What does a Hollywood actress; a Viennese taxi driver and Beethoven have in common?
It’s not by the way, the start of a convoluted joke.
All three are either interred in the Central Cemetery in Vienna known there as the Zentralfriedhof. Or have memorials erected to them in the largest cemetery in Europe.
In the case of the first person she was a very beautiful film actress Hedy Lamarr and a star of some note plus she was also an inventor whom today we nearly all use something that she conceived way back in the 1940’s and is now used in Wi-Fi.
The second a taxi driver Milan and so proud of his trade that an image of him driving his Mercedes hire car is engraved in great detail on his polished black granite gravestone.
Beethoven of course the 19th century composer who lived in very many houses in and around Vienna in his lifetime. However today he is settled into one place and is surrounded by fellow musical giants like that of Brahms, Strauss and Schubert!
Certainly the cemetery deserves a diversion from the city centre. Being the largest cemetery in Europe finding some of those famous and the not so famous can be quite a task as it covers over 590 acres and there are over 300,000 graves. However buried in the grounds close to the main entrance a fairly new addition, a dedicated funeral museum called the Museum of Funeral History and housed in a classic Art Nouveau building.
BURIED SECRETS OF FUNERAL MUSEUM
Continuing with a constant flow of the newly deceased the cemetery staffs are not just content with keeping all those graves in pretty good shape but the gardens, lawns and public areas well trimmed and presented too.
Displaying hundreds of artifacts in the modern museum used by the funeral business, showing and explaining more about the trade of death.
As well as new and old styles of coffins the ornate items used to drape them for funeral services, clothing and tools of trade. Cremation urns through the ages including an urn you can decorate yourself.
One special item is a re-usable coffin cleverly designed in the 18th century allowed what looked to be a perfectly normal coffin from the top to be used for a conventional internments.
However once lowered into the ground and one assumes after the mourners have left the graveside a rope is pulled and the base of the casket opened and the corpse would fall out allowing it to be used again and again. However this wood saving idea brought in by Joseph II in 1784 only lasted around 6 months and again bodies had to be placed in a sealed coffin and buried. Although I understand that even today Muslim burials have to adhere to the coffin internments rather than just in shrouds, which is traditional.
Walking around the huge graveyard the tap, tapping of mallet on chisel as a stone mason dexterously was letter carving the name of a recently buried person whom had now joined a relative or friend for all time.
This is a vast complex and probably requires more than one visit but it is a never the less a fascinating place where quirky and tradition meet, mixing really rather well together. In all there have been over 3million internments. Today there are many multi faith sections with Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Russian Orthodox and Buddhists having plots within the complex.
Rather like Beethoven’s very traditional grave marker, then Hedy Lamarr’s ultra contemporary one and as for Milan the taxi driver well I will leave that one with you to decide where that one falls?
Entrance fee: €6