The Vienna Central Cemetery: When hush, crowds descend

Robert Pimm
Robert Pimm

Where is the Vienna Central Cemetery, who is buried there and when should you visit?  Prepare yourself for a Viennese gem.

RAVE/VIENNA

By Robert Pimm, Globe Correspondent

Boston Globe, September 3 2006

VIENNA — Beethoven is buried here. So are Brahms and Schubert, the Strausses and Schönberg. Key scenes from “The Third Man” were shot here. But composers and movie classics aren’t the only reasons to visit the Zentralfriedhof (Central Cemetery) in Vienna.

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The grave of Johann Strauss in the Zentralfriedhof – Photo Robert Pimm

To experience the full glory of Vienna’s great necropolis, come at dusk on 1 November. On All Hallows, so many Viennese come to pay their respects that the city schedules extra public transportation. But don’t worry, the place won’t be crowded. The 3 million people buried in 495 acres here since the cemetery opened its gates in 1874 outnumber the present population of Vienna 2 to 1 .

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 .

It’s the combination of mass happening and individual emotion that makes All Hallows at the Zentralfriedhof so moving. In the night, a sea of lifetimes laps around you. Stop for a moment. See the glimmer of a lantern reflected in a black marble gravestone. Listen. Beyond a hedge, the sound of feet shuffling on gravel tells the story of one more visitor heading home through the darkness.

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