Following (literally) the Heller Legacy

Virginia reflects on her time in Vienna.

More often than not, at TealHaus, our clients become our friends. For the past two years, I’ve had the honor and privilege of working with Francie Heller, daughter of Max Heller, and she so generously offered me her apartment in Vienna for a vacation. Though my husband and I had both been to Europe in the past, we’d never ventured to the central part of the continent. Stepping into this part of the world was particularly impactful for me on the heels of working with the Heller family on a forthcoming project (details to be unveiled soon!). As we explored ancient buildings and basqued in the rich arts culture, my mind continued wandering back to the late Max and Trude Heller. 

Max Heller, who is considered the ‘father’ of modern Greenville, was a young boy when his family lost their business in 1938 Vienna after the Nazis’ occupation of the city. Through a series of miracles, he ended up with a job and sponsorship to come to Greenville and work in the Piedmont Shirt Company. His then fiance, Trude, and her family soon left Vienna to join as well, but not without harrowing journeys of their own. Max and Trude were eventually married, had children, and built a life in Greenville, giving their time and heart to public service, art, culture and community. Trude became an educator, teaching the greater community about the Holocaust, and Max became the first Jewish mayor in the history of South Carolina. Among his many accomplishments, he shaped downtown Greenville like a European City, with tree-lined streets and outdoor cafes, putting Greenville on the map for many, and making it the welcoming town it is today.

As my husband and I meandered through public parks, spent hours in cafes, explored Gustav Klimt’s largest collection at the Belvedere Palace, and attended our first Opera, I was struck by how ancient and rich the culture was. At the same time, I was struck by the way locals lived in proximity to reminders of past historical atrocities. Just outside of our apartment there were two Flak Towers (Flaktürme), massive concrete fortresses ordered by Hitler to serve as platforms for batteries of anti-aircraft guns. Due to their indestructible nature, these 140-feet tall towers are still standing—right beside a bustling children’s playground and family park, nonetheless. The symbolism of rebuilding life and finding joy despite dark reminders of the past can be found at every turn in this part of the world. 

After a couple weeks of being home and hopping into the demanding yet welcome routine of day-to-day life, I’m carrying the expanded worldview that travel often brings. Daily, our TealHaus clients, many of whom are community-focused entrepreneurs and nonprofits, remind me of what it looks like to pursue beauty in even unexpected places. Greenville may not have the history or culture that Europe boasts, but the spirit here, thanks in part to the Hellers, is one worth coming home to.

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