“As night falls on All Hallows, the Zentralfriedhof is transformed into an ethereal wonderland. It seems every visitor throughout the day has lit a candle at a headstone. Kneeling black-clad women rake frozen earth around graves. Candlelight shimmers on stone angels’ wings. Visitors move toward the cemetery gates, their breath forming clouds .”
A stone cherub lit by a candle on 1 November 1986
The central cemetery in Vienna is worth a visit at any time of year. The old Jewish cemetery, its overgrown state controversial, is symbolic and evocative (you may see deer there, or other wildlife). The graves of famous people – Brahms, Beethoven, Strauss, Adolf Loos, Udo Jürgens, Falco and many others – are intriguing. The Jugendstil, or art nouveau, St Charles Borromeo Cemetery church, built in 1908-1910 by Max Hegele, is huge and, in good light, magnificent.
The cemetery church at dusk, 1 November 2016
Even the Viennese joke that “the Central Cemetery is half the size of Zurich but twice as much fun” (halb so groß wie Zürich – aber doppelt so lustig”) is not bad.
Many of the graves are moving and well cared-for
The fact that the cemetery’s three million interments outnumber the living inhabitants of the city almost two to one feels somehow significant, although it’s hard to say why.
The grave of Austrian actress and inventor Hedy Lamarr
But on 1 November, the cemetery is particularly special. This is All Hallows, or All Saints – Allerheiligen in German. Traditionally, on 1 November in Vienna, people visit the Zentralfriedhof to light a candle in honour of their loved ones. The cemetery stays open an extra hour, until 1800. To be in the cemetery at dusk, when the candles glimmer, is a rare experience; I describe it in my piece for the Boston Globe of 3 September 2006.
Try it out.
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