The Austrian Empress Elisabeth, also known as Sisi, spent her youth as a Bavarian princess in Munich. She has become known worldwide as “Sissi” thanks to the films starring Romy Schneider.
- Where did Sisi grow up and where did she live in Munich?
- When did Sisi leave Munich?
- The time after the wedding until her death
- In which castle did Sisi live?
- The nasty rumour of bad teeth
- Nicknames of Empress Elisabeth
- Immerse yourself in history
Apart from the summer months, which she spent with her family in Possenhofen on Starnberger See (lake), Sisi grew up in the magnificent Herzog-Max-Palais at No. 13 Ludwigstrasse. She was born here in a corner room on the first floor on 24 December 1837 as Elisabeth Duchess in Bavaria. Near her birthplace are Elisabethstraße, named after her, and Elisabethmarkt on Elisabethplatz.
Her parents were Duke Max Joseph in Bavaria and Princess Ludovika Wilhelmine, who in turn was the daughter of the Bavarian King Maximilian I and the aunt of the Austrian Emperor. Sisi was shaped by her parents, who lived very unconventionally and this was also reflected in her upbringing. Instead of embroidery or learning languages, there was usually a lot of hiking and riding. The love of nature and horses took her over. In aristocratic society, however, the family's loose and informal lifestyle was not always well received.
In the summer of 1853, Emperor Franz Joseph celebrated his birthday in Ischl and fell in love with his cousin Sisi. The story that Emperor Franz Joseph was actually supposed to marry his sister Helene, who was three and a half years older, has not yet been substantiated. In 1854, she left Munich for Vienna, to marry the Austrian emperor Franz Joseph. However, she would visit her beloved native city frequently – and was particularly fond of Bavarian beer. In 1897, she became the first person to visit the new Hofbräuhaus, built by Max Littmann – though she was incognito, of course. “I will never leave Munich without stopping here,” she explained to a Hungarian companion.
As an imperial guest, Sisi first stayed in the Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten. Here, Dittmann's wave bath swing became available in 1889 as the dernier cri in relaxation. This was a special, rounded tub that could be made to swing by means of shifting weights; the Empress of Austria is said to have swung on the wellness device so energetically that her bathwater overflowed into the rooms below. She was reportedly so embarrassed by this incident that she only ever stayed at the Bayerischer Hof from then on.
Very quickly, Sisi realised that her previously free life was now shaped by the obligations and rules of Spanish court ceremonial. Her clothes, her meals, the devotions and which appointments she had to attend were prescribed in detail. Less than a year after the wedding, the young empress gave birth to her first daughter Sophie. Gisela and Crown Prince Rudolf followed. During a journey, the two girls got fever and diarrhoea. Gisela recovered, but Sophie died. The death of her eldest daughter came as a shock to Sisi. She increasingly distanced herself from Gisela and Rudolf and left the upbringing to her mother-in-law.
The empress then spent almost two years away from court due to a lung disease and returned as a self-confident woman. She organised her daily routine increasingly independently and devoted her time to writing poems and verses, her extensive beauty regime and sport. Her fourth and last child, Marie Valerie, was born in Hungary in 1868. Sisi adored the girl and, unlike her older children, a very intimate relationship developed. The suicide of her son Rudolf in 1889 hit Sisi hard and from then on she wore mainly black as an expression of her grief and withdrew from the public eye. She undertook many long journeys and remained in contact with her husband through correspondence.
In 1898, the Empress spent a few days on Lake Geneva and stayed at the Hotel Beau Rivage. In the afternoon she left the hotel to take a boat trip on Lake Geneva. On the way to the landing stage, the Italian anarchist Luigi Lucheni stabbed the Empress with a sharpened file. Sisi lived to the age of 60.
There are many reminders of the Austrian Empress at Starnberger See as well. Schloss Possenhofen is privately owned and can only be viewed from the outside. Sisi spent much of her youth in the palace. There were a few meetings between King Ludwig II and Elisabeth on the Roseninsel (Rose Island) on the west bank; the two felt like soul mates.
Even during the engagement, Aunt Sophie tried to find fault with Sisi's appearance. There is the famous complaint about the incorrectly brushed teeth. Franz Joseph dutifully reported that the teeth were now "all white"!
But the later rumour of the allegedly bad teeth culminated in a claim by actress Rosa Albach-Retty, Romy Schneider's grandmother, that “she had observed the empress cleaning her dentures at the Zauner confectionery in the spa town of Bad Ischl“. This is certainly one of the many malicious fairy tales. The Empress of Austria, who always took care to maintain an impeccable appearance, certainly did not clean any “third teeth“ in public.
Quite the contrary: it is proven that Empress Elisabeth and her family regularly underwent dental care by dentists, also from America, and spent a great deal of money on this every year. Documents from the Austrian State Archives were analysed in detail and published in the “Zahnärztliche Mitteilungen vom 16.01.2015“ in a scientific format.
In the autopsy report of the Swiss authority of 11 September 1998 from Geneva, it clearly states: “Good dentition“. There is no mention of a prosthesis.
What was the nickname or short name of Duchess Elisabeth in Bavaria, Empress Elisabeth really? Seven short names are known:
It is clear that she was called Elise by her family in her childhood and that she signed herself “Elise“ on pencil drawings in 1848.
A total of six other short names are known: Sisi, Sissi (not only since the Mariska films), Sissy, Lisi, Liesl, Zopfliesl (handed down from Garatshausen). All these names appear in letters, books, films and so on. It was and still is customary among the higher nobility to greet each other with the short name or petit nom in order to avoid the many name additions in the form of address.
The Kaiserin Elisabeth Museum is located in the historic Possenhofen railway station dating from 1865 and displays authentic exhibits on the life of Empress Elisabeth and her family, but also on King Ludwig II as far as Starnberger See is concerned, in four rooms. The main focus of the collection is in the splendidly furnished waiting room, also called the royal salon. The museum is barrier-free.
The moated castle of Unterwittelsbach, a former hunting lodge of Max in Bavaria near Augsburg, hosts a Sisi exhibition every year between April and October.