conflicts over Sommerzeit help to make clear some of the fault lines around (and within) Tyrolean society that opened as the Habsburg Monarchy began to split apart, and further how these were transformed in the early days of the First Austrian Republic.
Opposition to Sommerzeit initially arose as the clock changing was perceived as another incomprehensible and pernicious wartime measure. Like the requisitions, price controls, and rationing, it was seen to primarily hurt the common people. Further, the fact that rural farmers felt most affected and perceived Sommerzeit to be “against nature” itself intensified opposition to this decree “from Vienna.” However, as long as the empire, its war, and its resultant unpopular measures prevailed, there was little that locals could do officially against the measure.
With the end of the war and the founding of the Republic of (German-)Austria, however, the context shifted. Now, Sommerzeit was saddled with a dual negative connotation. On the one hand, it served as a cruel reminder of the war and, I would venture, of the failings of a monarchy that had dared to challenge the sacred notion of time itself. On the other hand, with Social Democrats occupying high places in the republican central government in Vienna, and anxieties over a coming revolution commonplace in Tyrol, it became easier to see Sommerzeit as an intrusion of this alien, foreign authority into the provinces. Sommerzeit therefore became a site of the emerging cultural conflict between Vienna and rural Austria, a conflict that, especially in Tyrol, connected easily to older concerns regarding provincial autonomy. The fact that two sets of time came to be used—the official Sommerzeit for state institutions and services, and the “old time” for everyday local life—tangibly demonstrated that distinct societies existed within one cobbled-together state. After all, rural Tyrol and Vienna were literally running on different clocks.
Beyond the gulf between Tyrol and Vienna exposed and encouraged by Sommerzeit, however, the clock changing also pulled at existing cleavages within Tyrolean society. Although it seems that most municipal administrations came to join rural representatives in calling for the abolition of Sommerzeit (as happened in Kitzbühel), urban officials and employees generally had an easier time adapting to the changes than did famers in the countryside. City- and townsfolk were also more likely to abide by Sommerzeit, which meant that, as the district captain of Landeck explained, for a short while two different sets of time also existed in Tyrol, splitting the province. In the early post-war years of ongoing shortages and material deprivation, and when food from the countryside was still being funneled to cities by government order (on this, see the earlier blog post “Summer 1919 in (German-)Austrian Tyrol”), these competing notions of time surely contributed to the heightened urban-rural tensions within Tyrol itself.
Next to all of this, however, it seems that many Tyroleans were driven to reject Sommerzeit and yearn for a return to the remembered “old time” by their desire for a return to normality in the summer of 1920. As we continue to live through uncertain times in the runup to the summer of 2021, this is a desire that we can all well understand ourselves.
Tiroler Landesarchiv (TLA), Amt der Tiroler Landesregierung (ATLR), Präsidium 1919 I.6.a-1051 Sommerzeit – Wiedereinführung im Jahre 1919
TLA, ATLR, Präsidium 1920 I.6.a-1072 – Sommerzeit
 I thank Sven Mörsdorf (PhD Researcher, EUI) for his careful help with correcting my English translation of this text, the German version of which is as follows:
“Diese kindische Nachäfferei von Verordnungsmassnahmen, die sich möglicherweise in fremdländischen Staaten als notwendig und nutzbar erweisen können, [zeugt] von der Verordnungswut der Wiener Regierung ohne auch über die Folgen dieser unsinnigen Verfügungen sich Klarheit verschafft zu haben. Die Wiener Regierung erbringt hierdurch von selbst den besten Nachweis über die Unfähigkeit und Unerträglichkeit ihrer Regierungsweise.
Die gesamte Bevölkerung fordert daher mit Recht, die endliche Lösung von dem roten Wien, das nur mehr der Tummelplatz selbstsüchtiger und allmächtiger Soldaten- und Arbeitersräte ist, die ihren Lebenszweck nur darin zu finden glauben, dem biederen, rechtschaffenen, arbeitswilligen und vaterlandsliebenden Volk der Alpenländer das Schnürseil der Selbstsucht zu drehen, um im Geiste des Bolschewismus noch das Bettlerdasein bis zur Unerträglichkeit zu vergällen.”
 Vanessa Ogle, The Global Transformation of Time: 1870-1950 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2015), 51. Ogle also discusses at length the debates and conflicts that arose over daylight savings in Britain, Germany, and France, as well as the deeper history of the measure, which well predated the war. See Chapter Two: Saving Social Time, and especially pp. 49–61.
 Claire Morelon, “Sounds of Loss: Church Bells, Place, and Time in the Habsburg Empire During the First World War,” Past & Present 244, no. 1 (August 1, 2019): 227–28.
 “Das Ende der Sommerzeit,” Innsbrucker Nachrichten, no. 451, September 29, 1916, p. 9.
 “Die Einführung der Sommerzeit widerrufen,” Reichspost, no. 195, April 26, 1919, p. 6.
 “Aufhebung der Sommerzeit.” Allgemeiner Tiroler Anzeiger, no. 84, April 14, 1920, pp. 2–3.
 “Die Sommerzeit.” Innsbrucker Nachrichten, no. 113, May 20, 1920, p. 3.
 “Sommerzeit im Postverkehre.” Innsbrucker Nachrichten, no. 116, May 25, 1920, p. 6.
 Nor, I believe, to the rest of Austria. In 1921 there was discussion of introducing Sommerzeit only for Vienna, a proposition that, according to one bemused Reichspost commentator, would make “Social Democratic Vienna one curiosity richer.” See “Die Sommerzeit für Wien?” Reichspost, no. 130, May 13, 1921, p. 6.
 “Keine Sommerzeit auf den Eisenbahnen.” Innsbrucker Nachrichten, no. 38, February 17, 1921, p. 2.