What Père Lachaise is for Paris, is the Zentralfriedhof for Vienna. The Viennese have a particular relationship to death. “Der Tod ist ein Wiener” – Death is Viennese – is a famous saying. Especially in autumn, when the city is covered in fog, when you walk through the dark streets on your own, some crows in the distance, you may realise why. The Viennese mock death, it is part of many Wiener Lieder (traditional Viennese songs) and artworks and there are countless idioms referring to death.
In such a morbid yet melancholic or maybe even a bit cynical place like Vienna, cemeteries are a must visit. The Zentralfriedhof, the central cemetery, is located in Simmering, one of the outer districts of Vienna. It is the place where not only politicians, artists and businesspeople but also normal people were laid to rest.
The Zentralfriedhof today is the second largest cemetery in Europe. (The largest one is in Hamburg). Over 300,000 graves spread across 2.5 square kilometres. At the time of its construction it was the biggest one. But more importantly, the Zentralfriedhof was among the first inter-religious cemeteries in Europe. It is a place where not only Catholics but also many more groups such as Protestants, Muslims, Jews, Mormons, Buddhists, or people not following any religion are buried.
Because of this inter-religious approach, the cemetery is divided into sections. There is the old and the new jewish cemetery, for example. Being an inter-religious cemetery may not soon revolutionary today but when it was opened in 1874, it sparked a big controversy and the Catholic cardinal refused to attend the opening ceremony.
Jugendstil (Art Nouveau)
The Zentralfriedhof is also a must-visit for fans of the Jugendstil, or Art Nouveau. Similar to the church in Steinhof or the residential buildings in Brunn am Gebirge near Vienna, the Zentralfriedhof was designed in Jugendstil according to the plans of the architects Karl Jonas Mylius and Alfred Friedrich Bluntschli.
The Karl-Borromäus-Kirche, the church in the centre of the cemetery, illustrates this approach best. It was also called Dr.-Karl-Lueger-Gedächtniskirche to commemorate the late mayor Dr. Karl Lueger who is buried in the vault below the church.
Lueger governed Vienna at the beginning of the 20th century and had a crucial impact on the long-term infrastructure of the city by building the trams or social institutions, for example. During his lifetime and long after his death, Lueger was celebrated for his achievements as mayor. Today, however, memorials for him are criticised as he was an outspoken anti-Semite.
The church reminded me of the one in Steinhof. Its base is also a square and three of the sides look almost identical. Also on the inside, many details such as the chandeliers and décor looked similar, as they follow the signature Jugendstil elements.
Nevertheless, I find the church in Steinhof designed by Otto Wagner a bit more intricate. The church at the Zentralfriedhof is beautiful, it just does not come across as delicate. I guess it may be the proportions making it feel a bit cruder than its counterpart in Steinhof.
The church is still in use today for funeral ceremonies.
There are further Jugendstil buildings and details throughout the cemetery. From the gates, to further halls, to the café at Gate 2 (the main gate).
The most important graves are right along the avenue coming from Gate 2 (Tor 2) in the sections/groups 32A, 32C, 33G. (You can find a map with the sections here or at the main gates and points at the cemetery). If you walk towards the church, on the left side, you will find the graves of the likes of Beethoven, Strauss and Nestroy. Further towards the church, there are the ones of important politicians. The vault of the former presidents is located right in front of the church.
State Funerals and Official Graves
Important Austrian personalities are offered a “Staatsbegräbnis”, a state funeral financed by the government. It also means that the government will pay for the upkeep of the grave. Most of these graves are along the avenue leading to the church. Some important personalities such as artist Alfred Hrdlicka did not accept the offer and paid for the funeral and grave themselves.
Trivia about Some Graves
The Hrdlicka grave is very interesting from a tombstone perspective: the artist himself designed it. It is a naked torso lying on the grave and a female body as a tombstone. Hrdlicka always polarised, hence, it comes as no surprise that even his grave sparked a big controversy. The female body depicts his wife Barbara (her name is also written or scratched on the lower side of the tombstone). Barbara was an avid lover of high heels and Hrdlicka incorporated her passion in their tombstone.
Ludwig van Beethoven’s grave was moved after his death. This is one of many examples of important personalities being moved to the Zentralfriedhof to make the cemetery more attractive.
In addition to Beethoven, the Strauss dynasty (father and sons), Josef Lanner and Arnold Schönberg are further composers who are buried at the Zentralfriedhof. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was not buried here. He was buried at the Biedermeier cemetery in St. Marx. His grave cannot be identified anymore today as Biedermeier cemeteries did not have long-lasting tombstones with names on them.
Examples of further important personalities buried at the Zentralfriedhof:
- Johann Nestroy, writer
- Hedy Lamarr, actress
- Maria Lassnig, artist
- W. Fred Adlmüller, fashion designer
- Karl Farkas, actor
- Udo Jürgens, singer, winner of the Eurovision Song Contest
- Thonet family, inventors of the Thonet chair
- Franz West, artist
- Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, inventor of the fitted kitchen
- Therese Krones, actress
- Falco, singer (he is kind of worshipped in Austria for making number 1 in the US charts with “Amadeus”)
- Johanna Dohnal, first Austrian Minister for Women
- Bruno Kreisky, Chancellor
- Barbara Prammer, Austrian politician, Minister for Women and Head of the National Assembly
Apart from the hunt for celebrity graves, I highly recommend to pay close attention to the details of graves you may pass.
I found the details symbolising death particularly interesting, such as an intricate statue of a woman with a face covered under a veil, or upside-down torches.
The grave of August Zang, the founder of the newspaper Die Presse, is very interesting as well. Zang himself is depicted holding what looks like a certificate for Die Presse. He sits on a rock and looks up to some gnomes in front of the entrance of a mine. This is a reference to the fact that he made his fortune by investing in shares of mines.
Take time to explore all the different sections – there is a Mormon section or a Buddhist section, for example. The “Gruppe 40” (section 40) is a fairly recent area for artists. Furthermore, there is a forest section: As the name suggests, this section looks like a forest, but it actually is an alternative to be buried without any grave or tombstone.
Throughout the Zentralfriedhof, there are various memorials. One example is the World War II Memorial.
How to Explore
On Your Own
The Zentralfriedhof is huge and even though I love to walk, I guess the best way to explore the cemetery is by bike.
Alternatively, you can also take a horse carriage – if you want to have a more traditional Viennese vibe.
There is a special cemetery bus (number 11), leaving every half hour between 9 am and 3.30 pm (on Saturdays also at 4 and 4.30 pm) so that you do not need to walk long distances. You can use the ticket of the Wiener Linien (the Viennese public transport).
I also highly recommend to join a guided tour. I did one organised by Verein Wiener Spaziergänge. Even though bookings are not required, I recommend sending them an email in advance and book. Especially in times of social distancing it is a good idea to that, as there are no guaranteed spots if there are too many people and if you have not booked in advance. The tour is EUR 18 (about USD 21) per person and takes about two hours. It is limited to the main avenue starting from Gate 2 to the most popular graves but also passing some memorials and further sections of the cemetery.
If you need a break or get hungry, there is a branch of Kurkonditorei Oberlaa at Gate 2.
Even though you are exploring the place as if it was a sight, please bear in mind that you are visiting a cemetery. Be quiet and pay respect to the dead and to people mourning their loved ones.
It is allowed to take pictures, but again, be respectful. It is not an official rule, but I would also advise not to wear hot pants, crop tops or tank tops. If you visit a church or a cemetery, please wear respectful clothes.
November 3rd until February: 8 am – 5 pm
March: 7 am – 6 pm
April until September: 7 am – 7pm
October 1st until November 2nd: 7 am – 6 pm
(Note: the smaller side gates may close one hour before or after the official opening times.
There is no entrance fee to enter the Zentralfriedhof.
How to Get There
Take the subway (U-Bahn) line U3 until the terminal station Simmering. Change to tram 11 or 71 until “Zentralfriedhof 2. Tor”. The tram 71 takes you directly from the State Opera in the city centre to the Zentralfriedhof, but will take about 15-20 minutes longer than taking the U3 and then change. But if you prefer to see more of Vienna than just the dark underground, the tram 71 is the one to take.
If you come by car, there is public parking outside of the Gate 1, 2, 3, 9 and 11 (for the visit, I recommend Gate 2). It is a Kurzparkzone (like in the city), where you have to pay between 8 am and 11 am. After 11 am, parking is free. You can enter the cemetery by car against a fee of EUR 2.80 (daily between 8 am and 5 pm).
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All information as of the date of publishing/updating and based on the personal visit of Elisabeth Steiger, the information available at the Zentralfriedhof, during the guided tour of Verein Wiener Spaziergänge and the official website of the Viennese cemeteries. We cannot accept responsibility for the correctness or completeness of the data, or for ensuring that it is up to date. All recommendations are based on the personal experience of Elisabeth Steiger, no fees were received by the recommended places above.