Finding a place that strikes you on two levels is rare, finding a place that appeals to the eye, soul and mind is exceptional. The Vienna Central Cemetery (Zentralfriedhof), located just outside Vienna, Austria is one of those special places. Traveling as a couple, we enjoy visiting cemeteries. We can see you shaking your head….I know, we are strange. We enjoy celebrating those that have gone before us. We love learning what contributions our ancestors made to mankind and paying tribute to their lives. Most importantly, visiting sites like these gives us a chance for self-introspection. We want to explore one of the most intriguing cemetery we have ever visited.
Lets begin our tour of the Zentralfriedhof!
Beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder. Once you enter the main gate, what a beauty to behold! The cemetery is in a park like setting with 2.5 square kms of manicured fields of grass, flowers and shrubbery. To help you find your way around, the entire cemetery is divided up into sectors. There are helpful free maps of the sectors at the main gate of entry. Lanes, sections, and paths are marked clearly, so finding the headstone you are seeking is fairly simple. Paved and gravel lined paths take you to different sectors within the cemetery. Our visit was in early spring, walks were free of snow.
Our visit to the Zentralfriedhof held a surprising first for us. At the heart of the cemetery is the Dr. Karl Lueger Church. This wonderful shrine, built on the eve of WWI in 1910, is designed in the Art Deco style. Trust us, we have been in a number of churches of all shapes and sizes, but this one is truly unique. We had never stepped foot into an art deco church or cathedral. As you enter the nave your eyes are drawn up by the stately lines to the dramatic blue cupola. The woodwork and glass inside the church is truly impressive. The pews, alter and of course the glass are the result of master craftsmanship.
As you stroll through the endless tombstones, you take in the beauty and the art of the stone work. Each stone is a work of art. The Viennese take great pride in the construction and adornment of their burial sites. Some of the elaborate tributes include chubby cherubs, weeping nymphs, and marble and granite of every flavor. Noteworthy physicists and chemists have their marquee chemical compound or formulas engraved on their stones!
While you are taking in the beauty of the Zentralfriedhof, hone in on some of the names chiseled into the stone. At every turn in the cemetery, you come face to face with the names of artists, geniuses, villains, and poets. Visiting the cemetery is a wonderful academic exercise! At your feet lie some of the greatest minds in history.
Some of the notable permanent residents include:
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827), composer
Johannes Brahms (1833–1897), composer
Ludwig Boltzmann ( 1844-1906), Physicist. His famous equation on entropy is engraved on his memorial stone.
Richard Réti (1889–1929), chess grandmaster
Franz Schubert (1797–1828), composer
Johann Strauss (1825–1899), composer
Siegfried Marcus (1831–1898), invented the modern automobile
Kurt Waldheim (1918–2007), UN Secretary-General
Mercedes Jellinek (1889-1929), the inspiration for Mercedes Benz
Falco (1957–1998), rock singer
Mozart?-Nope. There is a monument dedicated to him, but his grave is a bit of a mystery.
For the Fighting Couple, visiting this sacred spot is incredibly inspirational. One cannot but question your own existence by visiting places like these. You see the finite dates on the stones: born on such and such and Died on this date. There is a finality about reading these stones. Then you reflect on how much they accomplished during their sojourn on earth. It is so refreshing to connect the generations to see the impact one person had on humanity, both positive and negative. A visit such as this makes you question your own mission, asking questions: “What have I accomplished? Why am I here?” While these difficult questions are challenging to answer, the process is inspiring. You walk out of the cemetery with a renewed sense of purpose and perspective (and a hunger for some Viennese sachertorte.)
One of the most intriguing things about the layout of the cemetery is that it includes sections dedicated to different religious, political and social groups. It is a melting pot of human history. Sections include: Protestant, Orthodox (Russian, Greek, Bulgarian and Coptic), Catholic as well as two Jewish sections. There is also a sizable Muslim section. Zentralfriedhof is also home to the first Buddhist cemetery in all of Europe. Most recently, a section was dedicated to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Mormons. We were struck by inclusive nature of the cemetery.
How to get there:
With Vienna’s amazingly easy to use public transportation system, getting out to the cemetery is simple. From the city center take the suburban railway (Vienna S-Bahn) to the Zentralfriedhof stop. Just outside the main gates there are a number of flower vendors.
Gate 2 (Main entrance): Simmeringer Hauptstraße 234 , 1110 Vienna
*You may drive into the cemetery with your car at a cost of EUR 2.20 (except on 1 November (All Saints Day) when no traffic is permitted).
The dedicated bus line for the cemetery (number 11) runs every half an hour from 9 am to 3:30 pm, and also at 4 pm and 4:30 pm on Saturdays.
Entry to the cemetery is free, but you can rent an audio guide, by providing a valid photo ID and paying a rental fee of EUR 7.00 at the main gate.
We need to offer a hearty thanks to the Austrian Tourism Board for assisting with our visit. Their help made the visit possible. Danke!