The world of Dr. Otto and Maria Lenz

The island doctor, Dr. Otto Lenz, lived and worked in the boathouse, where he spent more than 30 years with his family.

Dr. Otto Lenz was born on November 29, 1872 in Vienna, where he also completed his medical studies and specialized in psychiatry. He first came to the island of Brioni in February/March 1901, five years before his meeting with Maria, accompanied by a patient suffering from typhoid fever. That patient was the nephew of Dr. Heinrich Obersteiner, the renowned Viennese psychiatrist and owner of the Vienna-Döbling Hospital, where Dr. Lenz worked as a young assistant doctor. Already at that time the island fascinated him. Two years later Paul Kupelwieser was looking for a physician who would take care of the health of the island’s guests and the locals and offered Dr. Lenz the position which he gladly and immediately accepted. He began his service in Brioni on February 3, 1903 after he had spent a few weeks at the “Institute for Infectious Diseases” under Dr. Robert Koch in Berlin to study various methods of malaria treatment. Fortunately, he never had to use that knowledge because no new disease has occurred since 1901. At first, he stayed in the then still very small and uncomfortable hotel “Brioni”, but soon moved to an unusual domicile, where he also set up his practice. The so-called “boat house”, built above the boat mooring, which is above the sea, was an early work of the Otto Wagner pupil Eduard Kramer.

Maria Lenz was born in Triest on August 5, 1885 as the youngest child of the forestry engineer Hermann von Guttenberg. Her father was commissioned to progress and to supervise the reforestation of the kart region in the southern parts of the Austrian monarchy. On his round trips, he immediately realized the scenic attractions of the savaged Brioni Islands and, returning home, enthusiastically told about the possibility of their cultivation, so that the name Brioni was already familiar to the girl Maria before she was eight years old. The family then moved to Graz, where the father took up a new position. The children of the “Oberforstrat” began their education there. Her sister Rosa (1878 – 1959) chose painting, her brother Hermann (1881 – 1969) botany, and Maria music. A short summer stay in Brioni in August 1906, accompanied by her brother, gave her life a completely new direction and ended her successful musical studies. She met the local doctor Otto Lenz in the new up-and-coming spa town, and her three-day stay in romantic surroundings changed her life plans.

Less than a year after that stay, Maria and Dr. Otto Lenz entered into marriage in the chapel “San Rocco”. She left Graz and returned to her beloved south, became a “Frau Doktor” and exchanged her music career with the life of a wife and assistant of the spa physician. The beauty of the island and her love for nature on the one hand and on the other hand the opportunity to take part in many new social obligations were the reasons why she had never regretted that decision. Although she was aware of her unusual role and the peculiarity of her new home and working conditions, she had no idea how many unforeseen experiences and incidents she would expect. During the thirty years, she spent on the Adriatic Sea, she came into contact with numerous personalities of the time: rulers and their entourage, leaders, politicians, writers, actors, painters, archaeologists, physicians, chemists, physicists, biologists, zoologists, Nobel laureates and many others.

At the time of Mary’s arrival there were only two hotels: the small and modest Hotel “Brioni”, built in 1897/1898, and the Hotel “Neptun I”, completed in April 1906, which made it possible to accommodate a larger number of guests. In the past, the island was mainly visited by “friends of Brioni”, lovers of Mediterranean nature or ancient places where something was found, who had stayed uncomfortably, but whose number had increased from year to year. Among them were well-known physicians, scientists, researchers, painters and writers, who at the beginning sought rest and recreation, especially in the colder months of the year. From that time on, the season was extended to the whole year, because the train connection between Vienna and Pula was improved, regular shipping between Brioni and Pula was established and the island’s infrastructure was developed to such an extent that it gained a significant reputation as a climatic health resort.

The year 1906 was a particularly important year for “tourism advertising”. In the spring of that year Archduchess Maria Josepha spent three weeks on Brioni, which played a vital role in the stability of her health. She was the first high guest from the Viennese court and did not miss to spread the reputation of the island as a climatic health resort in the capital of the monarchy. Despite the modest accommodation in the Hotel “Neptune I”, located among the farm buildings and where she stayed until the luxurious “Neptune II” was built, the Archduchess remained faithful to the island until the First World War and was regarded as the patron of Brioni for her merits in promoting the spa. Four years later, in February 1910, the heir to the throne, Franz Ferdinand, arrived on Brioni with his family for two spring months which finally consolidated the island’s reputation as an elite holiday destination. That extended stay of the members of the imperial family aroused a tremendous interest in that new holiday destination. Despite those extraordinarily good prospects for the future, the island administration was aware, according to the newspaper reports, that Brioni’s future could only lie in environmentally friendly, “gentle tourism for everyone” and that the existing accommodation facilities would therefore have to be adapted to modern standards, meaning that not only new buildings would have to be planned. Thus, the concept of the project, according to which the construction activity should be limited to the northern part of the island, close to the harbour, in order to preserve and protect the natural beauties of the island in the best possible way, was implemented by the owner from the very beginning.

Tourism grew from year to year. The journey from Vienna to Pula was shortened to 13 hours by the introduction of the express train, and in 1911 sleeping cars were added, which were specially sponsored for the guests of the island by the spa administration. The latest fashion at that time was to have trains with a wagon restaurant. Thanks to regular shipping, Brioni was connected not only with the cities of the eastern Adriatic coast, but also with Venice and via Triest even with Alexandria in Egypt.

From 1903 to 1910 the number of visitors hardly worth mentioning at the beginning had risen to 2500 guests only thanks to verbal propaganda, which means without any advertising. In order to satisfy the demands of the new clientele, further luxury hotels were built, whose noble guests came from the highest aristocratic, industrial and artistic circles. At the end of 1910 the hotel “Neptun II” was opened, with superior rooms with loggia, so that also “the highest social classes could enjoy the accommodation they deserved”. Two years later, towards the end of 1912 (during that year 500 guests were refused due to the lack of accommodation), the hotel “Neptun III” was completed and could host 300 guests. At that time, it was an extremely luxurious object, equipped with marble and plush, bathrooms with fresh water as well as sea water and its own elevator. In addition to a number of magnificent salons, that new house also had a cinema with 130 seats. With the expansion of Neptun III, the hotel capacity was doubled, so that Brioni with its five hotels could already host 550 guests. In 1913, the architecturally well-designed indoor swimming pool was built – for a long time the only one on the Adriatic Sea with warm sea water and various therapeutic options. The attractive seaside resort in the Saluga bay was extended, and with its 180 cabins, sun terraces and air baths, it was one of the best-equipped bathing establishments in southern Austria at the time. The offers of the hotels were varied. Numerous festivals, games, bicycle rides, carriage rides etc. were organized. The small Brioni fleet even included 7 small steamers in 1913; excursions to interesting places in the surrounding area were organized. Concerts were held in the evenings on the large terrace of the hotel “Carmen”. At the beginning, merely the military orchestra played, from 1912 onwards also the academic quartet Bauer, which, according to the island newspapers, “besides entertaining the guests, could also be a true artistic experience”. The many sporting activities included sailing regattas, tennis tournaments, swimming competitions, hunting and fishing accompanied by local fishermen. Observation towers and many sights invited the guests to long walks through the most beautiful nature, including old quarries where exotic flora was planted. The archaeological excavations from prehistoric, Roman and early Christian times, carried out over many years, also aroused great interest. The “Zoological Garden” was opened on the island in 1911. Hagenbeck’s acclimatization station, bird watching stations and an ostrich farm completed the zoological attractions.

The expansion of the hotel capacity resulted in the corresponding expansion of the ancillary businesses. The power station, the cold store, the modern steam laundry with the public bath, new stables and workshops were built. Next to the workers’ buildings, there was a “boccia” playground and an inn, and there was even a one-class school. All that was planned very carefully on the northern side of the island, respecting the natural environment, and over the years the new hotels have created a harmonious and pleasant location. The spiritual needs of the guests and the more than three hundred locals were also cared for. In 1912, Father Franz Krallinger was called to Brioni as pastor.

In addition to the guests from the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, guests from Germany and Russia also began to discover Brioni, so that the island soon gained the reputation of an international spa and holiday resort. Even congresses took place. Brioni became the elite destination in the south of Austria in a short time due to its special location and its extraordinary attractions.

The German-language newspaper “Inselzeitung Brioni” was published from 1910 to 1914, 40 times a year: weekly from mid-February to the end of October, monthly in winter. The editor-in-chief was Otto Buchsbaum and from 1913 onwards Siegmund Oswald Fangor. The great interest of the guests in Brioni was the reason for the editorial staff to conduct a survey of the impressions of the visitors as early as in 1911. The evaluation of the survey shows that a large number of the interviewed visitors were most impressed by the natural beauty of the island. Later, editor-in-chief Siegmund Oswald Fangor suggested writing a visitors’ register. According to him, until 1911 Brioni was visited by many noblemen, scientists, painters, writers, musicians, theatre actors, archaeologists and many others who, “enchanted by Brioni, carried the fame of that island to the smallest town in Central Europe”. Many “Brioni friends” praised that enchanting island in Viennese social circles, and in addition to those verbal propagandists, a number of exhibitions were also organized to make the holiday destination more popular. In addition, there was written a lot about Brioni; numerous articles appeared in various Austrian and German newspapers and magazines, natural and cultural treasures as well as other sights were the subject of many poems and novels. The most wonderful descriptions were found in the novel “Schmerzen der Jugend” (“Pains of Youth”) by Alice Schalek (she became the first and only Austrian war correspondent in the First World War) and in the book “Brioni” by Maria Stanek, which she dedicated to her beloved uncle Paul Kupelwieser, “the owner and inventor of Brioni”, “as a reminder of the beautiful days she spent on the island”.

The brilliant development of Brioni and the pleasant family life of the Lenz couple were abruptly interrupted by the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. The hotels, which were already prepared for the new season, had no guests, and the available food supplies went to the soldiers, who then populated the island in large numbers. The Brioni archipelago was in fact the strategically most important point for the defence of Pula, the monarchy’s number one port of war; fortifications had been built there since the second half of the 19th century. During peacetime, the batteries used to be stationed in the central part of the island, in the Tegetthoff fortress, in the southern part of Peneda and in the largest fort on the island of Brioni Minore. Paul Kupelwieser organized relations with the military by means of instructions published in the Pula newspaper as early as in August 1906, “The military may only use certain paths; entering meadows, fields, vineyards, picking flowers or tearing down branches, digging out autochthonous or planted plants is strictly forbidden; entering fenced gardens, cellars, stables and machine halls requires a special permit, even when accompanied by a servant; the theft or appropriation of ancient finds is also strictly forbidden; dogs are not allowed, in exceptional cases they must be kept on a lead, otherwise the hunting regulations will be followed; contamination of the parks and the port is forbidden; special attention must be paid to observing public morals; due to the risk of fire it is strictly forbidden to throw matches, cigars and cigarette butts to the ground…”. 

During the war, more than 2000 officers and soldiers were stationed in the fortresses (and in the hotels) (according to Paul Kupelwieser even 2650!). Because of the immediate danger of war, women and children were evacuated from the Pula district, and Maria and her son had to leave the island and travel to the hinterland. At the same time, Dr. Lenz was the first civilian to volunteer for service at Peneda Fort, the southernmost fortress on Brioni. So, the Lenz family spent most of the war years separated. Maria Lenz with her child in the hinterland, her husband in an endangered area. From time to time she was allowed to visit her husband with a special permit, and Brioni always appeared to her as a paradise. There were no serious acts of war there, and the daily routine differed pleasantly from that in the hinterland. Dr. Lenz ran a small outpatient department, located in the premises of a nearby hotel in the central part of the harbour, between the Neptune I Hotel and the Villa Kupelwieser. In the large loggia of the hotel the outpatient department and the operating theatre were accommodated, in the rear rooms 25 sickbeds. The “war outpatient department” was always full, although the patients were not injured during the war, but in service. At the same time, Dr. Lenz also treated “the silent inhabitant of the neighbouring house”, Maria Kupelwieser, wife of the owner, who died on the island in November 1915 at the age of 65. Just before the end of the war, the family was finally reunited. After that, big changes followed.

Although the islands remained in the possession of the Kupelwieser family, according to the Rapallo treaties they came under Italian rule. The Lenz family did not want to leave the island, they decided to stay in the new state, adapt to the new conditions and needs and learn the new language. Territorial, political and social changes completely altered the structure of the island’s visitors. Until then, the family holiday resort and spa of Brioni was mainly visited by guests from the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, who mostly went to the spa several times in a year. Brioni had changed to an island mainly for young people, who were looking for sport activities and entertainment. Karl Kupelwieser, Paul’s elder son, inherited the management of the entire company after his father’s death in 1919, and placed all his hopes in those developments in order to increase the company’s profitability. He focused all his investments on the expansion of sporting activities and had the golf course built in the early twenties of the last century with the intention of attracting a new clientele. According to Dr. Lenz`s opinion, “that healthy and aristocratic sport” had been quite well accepted. The golf course was set up on a particularly beautiful spot of the island, where you could play all year round – the green lawn was replaced by sand. Brioni had become so famous in Great Britain and America that the new owner was able to open an office in London; the “Brioni Golfers’ Club” was located in the St. Moritz Hotel in New York. Every year up to a hundred meetings were held on the island, the average number of participants was about twenty golfers (as, for instance, in the year 1932). The local children were also able to earn a little extra money – they carried the golf clubs and collected the golf balls.

Carl Kupelwieser was a great horse enthusiast and excellent rider, so that from then on special attention was paid to the equestrian sport. He had race courses built and the first competition, in which only Italian officers from Triest had taken part, was followed by international equestrian tournaments. Polo, as well, was supposed to make the island the meeting place of the international elite – in 1925 the “Poloclub Brioni” was founded. The already obsolete tennis courts were renovated and in addition to golf, polo and tennis, the guests played cricket, crocket, table tennis, squash, chess, backgammon, and billiards. Water sports, which were so popular in summer, were replaced by hunting rabbits, pheasants, deer and other game, as well as by pigeon shooting and fishing in autumn and winter. Various entertainment games with sporting character were also popular, the so-called “Ghymkana”, horse, bicycle and other races, tug-of-war, “fox hunting” and many more. Even a knitting competition was organized! There was no lack of new ideas, everyone took part in the brainstorming. For example, Baron Eberhard von Oppenheimer (1890 – 1962) had the bizarre suggestion to play “Waterpolo” on the sandbank of the Saluga Spa (but because of the wind this plan was not realized). In addition to those numerous sports and entertainment programmes, it was, of course, also possible to relax “just in that uniquely beautiful nature.”

The carnival season was not only limited to February, fanciful masked balls took place throughout the year, and there was always something going on, on the newly opened dance floor. Motto balls were organized (for instance, in red and blue, in the colours of the playing cards, in Japanese style) and many tournaments in the standard dances (Foxtrot, Tango, English Waltz and Viennese Waltz) invited to participate. The editor of the “Inselrevue Brioni”, Giuseppe Cerame, praised the elegance and beauty as well as the graceful appearance of the ladies.

The good rail and ship connections (daily to Triest, weekly to Venice and Ancona) were further improved by the Junkers seaplanes in the autumn of 1924. The Brioni archipelago was therefore only an hour’s flight from Venice and half an hour’s flight from Triest, Portorož, Lošinj or Opatija. Via Triest and Venice, regular flights to Rome, Vienna and Berlin were also planned. That boom brought new guests: first the Italian aristocracy, then the industrial and commercial middle classes, as well as European intellectuals and aristocrats. Towards the end of the twenties and especially at the beginning of the thirties of the last century, the island became an international meeting place. According to the guest lists, the visitors came from London, Paris, Bern, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Brussels, Warsaw, Malta, Jerusalem, Alexandria, Bombay, Shanghai, Malaga, New York, Philadelphia, California, Rio de Janeiro – and from time to time there were also guests from the surrounding area. The “Inselrevue Brioni” published a series of articles written by Doctor Lenz, and his “Summer Diary” shows how the guests spent their holidays in the mid-thirties of the last century: “The most eager sportsmen are the polo players, who leave at 8 a.m. for the training ground near the zoo. In the holiday resort itself, life does not begin until around 10 a.m. when the guests set off on their bicycles for a swim in the Saluga Bay after breakfast. Around noon there is an incredible crowd, every group has to fight for their “permanent” place on the terraces. One enjoys sunbathing, swimming with the first rubber air mattresses, water skiing, and going by hydroplanes. After lunch, bridge players take their seats at the tables in the hotel halls and on the beach. The afternoon is reserved for cycling, horse riding, playing polo, golf, and tennis, and other amusements. The tired sportsmen come back around 8 pm and have a drink in the relaxing hotel atmosphere with soft piano music. One hour before midnight the last guests finish their dinner, and on the open terrace under the high pine trees the evening dance entertainment begins, which continues in the nearby bar into the morning hours, where the orchestra “Brioni Goldstar” plays jazz.”

The Lenz couple managed to adapt successfully to the new conditions, made acquaintances as they had done before the war, and continued to meet the island’s high society guests. In addition to his medical duties, Dr. Lenz was also an employee of the island magazine and dealt above all with the manifold difficulties of the hotel business. Maria continued to participate actively in the island’s society life – and that not only as a musician. At the end of 1929 she took part in a poetry competition of the “Inselrevue Brioni”; the five best poems, which had to have the topic “Brioni” as their subject, were to be published. Apart from Maria, Madeleine Brockdorf, Else Lomek, Violet Sidebottom and Baroness Zsuzsa Madarassy-Beck. (anonymously) sent in poems. Then those anonymous entries had to be assigned to the right authors and the best poem had to be selected. With the majority of only one vote, the poem with the expressive title “Brionitis” by Else Lomek was voted as the best. Mrs. Lomek was a regular guest on Brioni and winner of the golf competition in May 1930. Maria Lenz chose the topic: Golf on Brioni. Prince Otto Windisch-Graetz proved to be the best and only connoisseur of the women poets. It was no wonder, since he had spent a lot of time in their company and thus had the opportunity to get to know them better than others, or, as was explained to the readers, “because of his strong inclination to solve the female soul of the women poets”, for which he received an artistically processed smoking equipment as a gift.

In spite of the splendour and the exclusive clientele one could be aware of (according to details of September 1929, 3685 guests visited the island every year), Brioni had to struggle permanently with financial difficulties. In 1930, Dr. Lenz designed a large medical cure programme as a suitable and promising complement to the holiday resort’s sports focus, with the intention of expanding the programme, addressing new guests and extending the season to the whole year as it had been in the past. In 1931, a spa centre with a wide range of attractions was to be opened.

This “curative tourism” was intended above all for the winter months; the already existing, generously sized indoor swimming pool was excellently suited for it: Hydrotherapy, phototherapy, electro cures (quartz and “Bolux” lamps), diathermy, mud baths and sea water inhalations. A large recreation room had to be converted into a gymnasium and swimming classes were to be organized throughout the year. Under the direction of a specially trained cook, intensive work was done on the introduction of a diet kitchen which, in addition to the traditional diet of slimming and building up weight, would also offer various other curative diets: for kidney patients, for patients with high blood pressure and heart disease, for diabetics, for disorders of the gastrointestinal tract, for diseases of the liver and spleen, and so on. The mineral water from the springs in Marienbad (Mariánské-Lázně), Karlsbad (Karlovy Vary), Montecatini, Chianciano and Vetrolio was intended to be an important part of the diets; radium treatments were also planned. Brioni was to become the ideal place for convalescents as well as for patients with insomnia, mental disorders and weak mental health. The island’s great wealth, both natural and man-made, ought to have been used.

However, those recovery plans were also in vain. Because of the unclear business situation and great financial difficulties, the debts grew to enormous heights. The owner, Carl Kupelwieser, shot himself in 1930. All efforts to save the hotel business after his death remained unsuccessful. The Kupelwieser family left the island and the entire property was transferred to the Italian state property. In those new times, there was no room for the Lenz family, especially as Otto was of Jewish origin. In 1938, the Lenz couple left Brioni, uncertain about the future under the Italian regime, and moved to Abbazia. Maria wrote to the daughters of Leopold Kupelwieser (the younger son of Paul Kupelwieser), Pussy and Annelie, on the occasion of the turn of the year 1937/38, that “the old times were finally over” and that “Brioni could no longer be used as a residence all year round, but only during the short summer season”. She informed them that she had moved with her family to Abazzia, to the villa “Tuchtan”, “a not very large, newly built house with a beautiful view in Garibaldi Street” (today Nova cesta).

The memories kept with much love: Photos, newspaper articles, the book “Spaziergänge auf Brioni” (“Šetnje po Brijunima”)= (Walks on Brioni”) by Otto Lenz and the transcript of Maria Lenz von Guttenberg’s memoirs “Das verlorene Paradies” (“Izgubljeni raj” / “The Lost Paradise”) were handed over by the couple to the archives of the island administration in 1956. Three years later, towards the end of December 1959, the readers of the local newspaper learned from an obituary that Dr. Otto Lenz was buried in the cemetery in Volosko near Abazzia. At the beginning of the seventies of the last century Maria Lenz and her son Gerhard had the opportunity to visit again “the beloved island Brioni, our former home”. Towards the end of 1979 she donated her last and dearest memory to the island administration of Brioni, a portrait of her husband painted by her sister Rosa von Guttenberg in 1952. The only remaining keepsake of her husband was the photograph of that painting. The last year of her life she spent in a nursing home in the Kantrida district of Rijeka. She died on March 15, 1981.

Excerpts from the book “The World of Maria Lenz” by Mira Pavletic, translation from the Croatian by Mary Melichar. German texts by courtesy of Simona Goldstein/Antibarus for publication on this website.