St Marx cemetery

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St Marx cemeteryAn enchanting old cemetery in Vienna, very atmospherically overgrown and peaceful – at least away from the grave of its most famous "resident": Mozart. For the dark tourist, however, the main attraction is simply the darkly romantic general atmosphere of much of the rest of the cemetery.
More background info: The St. Marx cemetery (nothing to do with Karl, by the way, the name is just an old short form for Marcus) is one of Vienna's municipal cemeteries set up after a decree by Emperor Joseph II banning all burials within the city from 1784. At that point the cemetery was outside the city limits. However, the city kept growing and soon engulfed the increasingly inadequate smaller municipal cemeteries, so the Central Cemetery (Zentralfriedhof) was created far out in the plains of Simmering to replace the older cemeteries. Accordingly, the one at St. Marx too was closed in 1874.
Since then it long lay abandoned and was repeatedly at risk of being destroyed altogether. However, it was here that one of the most famous Austrians of all time, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was buried. This probably saved the cemetery – although it wasn't until the late 1930s that it became a protected listed monument, was partly cleared of undergrowth and reopened to the public (for viewing, burials have not taken place here since 1874).
Today it's an enchanting mix of still wild, overgrown parts that are hardly accessible, and main alleys that are kept clean and free from vegetation so that you can just roam around. It's the last of Vienna's Biedermeier cemeteries – the only one preserved in its entirety. Unfortunately, its location has been massively encroached upon by modern developments nearby. In particular those two motorway flyovers to the western and southern perimeter of the cemetery add a strange contrast to the romanticism of the cemetery – and traffic noise too. But it's not as bad or distracting as it may sound – at least not once you are away from those outer walls.
One more thing about Mozart: it's not clear whether today's grave of the popular composer actually is the spot where he was buried. Back then, after Mozart had died his untimely death at nearly 36 years of age, his corpse was simply put in an unmarked grave at St. Marx cemetery, hastily buried at night, like a pauper, in lonesome disgrace – as legend has it.
Reality was a bit different. In actual fact the way he was buried was quite normal at the time. Transport of corpses was only permitted after dark. Unmarked simple (mass) graves were rather the norm than the exception (unless you were royalty or very rich or both). It was, after all, the time of the many reforms during the enlightened, modernist, pragmatic reign of Emperor Joseph II. The fact that nobody accompanied the transport of the body or was present at the actual burial was also nothing out of the ordinary. People said their final farewells before the body was taken away by the undertakers, whose job it was to see to the rest (and it wasn't necessarily expected that there would be any spectators).
All this meant, though, that no-one can be sure about the exact location of the burial spot. The current spot with the memorial is no more than an educated guess – made many years later, based on vague undertakers' memories. Still, it probably is as close as we can ever get to a genuine Mozart grave … the one in the Central Cemetery is definitely no more than just a memorial monument (originally erected at St. Marx, but moved out to the Central Cemetery later). The Mozart "tomb" monument in St. Marx has had its current form only since the 1950s – and is more a tourist trap than a genuine grave …
What there is to see: Most tourists (many Japanese seem to be particularly keen) come here to see only one grave – that of Mozart (however genuine it may be; see background); there they take a few snaps and then bugger off again. Don't follow suit. It would be a shame.
In fact, from a dark tourism perspective it's the rest of the cemetery that is the real attraction, not Mozart's overly clean, flower-laden and, well, kitschy "grave" (the broken column is supposed to symbolize the fact that he died young … and the white cherub? Don't know …).
OK, if you're here, you may well feel obliged to have a quick look – but then do go and explore the rest that lies off the beaten central path that leads to Mozart (signposted even).
As a general rule of thumb, the somewhat grander grave monuments are found near the perimeter walls and along the main paths. But little gems and/or bizarre discoveries can also be found further away from these main arteries. Getting really into the thick of it, though, can indeed be difficult, due to the overgrown nature of some areas.
It's difficult to pick out any particular graves, but you'll notice an unusual proportion of male (or neutral?) angel sculptures (rather than pretty female ones, such as at the Central Cemetery). Quite a few of them are headless by now too. Indeed, the damage that some graves have sustained over time can occasionally add a certain atmospheric element. Although it probably goes too far in the case of one stone on the western wall that says "unvergesslich" ('unforgettable'), but the rest of the slab is blank, probably weathered away … irony created by time.
You'll also notice just a few of those typical red cemetery lanterns – apparently placed by people for aesthetic effect rather than grieving for the particular deceased.
There are a few very unusual shapes of gravestones too – e.g. at the south-eastern corner of the cemetery, where one monument looks like harbour bollard (maybe the deceased was a sailor or harbour master?).
Along the south-western edge, quite near the wall, there's one tombstone that stands out in that it is riddled with bullet holes … presumably, though I couldn't be sure, these are scars from WWII (when Vienna was conquered by the Soviet Red Army).
But these shall just serve as a few isolated examples. Go and explore for yourselves. It's as much about the general enchanted atmosphere of the place as about individual discoveries (on that front, the Central Cemetery is much more yielding …).
Location: at Leberstraße 6-8, on the south-eastern edge of the 3rd district of Vienna, wedged in between motorway overpasses and train lines on three sides.
Google maps locator: [48.1839,16.4034]
Access and costs: a bit remote; but free – details: to get as close as is possible by public transport take the tram line 71 (from Schubertring or Schwarzenbergplatz in the Inner City) or regional metro train (S-Bahn S7/RSB7) to the St. Marx stop. From here it's about a half mile walk – it's signposted, but you may have to keep a careful eye out for the signs (they're not of the most noticeable sort).
You basically have to find Leberstraße, which runs parallel to the S-Bahn line and Rennweg, and walk it to the end in the direction of the motorway overpass you will already see from a distance, until you see the brick gate and gatehouse. There is only this one entrance.
(NOTE: do not use the tram stop Litfaßstraße, which on the map looks closer to the cemetery – as you need to be on the other side of the S-Bahn line, which is not accessible from this stop).
The cemetery can be accessed freely from 7 a.m. to dusk in winter (November to March), or until 5 p.m. in April/October, 6 p.m. in May and September, and until 7 p.m. June to August.
Time required: anything between 15-20 minutes for just a quick impression to something like two hours or even longer for a more comprehensive, immersing exploration of the less trodden paths and overgrown alleys between the tombstones.
Combinations with other dark destinations: You can walk from St. Marx cemetery to the Arsenal complex with its Military History Museum (which has such dark attractions as Franz Ferdinand's deathbed, clothes and the car he was assassinated in). And from there you could walk on to Vienna's unique Funeral Museum (but the latter is accessible by appointment only).
To get to the Arsenal from the gate to the cemetery turn left just past the main gatehouse and proceed through the little park outside the western wall and through a housing estate until you get to the corner of Landstraßer Hauptstraße and Landstraßer Gürtel at Wildgansplatz. Cross the road and either walk down Kelsenstraße or hop on the No. 18 tram for one stop (in the direction of Burggasse/Stadthalle), getting off at Heinrich-Drimmel-Platz and walk down Ghegastraße. Proceed to the building marked "Objekt 1" and "Arsenal" and walk through the gate and courtyard to the entrance of the museum (marked "HGM").  
A combination in the same category would be Vienna's great Central Cemetery (Zentralfriedhof) – for an altogether different, and ultimately even better cemetery experience. To get there, first retrace your steps to the tram stop (71) or S-Bahn ("St. Marx") and get the No. 71 tram all the way to the main gates of the Zentralfriedhof, or the S7/RSB7 regional fast train (to get you to a back entrance to the Zentralfriedhof).
Combinations with non-dark destinations: none nearby – see under Vienna in general. 
  • St Marx cemetery 01 - central pathSt Marx cemetery 01 - central path
  • St Marx cemetery 02 - signs lead to MozartSt Marx cemetery 02 - signs lead to Mozart
  • St Marx cemetery 03 - Mozart graveSt Marx cemetery 03 - Mozart grave
  • St Marx cemetery 04 - overgrown perimeter wallSt Marx cemetery 04 - overgrown perimeter wall
  • St Marx cemetery 05 - headlessSt Marx cemetery 05 - headless
  • St Marx cemetery 06 - not quite leglessSt Marx cemetery 06 - not quite legless
  • St Marx cemetery 07 - not quite unforgettableSt Marx cemetery 07 - not quite unforgettable
  • St Marx cemetery 08 - fading beautySt Marx cemetery 08 - fading beauty
  • St Marx cemetery 09 - dead - my arseSt Marx cemetery 09 - dead - my arse
  • St Marx cemetery 09b - red light by angelSt Marx cemetery 09b - red light by angel
  • St Marx cemetery 10 - atmosphericSt Marx cemetery 10 - atmospheric
  • St Marx cemetery 11 - unusualSt Marx cemetery 11 - unusual
  • St Marx cemetery 12 - bullet holesSt Marx cemetery 12 - bullet holes
  • St Marx cemetery 13 - English sarcophagusSt Marx cemetery 13 - English sarcophagus
  • St Marx cemetery 14 - beaten baseball angelSt Marx cemetery 14 - beaten baseball angel
  • St Marx cemetery 14 - weather-beaten angelSt Marx cemetery 14 - weather-beaten angel
  • St Marx cemetery 15 - approach and gatehouseSt Marx cemetery 15 - approach and gatehouse
  • St Marx cemetery 16 - gateSt Marx cemetery 16 - gate
  • St Marx cemeterySt Marx cemetery

©, Peter Hohenhaus 2010-2019

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