jueves, 3 de enero de 2013

Km 27,471: Vienna, the land of cemeteries

I like visiting cemeteries. Not because of my mexican love for death and celebrating everything that surrounds it with sugar skulls, flowers and cigarettes (for Grandma who loved to smoke, God rest her soul). I like visiting cemeteries for the same reason I like reading graffiti and looking at altars of St. Jude: because I'm a voyeur. May it be the death of a loved one, someone's thoughts sprayed on a wall or a person's faith in the solution of a lost cause, all of these represent public but anonymous displays of something very intimate. However cemeteries, in addition to satisfying my craving for intruding in the private life of strangers, also function as a cruel reminder that time is ticking mercilessly. When I walk past the grave of children and people for whom life ended rather sooner than later, the thought that, one day, death will catch up with us too sinks in.

I am not alone in my love for cemeteries. According to a free map picked up in a store, Viennese people have a morbid fascination with death and cemeteries, not because they are voyeurs, but just because they're grim. Viennese citizens are taught to embrace death throughout their existence. They sing to death, they build monuments to it, they take their families for a stroll through the city's cemeteries to remind their children that your own funeral is the ultimate chance for a memorable party. The Viennese take the idea of "ein schöne Leiche" (a beautiful corpse) very seriously and save money their entire life to afford the best of the best for their funeral. I would think this is messed up if it weren't because I already have my own funerary urn (courtesy of my father) to rest my ashes for eternity.

Either way, the more than 50 cementeries in Vienna are a big attraction both for its gloomy inhabitants and for the flashy troupes of tourists. The tourist guides will suggest to visit the Zentralfriedhof and bask in the glory of visiting Beethoven's, Brahms' and Falco's graves. But if the corpses of talented musicians aren't enough for you, bear in mind that there are more people buried in this cemetery than actually living in Vienna at the moment and you are likely to run into other underground celebrities. 

But no, I wanted to mention a less well-known but equally beautiful graveyard, the Cementery of the Nameless. Close to 500 persons whose body was washed ashore along the Danube have been buried here. The last burial took place in 1940, a woman who presumably committed suicide by jumping into the ice cold water of the river. Josef Fuchs, the current caretaker of the cemetery, inherited this task from his father and his grandfather who, as a police gendarme at the time the cemetery opened to receive the first bodies, had to pay frequent visits to the suicide, murder and accidental drowning victims that were layed here to rest forever. He ended up taking over the maintenance of the cemetery and caring for the graves of these lost people, who could not be taken care of by their loved ones (if there were, in fact, any). 

All the graves in the cementery are marked with a black metal plaque that says "Namenlos" or "Unbekannt" in silver ink. They are all meticulously decorated with flowers and statues, but you can easily recognize the children's graves. They are the ones decorated with toys.

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