CONTROVERSY IN VIENNA’S CENTRAL CEMETERY
At one point during a strict lock-down phase of the pandemic, a controversy that had been simmering since June 2019 regarding the 2.4 square kilometer (0.92 square miles) areal that is home to the 330,000 graves serving as the last resting place for 3 million dead in Vienna’s Central Cemetery, flared up anew. Should the living be able to use the cemetery’s well-kept paths as a place to go for a run? Part of me got the critique. It was the same part of me that has never been quite comfortable with Arlington Cemetery’s dual-purpose as a resting place for the nation’s bravest and a tourist stop for DC’s Hop-On-Hop-Off buses. Another part of me, the part that recalibrates through a good run, rooted for a peaceful co-existence between the runners and resters. Granted, the upbeat orange runner signposts installed throughout the cemetery conveyed neither the solemnity nor the reflection due the cemetery’s (semi-)permanent residents (“semi-” because make no mistake, in Austria, they are hardcore when it comes to timely payment of gravesite fees – dead or not, you don’t pay your rent for your six feet under and you will be booted outa there faster than you can say Zentralfriedhofbestattungsmuseumdirektor). But given the fact that vehicles of all shapes and sizes were, with special permission, also allowed to drive the cemetery’s lanes, it seemed hard to argue that anyone out for a quick canter around the tombstones would be causing any kind of greater disruption. A part of me believes that the cemetery’s (semi-) permanent residents would even appreciate the presence of young, fit visitors, breathing deep and moving fast. Austrians, always the diplomats, baptized the trails “The Silent Run.” According to a report by the ORF (Austrian National Broadcasting Agency), the Central Cemetery hadn’t received a single complaint about runners using the trails. In these polarizing times, that’s something to aspire to.