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Posts tagged ‘Allerheiligen’

November 1 – Allerheiligen – All Saint’s Day

Too good to be forgotten

And can it be that in a world so full and busy the loss of one creature makes a void so wide and deep that nothing but the width and depth of eternity can fill it up!
~ Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

I woke up this morning with a rather long to-do list. By the time I shuffled my way to the front door to fetch the morning newspaper, my long list had dwindled to zero items. Why? Because the Saturday paper was missing and that could only mean one thing. And no, you’re wrong. We did get some random tricker-or-treaters but the thought that they could have pulled a prank and stolen the paper never even occurred to me. Vienna tends to be a rather safe city and I have rather vigilant neighbors and a mutt who lives on the 4th floor who would throw a fit if even the Fairy Godmother tried to sneak past him. I mean this is the country where someone I know left his iPod on the train, called the good ol’ ÖBB and of course his iPod had been turned in and ÖBB had it in the mail and sent back to him that same week.

Austrian Cemetery on Allerheiligen

Austrian Cemetery on Allerheiligen

No, a missing morning paper is always the tall tale sign that it’s a national holiday that I’ve probably forgotten. Normally not a bad thing on a work day but on a Saturday, a rather unfortunate occurrence. Because a national holiday in Austria means that EVERYTHING is closed.

Skulls in Hallstatt Cemetery

Skulls in Hallstatt Cemetery

The Saturday market, the bakery, the hair dresser, the grocery store, all closed. And since nothing in Austria is open on Sundays, ever, except the random life-saving bakery and the train station claustrophobic-inducing grocery stores with aisles that get narrower as you shop, then when you overlook a holiday, you are reduced to waiting 61 hours (!) from Friday evening 7 pm until Monday morning 8 am until everything opens once again. You’d be amazed at the creative culinary delights you can whip up from cans of expired baked beans and boxes of couscous hiding deep in the depths of your empty pantry. Because of course, the same country that sees fit to close their grocery stores for long periods of time is the same place yet to discover how practical warehouse-sized boxes of spaghetti noodles and large jars of sauce can be. When you live in a country that places a high value on healthy food options, you have to also accept that the loaf of bread you buy might actually not have enough preservatives to keep it fresh for five months.

But I digress.

Austrian Cemetery on Allerheiligen

Austrian Cemetery on Allerheiligen

What I really wanted, was to direct you to a post about All Saint’s Day written last year which you might have missed. Because while I might suffer slight hunger pangs this weekend from some bare kitchen shelves, I’ll suck it up and tell myself that, according to the Austrians, fasting is healthy. Then I’ll throw on my jacket tonight and make my way to a cemetery because it’s something you don’t want to miss — the sea of flickering candle lights illuminating Austrian’s cemeteries on November 1 — hauntingly beautiful. And be grateful to have a day to think back and remember those who we loved and who have already reached the inevitable end of our life’s journey. Sure, they’re always there in our hearts but having one special day where everyone is remembering, together, in their own way, their own, is special.

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Saints, Souls, Death and the Viennese – 1 Nov Allerheiligen

Angel Statue in St. Marx Cemetery in Vienna

Angel Statue in St. Marx Cemetery in Vienna

Der Tod muss ein Wiener sein…” (Death must be Viennese)
(Der Tod: Das muss ein Wiener sein , song title of 1969 song by Georg Kreisler)

On All Saints’ Day (November 1)  and All Souls’ Day (November 2) the Viennese pilgrim to the cemeteries to light candles and pray for those who have passed (sometimes hoping to help them out of purgatory (or in German Fegefeuer sweeping fire)).

You don’t have to be here long to recognize that the Viennese have a special relationship with death. “Ein schönen Leich” (a beautiful corpse/ funeral) is as Viennese as the folk songs that cheerfully, acceptingly, ironically lament the inevitable fate of every human. And no blog about Vienna would be truly complete without mentioning death.



For years this museum was listed as one of Vienna’s fun sites to see as in, “Hey, after we visit the Fool’s Tower (Narrenturm), let’s hit the Funeral Museum! Won’t that be fun!” Well, it was indeed interesting but unfortunately, the museum is closed until its reopening in September 2014 at Vienna’s Central Cemetery – a very fitting new home.

Church of Saint Charles Borromew in VIenna's Central Cemetery

Church of Saint Charles Borromew in Vienna’s Central Cemetery

An interactive site at the museum was a bell with a long string attached to corpses in coffins. If someone was buried alive, he or she could theoretically ring the bell signaling the heroic funeral workers to spring to the rescue. The reality was, however, that due to postmortem spasms and unfortunate corpse positions, the bells rang non-stop and the heroic funeral workers not-so-heroically ignored them.

Which is probably why an Austrian playwright who was sometimes dubbed the “Austrian Shakespeare”, Johann Nestroy, feared being buried alive so much that he spent much of his last will and testament giving very specific instructions about measures he wanted taken to prevent this possibility. “The only thing I fear about death, is the idea that I could possibly be buried alive.” (January 31, 1861) Nestroy was generally a pretty funny guy but it seems he took being buried alive very seriously.

CEMETERY OF THE NAMELESS (Friedhof der Namenlosen)

“The goal of all life is death.”  – Sigmund Freud

Tombstone "Wiedersehen" in St. Maarx Cemetery Vienna

Tombstone “Wiedersehen” in St. Marx Cemetery Vienna

Vienna boasts over 40 Roman-Catholic cemeteries but those don’t do much good for the “weary of lifers” (Lebensmüde) who have plunged to their untimely deaths into the murky waters of the Danube.  For many of those and others who have died namelessly and whose bodies have washed ashore, there’s the Cemetery of the Nameless. Most of the graves state simply “Unknown” or “Nameless.” Every year in November, the cemetery honors those who have never been recovered and whose remains still grace the Danube floor by launching a wreath down the the Danube towards the Black Sea. This year the ceremony will take place on Sunday, November 10, at 2 pm – gathering at the restaurant by the cemetery


Helmut Qualtinger Grave in Central Cemetery in Vienna

The honor grave of Austrian musical, theater and comedic legend, Helmut Qualtinger, at Central Cemetery in Vienna

Honorary graves were created in the Central Cemetery to up the prestige of the cemetery in the late 1800s a few years after the cemetery’s creation. Viennese are notorious for their initial skepticism to all that is new and in a brilliant 19th century PR move to increase the new cemetery’s popularity, the city of Vienna moved  most of its prominent dead to “Honor Graves.” These include Brahms, Beethoven and Schubert – graves still popular today. Vienna grants the selected few Honor Graves for the life of the cemetery and assumes the costs for caring for the graves. In an interview in Austrian National Television, (ORF – link below) a reporter asks the man in charge of the grave honor what one has to do get an Honor Grave. His response? “Well, it’s not a very desirable achievement since the first thing you have to do is die.”

BUT DEATH MAKES NO DISTINCTIONS AND THREE TIMES A CHARM – EVEN WHEN YOU’RE DEAD (July 2011, Habsburg and the last Austrian royal funeral)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Grave at St. Marx Cemetery in Vienna

Mozart’s Grave in St. Marx Cemetery in Vienna

“Death as the true best friend of man.” – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Since 1633, Austrian royalty has been buried in the Imperial Crypt under the Capuchin Church in Vienna. Some body parts, however, such as the hearts and intestines are buried elsewhere. Currently over 145 members of the House of Habsburg have their last resting place in the Imperial Crypt. When Otto von Habsburg passed in July 2011, a traditional royal funeral was held with all the pomp and circumstance and is said to be the last time an Austrian royal will ever be buried in the Imperial Crypt.

Open Sesame – watch the link above (July 2011) and here’s what you’re witnessing:

Schubert's Tombstone at the Central Cemetery in Vienna

Schubert’s Tombstone at the Central Cemetery in Vienna

A Herald in a black suit leads the casket procession through the heart of old Vienna up to the Capuchin Church. The Herald knocks upon the iron gates with his long black cane. A Capuchin monk, whose brethren have held watch over the crypt since the 1600s, asks: “Who demands entry?”

After hundreds of years, you would think someone would have written down the right answer but nein. In attempts one and two, the Herald iterates an exhausting list of the the dead royal’s titles and accomplishments. Nearly three whole minutes. But the monks, being monks, are stoic and patient and simply respond, “Don’t know ’em.” (In all fairness to the monks, this seems a very benevolent response. After almost 4 centuries of conducting this ritual, I’d be a bit more testy with such slow students. Or maybe I’d paint a cheat sheet on the iron gate.)

Finally, upon the third attempt, eureka. The Herald responds, “Otto, a sinful mortal.”

Bingo! The gates open and the monks respond: “So then come inside.” (Monkese for, “Why didn’t you say so in the first place?”)


“The biggest effort in life is not getting accustomed to death.” – Elias Canetti

Angel on Tombstone at St. Marx's Cemetery

Angel on Tombstone at St. Marx’s Cemetery

I had never been to St. Marx and always wanted to go so this past weekend I went. Finally I managed to visit the place where Mozart’s bones are said to be buried somewhere in a mass grave. And I was not disappointed. Again, just when I thought I knew every single one of her little secrets, Vienna sprung a beauty on me. A wonderful surprise and a trip I highly recommend. I love this place. (Take bus 74A from the road that passes in front of Wien Mitte/ Landstrasse (on the U4 and U3 lines) to the station Hofmannsthalgasse – just a short hop and skip from there.)

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Central Cemetery, Vienna, one of the biggest cemetery's in all of Europe

Central Cemetery, Vienna, one of the biggest cemetery’s in all of Europe

Cross marking Austrian Artist, Max Weiler's burial place, Central Cemetery

Cross marking Austrian Artist, Max Weiler’s burial place, Central Cemetery

Tombstone of Johannes Brahms in Vienna's Central Cemetery

Tombstone of Johannes Brahms in Vienna’s Central Cemetery