Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Graveyard of the Unknown


Albern Hafen is situated along the banks of the Danube and is one of Vienna’s not-so-grand industrial districts. Instead of grand baroque architecture we slowed the car down outside a large warehouse wedged between some industrial silos. The glare of floodlights hit us and that was briefly followed by the nip of the cold November-evening air. My aunt handed me and my cousin a pack of candles and we turned towards the only signs of life on this ghostly harbour. One by one we lit a candle and set them down next to each grave, I started with a grave simply named Mary. I did not know who Mary was. I did not know anybody buried here. There are some graves here that nobody knows. They are unknown.

 Vienna’s lesser known 'Freidhof der Namenlosen' means Graveyard of the Unknown as the many of the bodies are named with just a Christian name, if anything. The graveyard lies on the banks of the Danube at the place where bodies were washed up by the flow. Many of these bodies were from boating accidents but the majority were suicides and never got a proper burial.  In the late 1800’s bodies were buried in unnamed graves by the side of the Danube but from the 1900’s onwards a second cemetery was built which has been maintained to this day.

The cemetery had a brief appearance in the film “Before Sunrise” and gained some tourists hoping to lose themselves in Vienna like the film’s protagonists. The cemetery is one of Vienna’s hidden treasures and remains unspoilt due to it’s relative inaccessibility. There is only one bus that passes Albern Hafen, but beware that in the wrong context the word “albern” could mean 'foolish'. The harbour is relatively hard to navigate  even when you have a car. Despite the industrial surroundings, the cemetery is set in it’s own natural oasis by the river encased by trees. The cemetery is one of the few sites left in Vienna that does not leave you fighting for elbow space even in the height of summer. One visit leaves a lasting impression

On the first night of November, while the United Kingdom is busy preparing their bonfires and clearing away pumpkin residue, other parts of Europe celebrate All Saints Day. Poland and other predominantly Catholic European countries celebrate All Saints Day by lighting candles by the graves of the dead to remember them. This  produces a light display to rival the fireworks back home. In Vienna the ZentralFreidhof becomes illuminated by candles of those paying their respects to celebrated figures such as Ludwig Beethoven as well as many of their relatives. The Friedhof der Namenlosen may not appear as impressive as the larger graveyards in this grand city but there is something so much more touching about the celebration here. The thought that all those unnamed bodies still have someone there to remember them even though they are left with nothing, not even a name.  




2 comments:

Sandhurst. said...

Superb, also touching....

Sandhurst. said...

Superb, also touching...