I'm in Vienna and I’ve just laid a rose on Beethoven’s grave. I feel slightly embarrassed, like a groupie.
The graveyard where Beethoven spends his eternity is in sharp contrasts with his ineffably sad life story. Beethoven was a foul-tempered man, struggling in his later years with profound deafness, unable to hear the applause at his own concerts and evicted by one Viennese landlady after another until his death in 1827.
But Vienna’s Zentralfriedhof is not a gloomy place today; in fact, it’s lush and green, sunlight dappling through the trees, the air filled with birdsong, red squirrels scampering through avenues of stately horse chestnuts. As one of Europe’s most star-studded cemeteries (and with 2.5 million inhabitants, a population larger than that of Vienna itself), a visit here is all part of getting to know Vienna, a city that lives in the past, celebrating the dead as much as the living.
The big names lying on this graveyard are all clustered together in their own VIP corner; as well as Beethoven, there’s a memorial to Mozart and the tombs of Schubert, Brahms, Gluck and the entire Strauss family are also here.
Zentralfriedhof is quiet, its remembrance of the great does not include crowds of people waiting in line to throw a rose or hundreds of people giving out lipstick kisses, as happens at the memorial sites of Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. Instead, Zentralfriedhof is like Vienna: calm and sophisticated.
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