The best thing to do in Vienna on 1 November

Robert Pimm
Robert Pimm

“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.

P.S. If you enjoy fresh, original writing, please subscribe to my weekly newsletter (you can unsubscribe anytime you wish).  I’ll send you a free “Hotel Story” to say thanks!  Or I would be delighted if you would like to friend me on Facebook.  


Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on linkedin
Share on whatsapp
Share on email

Sign up for my weekly updates

…and receive a FREE short story!

I won’t pass on your details to third parties / unsubscribe whenever you wish

One Response

  1. Unser Familiengrab ist am Hietzinger Friedhof, das mein Bruder und ich antizyklisch besuchen, weil uns irgendwie dieses “verordnete” Gedenken unangenehm ist. Den Zentalfriedhof kenne ich nur untertags, weil dort auch Verwandte und Freunde begraben wurde. In der Dunkelheit muss es tatsächlich einmagisches Erlebnis sein.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Articles


Ten reasons to like Lesotho

Let’s celebrate.  We’re going through a ghastly coronavirus crisis.  But we should not forget that the world is wonderful.  I thought I would write in

Read More

Ten reasons to like Turkey

Let’s celebrate.  We’re going through a ghastly coronavirus crisis.  But we should not forget that the world is wonderful.  I thought I would write in

Read More

From Herr to Maternity

By Robert Pimm Financial Times, May 9, 2003 I’m picking up the kids from school here in Berlin when a teacher accosts me. “Started being a

Read More