Who was Georg Franz Kolschitzky? That’s how the Austrians knew him. Or perhaps his name was Jerzy Franciszek Kulczycki? If you ask a Pole, that’s who he was. The Hungarians on the other hand see him as Djuro Kolèic. Then again, the Ukrainians knew him as Юрій-Франц Кульчицький. That’s Yuri Frants Kulchytsky to you and me.
He was a hero? A spy? A messenger? A humble merchant? A money-grubbing scoundrel? Perhaps he was the man who singlehandedly saved Europe from the Ottoman hordes in 1683 during the second siege of Vienna? Perhaps he was all or none of these things, but like a great swindler, watched with approval as his fanciful reputation snowballed into legend over the years?
Georg Franz Kolschitzky, as we will call him, was born in 1640 near the town of Sambor. Back then, it was part of Poland; today, it’s in western Ukraine. Ukrainian scholars believe he was born into an old Orthodox-Ruthenian noble family, despite his father having converted to Catholicism, which was the state religion in Poland back then. Then again, Kolschitzky’s modern-day descendent Jerzy Sas Kulczycki swears the man was ethnically Polish. Kulczycki is a historian, genealogy researcher, and member of the Polish Heraldic Society. So he would know, wouldn’t he? Well, like with all things Kolschitzky, maybe, maybe not.
Much of Kolschitzky’s early life is obscure, but we do know that he joined the Zaporozhian Cossacks around age 20. He also had a talent for languages, which allowed him to work as an interpreter for the Cossacks on their expeditions throughout Eastern Europe. He could speak Polish, German, Hungarian, Romanian, and Turkish, quite a palette given the stark heterogeneity of all these languages. Then at one point our hero was captured by Ottomans and held captive in Constaninople for several years. During this time learned about Turkish customs and practically became Turkish himself.
Then, as if this script weren’t interesting enough, Kolschitzky’s freedom was purchased by some Serbian merchants who needed an interpreter. In Belgrade, which was then still part of the Ottoman Empire, he worked for a large Viennese commercial company. In 1678, at the age of 38, he moved to Vienna, where he set up his own trading business.
So much for the back story. The real story begins on July 7th, 1683 when Sultan Mehmed IV in Constantinople sent an Ottoman army of 100,000 (some sources say 200,000) across the Hungarian plain with the sole purpose of capturing Vienna. The force was led by the Sultan’s ablest commander Kara Mustafa, who had defeated Polish king John Sobieski at the fortress of Kamenets Podolsky on the river Dneister in 1672.
As one would expect from a leading Ottoman general at this time in history, Mustafa was cruel, ruthless, hedonistic, and greedy. When he took the town of Uman just south of Kiev in 1674, he flayed his Christian captives and sent their stuffed hides to the Sultan as a gift. On his military expeditions, he was known to bring along over a thousand concubines and numerous black African eunuchs to guard them. He was all about booty. Both kinds. He really wanted to raid the Viennese coffers himself, which was perhaps why his siege of Vienna lasted months instead of weeks. Brigand that he was, Mustafa preferred to harass, intimidate, and starve the Viennese into a formal surrender rather than order his army to breach the walls in bloody combat. If he did that he would have had to share some of the loot with his men. And for a man of Mustafa’s ego and ambition, that would not do.
The army consisted mostly of Turks, but also contained regiments of rebellious Magyars and terrifying outriders called the akinji over whom Mustafa had little control. Perhaps he preferred it this way. As his army rumbled forth towards Vienna, the akinji flew ahead of him, as far west as the town of Enns, maruauding, raping, killing, and devastating wherever they went. For his part, Mustafa was content to play bad cop to the akinji’s slightly worse cop. He collected a number of severed heads from the town of Hainburg as a keepsake. He had done so much killing there that one of the streets had to be renamed Blutgassse (“Blood Street”). As if that weren’t enough, he also ordered his troops to slaughter 4,000 villagers from the town of Perchtoldsdorf. Turns out there was a reason why Kara Mustafa was called “the scourge of mankind” during his day.
We can also see why Vienna at the time was still considered a frontier city: Antemurale Christianitatis, or, “the Front Line of Christendom,” as it was known. Beyond Vienna, to the east, began the Orient, where things were more exotic and less punctual than they were in Europe proper. Despite being written over two centuries after the siege of Vienna, the first chapter of Bram Stoker’s Dracula perfectly captures the pervasive folk memory surrounding this west-east Carpathian divide as the solicitor Jonathan Harker embarks on his eastward journey to meet his mysterious Transylvanian nobleman.
The Viennese were vulnerable behind their walls, and they knew it. Portions of it were in disrepair, and they had less than 12,000 troops and various irregulars under Count Starhemberg to defend them. Emperor Leopold and his retinue had escaped days before the siege, and city’s only hope rested in relief coming from various points throughout the continent. Camped on Mount Kahlenberg on the opposite side of the Danube with only 33,000 men was the Duke of Lorraine, a capable leader but clearly overmatched by the Ottomans.
According to historian Alan Palmer:
Emperor Leopold l—by now in Passau—urgently sought aid. Subsidies from the Pope, a rush of volunteers from the young nobility in northern Italy and Franconian Germany, and the mustering of armies by the Electors of Bavaria and Saxony, held hope of relief for Vienna. There remained, too, the prospect of substantial backing from the crack Polish troops of King John Sobieski, once they could complete a long march southwards from beyond the Carpathians; Sobieski had old scores to settle with Kara Mustafa.
By mid-August, however, Sobieski still had not yet arrived, and things were getting desperate in Vienna. Mustafa had finally lost patience with the stubborn defenders and ordered miners to dig under the walls and detonate explosives in order to crumble them. The fighting was growing more and more intense, and the casualty count was high. Disease was rampant, with Starhemberg himself falling ill. The defenders were running out of grenades, and skilled miners who could resist the Turks’ subterranean efforts were in short supply.
Vienna’s mayor Andreas von Liebenberg, along with Starhemberg, had to decide whether or not to surrender. They knew help was on its way, but they had no idea how long it was going take or if they could hold out until then. Each successive day, this dilemma became a greater torment. What they needed was intelligence and a way to get crucial messages back and forth between them and Leopold and the Duke of Lorraine. What they needed was a messenger, someone who could slip through the Ottoman camp and pass for a Turk if need be.
Of course, this is where our mysterious Kolschitzky comes in. As legend has it, he and a servant volunteered to carry important missives to the Duke of Lorraine and to return to Vienna, if possible, with whatever messages and instructions the Duke was to provide. On the evening of August 13th, they dressed up as Turks and climbed over the counterscarp overlooking the north side of the city. Drifting among the Ottoman soldiers and posing as a merchant from Belgrade was not difficult for a polyglot like Kolschitzky. The Turks suspected nothing, and soon the pair wound their way to the Danube where they convinced some peasants to ferry them across. Some versions of the story have them swimming across the river.
According to one legend, Kolschitzky was so adept at mimicking the enemy that he was actually captured by locals in Kahlenberg. In a clever reversal of the “Shibboleth” scene in Book 12 of the Old Testament book Judges, our hero convinced his Austrian captors of his true identity by speaking to them in a peculiar Viennese dialect that only the Viennese knew.
Kolschitzky reached Lorraine and apprised him of the critical circumstances inside the city walls. Lorraine then sent messengers to Sobieski and other European leaders, urging them to make haste and assuring them that Vienna would fall if they did not. The presence of live dispatches from Vienna no doubt increased the diplomatic pressure on its allies and rallied more European volunteers to the cause. Just as importantly, the Duke told Kolschitzky to tell Starhemberg not to surrender since a massive relieving army was on its way.
Kolschitzky again avoided arrest as he returned to Vienna in his Turkish garb. His message certainly raised morale in the city and convinced Starhemberg to continue holding out. The Turks were proceeding slowly across the moat, but all their direct attacks thus far had been repulsed. Kolschitzky and his servant received 200 ducats for their efforts, and were once again asked to repeat their cloak and dagger exploits.
In some versions of the story, Kolschitzky declined going a second time, leaving his servant to do it alone. In others, he made the round trip to Kahlenberg four times. In any event, Kolschitzky was not yet done singlehandedly saving Christendom. On September 11th, so the story goes, he reached Lorraine with the distressing news that the enemy was mere hours away from blasting a large breach through the city walls. After that, Vienna would certainly fall. Well, by that point, King Sobieski had finally joined up with Lorraine, and behind them stood 80,000 Christians (Austrians, Poles, Saxons, and Bavarians, mostly) who were bristling for a fight. They told Kolschitzky to instruct the Viennese garrison to make a diversionary sortie when they gave the attack signal the next morning. This would help disorganize the enemy the moment Sobieski led his grand charge towards Vienna.
On his way back to the city, Kolschitzky discovered more good news. As he mingled with the Turks camped outside of Vienna, many of whom were over a thousand miles from home, he realized exactly how low their morale had become. Excited by this and his encouraging meeting with Sobieski and Lorraine, he rushed for Starhemberg’s chamber as soon as he re-entered the city. The Count awoke to find what looked like a crazed Turk trying to assassinate him. He summoned the guard and nearly had Kolschitzky killed before recognizing his prized undercover messenger.
Had the sword actually fallen, so the story goes, Starhemberg would never have known about that diversionary sortie. And without that diversionary sortie, the Turks (who still held numerical superiority) just may have withstood Sobieski’s charge. But fortunately for Christendom, and the white race in general, that sword did not fall. Kolschitzky told the Count about the sortie and the attack signal. And the rest, as they say, is history.
On September 12th, John Sobieski led the largest cavalry charge in history into the main of the Ottoman camp and swept the invaders from the field. No Ottoman army had ever been beaten so decisively. Furthermore, no Ottoman army would ever threaten Europe again. Kara Mustafa donned a disguise and fled. In an effort to pass the blame and to keep the news of his defeat from spreading to Constantinople, he had his bodyguard strangle 50 of his subordinates in the following week. But that didn’t help his cause. The Christians kept routing the Ottomans as they retreated across Hungary. By October, much of Hungary had fallen, and by the end of December, Mustafa and his weary men were licking their wounds in Belgrade.
Two emissaries of the Sultan then paid a visit to Mustafa in which they officially relieved him of his duties and had him strangled to death. As with his myriad of victims, Kara Mustafa was decapitated, with his noggin skinned and stuffed and sent to Mehemd IV in Constantinople as a gift. Fittingly, church bells across Hungary and Austria were ringing the moment the Scourge of Mankind finally entrusted his soul to Allah. It was Christmas day in Christendom.
This may seem like the end of the story, but it isn’t. The Turks had fled Vienna in such a hurry that they had left behind almost everything. Thousands of tents, oxen, camels, sheep, and whatnot were quickly seized by the Austrians. Included in the whatnot, however, were hundreds of bags filled with strange brown beans that no one in Vienna knew what to do with. When they were burning the beans, however, Kolschitzky recognized a distinctive aroma from his days as a captive in Constantinople. Coffee!
“Holy Mary!” he cried. “That is coffee you are burning! If you don’t know what coffee is, give the stuff to me. I can find a good use for it!”
According to legend, he asked the emperor for the bags of beans and permission to open a shop in which he would sell the Turkish drink known as coffee. The emperor happily obliged, and soon Georg Franz Kolschitzky, the man of many names and nationalities, the man of mystery who singlehandedly turned back the Ottoman tide and saved white Christendom from the brutal, oppressive yoke of Islam, opened the very first coffee shop, or café, in Vienna, a city that soon became world famous for its coffee, its coffee shops, and the music and culture which continue to center around them.
Today there is a street in Vienna named after Kolschitzky as well as a statue of the man in Turkish garb holding a tray of coffee cups outside the Café Zwirina. Fittingly, it was erected by the Coffee Makers Guild of Vienna. Not to be outdone, the Polish government in 2009 issued a postage stamp bearing Kolschitzky’s (or, Kulczycki’s) image which emitted the faint scent of coffee.
How much of this compelling narrative is true? We’re not terribly sure. We know the legend first appeared in 1783. We also know that it wasn’t Kolschitzky but an Armenian named Johannes Theodat who opened Vienna’s first coffee shop in 1685. Theodat had also been a spy and was known also as Johannes Diodato, so go figure about that. We also know that Kolschitzky’s coffee was not a hit at first. The Viennese disparagingly referred to it as “stewed soot” and stuck with their usual white wine and lager for breakfast. It wasn’t until Kolschitzky (or someone) strained the beans and then added cream that the Viennese finally took to the drink that made them famous.
There is also some doubt about Kolschitzky’s exploits during the siege. Yes, it is true he was feted as a hero afterwards. But they say he was quite the storyteller and embellisher himself. According to historian John Stoye:
This person, Koltschitzki, either had a flare for publicity or had fame thrust upon him by the pamphleteers of the period. By the end of the year he became easily the most famous of the messengers in the story of the siege, which makes it very difficult to distinguish between fact and fiction of his adventures between 13th and 17th August, 1683.
Note how Stoye neglects to mention Kolschitzky’s encounter with Sobieski and Lorraine on September 11th. This was the meeting in which our hero learns about the attack signal and the diversionary sortie. So, did this meeting even happen? We know the sortie did, but couldn’t that have been just a lucky coincidence?
We also know that there is very little mention of Kolschitzky in the contemporary accounts of the siege. According to Antony Wild:
An eyewitness account by an Englishman in the service of the Austrian army detailed the great victory and the booty left behind, and coffee is conspicuous by its absence from the list. Although the bravery of Staremburgh warrants specific mention, Kolschitsky does not feature in the account. While it is hardly to be expected that a lowly spy should receive any accolade in a report that concerns itself primarily with the chivalrous behaviour of the noblemen in victory, if indeed Kolschitsky’s bravery had averted disaster, then the action, if not the perpetrator, would surely have warranted a mention.
Neither does the Franz Georg Kolschitsky who is the hero of Viennese coffee history feature in the mainstream works concerning the siege. He was probably a small player on a large field of intrigue and espionage, one of many spies operating on behalf of the besieged Viennese.
Kolschitzky’s 100 ducats gets a mention in the city records. So, it is a safe bet he played the messenger-spy at least once. Beyond that, who knows? The story about his being awarded a tax-free house from the city fathers in which to sell coffee could very well be apocryphal. We do have records of Kolschitzky after the siege harassing the city council “with measureless self-conceit and the boldest greed” for more money and for permanent lodgings. Eventually, they gave him a property at 30 Haidgasse which was worth more than 1,000 gulden. But whether that property in fact became a coffee shop, let alone Vienna’s first, is unclear.
Perhaps Kolschitzky isn’t the hero he is made out to be. Some of the fantastic twists and turns in his story do seem worthy of the picaresque adventure novel which was popular in the 17th century and would remain so for a long time after. Perhaps his story was mostly invented by 18th-century coffee sellers who wanted to sell more coffee on the centennial of the siege?
For our purposes today, however, it doesn’t really matter what is fact and what is fiction about Georg Franz Kolschitzky. He played a role in the defense of Europe against the barbaric Muslim hordes. He stood up when the white race needed him most, when its future was truly in doubt, and he delivered. Just imagine the devastating blow it would have been to European culture and civilization had Vienna fallen to the Muslims.
Remember the city of Hainburg of the Blutgasse and severed heads? Two of its inhabitants were an elderly couple named Caspar and Elisabeth Haydn. Does that name ring a bell? It should. These were the great-grandparents of the great composer Franz Joseph Haydn. They may not have survived Mustafa’s rampage, but Haydn’s grandfather Thomas did. But supposing he hadn’t. Supposing after conquering Vienna, the city that would become the nexus of some of the greatest music ever written, Kara Mustafa expanded his crescent of terror by killing, enslaving, or converting every Christian he could find? Where would classical music be then? We wouldn’t have Haydn or his brother Michael who was also a composer. Would we even have the symphony as we know it today or the string quartet? Schubert probably would not have been born. Definitely not Gluck who was born in Vienna in 1714. Mozart and Beethoven may have made it, but they were both protégés of Haydn in one way or another. And where would they have gone to replicate the rich mansions of musical culture found only in Vienna at that time in history?
It’s too ghastly to contemplate.
It should go without saying that defeating the Ottoman barbarians on the morning of September 12th, 1683 was a Good Thing not just for white people but for humanity. Further, Georg Franz Kolschitzky deserves to be remembered for his contributions to the defense of Vienna during one of the most pivotal moments in history. So what if his story may not be entirely true? It’s still a great story. And if it can help us remember the defense of the white race against foreign invaders three and a half centuries ago when whites today are experiencing a new kind of invasion from the same kind of foreigners, then that can only make a great story even greater.
Davids, Kenneth. Coffee: A Guide to Buying, Brewing, and Enjoying, 5th ed. St. Martin’s Griffin Edition, 2001.
Ingrao, Charles. The Hapsburg Monarchy 1618-1815, Cambridge University Press, 1994.
Palmer, Alan. The Decline and Fall of the Ottoman Empire, Fall River Press, 1992.
Pendergast, Mark. Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World, Basic Books, 1999.
Sarudy, Barbara Wells. “Coffee Tales – 1st Coffeehouse in Austria 1683” https://bjws.blogspot.com/2012/02/coffee-tales-1st-coffeehouse-in-austria.html
Stoye, John. The Siege of Vienna, Collins Publishers, 1964.
Widacka, Hanna. “Jerzy Franciszek Kulczycki – the Founder of the First Cafe in Vienna” http://www.wilanow-palac.pl/jerzy_franciszek_kulczycki_the_founder_of_the_first_caf_in_vienna.html
Wild, Antony. Coffee: A Dark History, W.W. Norton & Company, 2004.
Zubrinic, Darko, “Joseph Haydn, Croatian and Austrian Composer” http://www.croatia.org/crown/articles/8975/1/Joseph-Haydn—Austrian-and-Croatian-composer.html
Wikipedia Entry: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerzy_Franciszek_Kulczycki