Monday, October 28, 2013

The Viennese and Death

Zentral Friedhof - Central Cemetery of Vienna
Yes, the title of this post is morbid. But in honor of Halloween, I thought it appropriate to write this post after attending a language school lecture with the same title. Halloween is hardly celebrated here, but there is still a focus on death this time of year due to this coming Friday's holiday "All Saints Day".

Here are a few interesting tidbits about the relationship between the people of Vienna and death:

  • On "All Saints Day" (this Friday), all businesses will be closed so that Catholic families can visit the graves of dead loved ones, leaving flowers and lighting candles to remember them.
  • Many Viennese these days are leaving the Catholic church (giving up their official membership) to avoid paying the mandatory church tax. However, many of them rejoin the church late in life so that when they die, they can have a "proper" Catholic funeral and appease their families
  • Everyone here is automatically an organ donor when they die, unless they specifically ask not to be (the opposite of the American system)
  • There were a few famous cases in Vienna's history (1800s and earlier) of someone being buried alive. Out of these came a fear of being buried alive. Still today, some Viennese have it written in their will to have a knife stabbed through their heart  before being buried, to ensure they are truly dead.
  • For most Catholics, the funeral ceremony with the body takes place at the cemetery and then the church service (Requiem) takes place a few days later, after the body has already been buried. Therefore, the body is never actually in the church for the funeral (with the exception of very prominent or wealthy figures).
  • It is illegal to bury a pet (or a person, for that matter) in your yard or garden when they die, because of sanitary reasons. Pets must be cremated or buried in a pet cemetery.
  • Several centuries ago, all cemeteries in Vienna were next to the Catholic churches in the city. However, the bodies were contaminating the soil and water, so it was decided to move all graves to a central cemetery "far out of the city". Unfortunately, the city kept growing and soon this new cemetery location was right in the middle of bustling Vienna! So the bodies were moved again, further outside of Vienna, to the location known today as the "Central Cemetery".

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