All Hallows at the Zentralfriedhof

When to visit the Vienna Central Cemetery – including 1 November

Robert Pimm
Robert Pimm

When to visit the Vienna Central Cemetery?   It is one of the great sights of the city.  The old Jewish cemetery, the main cemetery, the military cemeteries – there is a huge amount to explore.  On 1 November, All Hallows, you can experience something special and unique.

All Hallows

“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 .”

Vienna Central Cemetery

A stone cherub lit by a candle on 1 November 1986

When to visit the Vienna Central Cemetery

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.

Vienna Central Cemetery

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.

Vienna Central Cemetery

Many of the graves are moving and well cared-for

Three million interments

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.

Vienna Central Cemetery

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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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.

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