Secret tales from Vienna by Eric Margolis

Dandelion Salad

Toronto Sun
Sun, September 16, 2007

At the height of the Cold War, plans for an invasion had spies and soldiers on edge

VIENNA — Memories of past glories still haunt this majestic imperial capitol of the now sadly vanished Austro-Hungarian Empire.

There are also fresher memories of the post-war era when the Soviets shared control of Vienna with Britain, France and the United States. A large, freshly gilded Soviet war memorial still looms over the city.

The old, sinister days of spying, kidnapping and black marketeering were captured here by Carol Reed’s magnificent film, The Third Man, starring Orson Wells as the charming thug, Harry Lime.

My father used to produce plays with Wells, and the actor often regaled us with amusing tales about making this film in the ruins of Vienna under the baleful eyes of the KGB.

Half a century later, Wells’ presence still haunts Vienna. I half imagine seeing him in the twilight, dressed in a long, black great coat and fedora, slipping around a corner into the dusk. Vienna also has another fascinating secret.

Back in the 1960s, at the height of the Cold War, I was studying international law at a Swiss university.

A group of Swiss Army officers in mufti (civilian dress) were arrested by Austria for spying on its modest fortifications on its Czech border.

Many jokes about “chocolate spies” were made at the time over this seeming trivial incident. But the Swiss, as always, were deadly serious.

The Swiss officers were monitoring Austria’s eastern defenses against the Soviet Warsaw Pact because their intelligence service had uncovered frightfully alarming news.


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