Looking for something a bit macabre and off the beaten path to do in Vienna? The Vienna Central Cemetery fits the bill. At 2.5 million square meters and containing 300,000 graves, it is one of the largest cemeteries in the world. We walked 3 miles and still did not cover it all.
Many prominent figures in music history – Beethoven, Brahms, Strauss, Schubert and Falco – are buried here as well as notable Viennese figures like the 9 presidents since the creation of the new Republic. If you are looking for Mozart’s grave, you’re out of luck. He is buried in nearby St. Marx Cemetery in an unmarked pauper’s grave. His nemesis in the movie Amadeus, Antonio Salieri, is buried here.
At first, the kids thought this was going to be boring. However, when we visited the musician graves, I hummed a few bars and they recognized the music, they became more interested. My daughter was pleased to learn that the person who composed “Ode to Joy”, which she played on her violin last year, is buried here.
Taking the 71
Taking the 71 is a metaphor for death in Vienna. When someone dies here, it is common to say, “S/he took the 71,” and everyone understands. The end stop for the the 71 tram is the Zentral Friedhof. There is also a park and ride lot at the cemetery. On weekends, it is free to park there.
We visited on the Halloween/All Saint’s/All Soul’s weekend in the late afternoon which provided a special treat. The graves were decorated with flower wreaths and candles. As the skies became darker, the effect of all those graves lit up was beautiful.
To reach the notable and honorary graves, it is easiest to enter via the main gate, Tor 2. Just walk straight past the gate and two arcades on either side of the path and you will find Gruppe 32A.
Walking through the cemetery, you will see familiar street or location names like Hugo Wolf (the park’s namesake) , Ludwig Boltzmann (as in Boltzmanngasse) and Karl von Hasenauer (as in HasenauerStrasse). Other notable figures are Alfred Loos, the architect, and Alfred Adler, the father of individual psychology.
As you continue walking up the central path, you will notice a church at the center. The Karl Lueger Church is named after one of Vienna’s more popular mayors who is buried in the crypt. Karl Lueger is a controversial figure as he was a popular mayor, but also and anti-Semite. The spread of his anti-Semitic views inspired a young Hitler and paved the way for the Holocaust. In 2012, a section of the Ring named after him was renamed “Universitaetsring” for this reason.
The cemetery is divided into sections which pertain to different religions as well as different nationalities. There are memorials to the victims of World War II grouped by nationalities including a section for the German Nazi’s that died in Vienna during the War.
There is also a Jewish section with many graves that were damaged during the War.
The museum is small and it takes less than an hour to visit. The exhibit is displayed in both German and English. There are audio guides available if you want to get more insight into the exhibit.
Habsburg funerals that have taken place since the cemetery opened in 1870 are showcased in the museum. These include the funerals of Empress Sisi and Emperor Franz Joseph. Of note, there are no Habsburgs buried in the Central Cemetery. To visit the royal graves, you must visit the Imperial Crypt at the Kapuziner Church. Those are worth a visit too as they are quite elaborate and ornate. The most recent Habsburg funeral was for Otto von Habsburg in 2011, the son of the last emperor, Karl I. On an even stranger note, the hearts of the Habsburg family are located in the Augustiner Church and their intestines are kept in the Catacombs of St. Stephens.
While definitely morbid, the museum is an interesting look into the history of Viennese funeral practices some of which include death masks and casts of your loved one’s hand. Today, families can even choose to turn ashes into man made diamonds. Who knew?
The museum is open Monday-Friday 9:00-16:30. It is located to the right of the main gate towards the old Jewish section of the cemetery. Cost is 4 Euro for adults. Children are free.