| Thomas Bach |
VIENNA (AFP) – Just in time for Halloween on Friday and a weekend devoted to the dead, Vienna’s unashamedly morbid Funeral Museum is now closer to the action: The Austrian capital’s huge Central Cemetery.
In a city with a singular attitude to kicking the bucket – “Death himself must be a Viennese,” one local song says – the “Bestattungsmuseum” was the world’s first of its kind when it first opened in 1967.
This month it reopened, updated for the digital age, in new premises at the Zentralfriedhof, the second-largest cemetery in Europe by surface area.
But with some three million “inhabitants”, the graveyard is the biggest by number of interred.
The stepped entrance to the subterranean museum takes people literally down into the underworld of undertakers from centuries past, “into the realm of the dead”, museum director Helga Bock told AFP.
Some 250 items are on display, many quite opulent, showing how for the Viennese having a good send-off – or as they say a “schoene Leich” or “beautiful corpse” – is important, no matter what the cost.
“For nobles, and especially the Imperial Court, funerals were opportunities to demonstrate power. And people adopted these customs, which is why Vienna developed such a specific mourning culture,” Bock said.
The many eerie items include death masks, death notices and various coffins.
But among the more bizarre is a bell that was placed above ground, attached to the corpse by a string, to ring if you were buried alive by mistake – and a special “Herzstichmesser” knife to pierce the heart to make doubly sure you weren’t.
Another curiosity is a reusable wooden coffin with a hinged door underneath instigated in 1784 by Emperor Joseph II in order to save money, but withdrawn a year later.