Vienna – Even in times of a pandemic, Viennese like to face death in a museum entirely devoted to funeral directors that evokes the afterlife bluntly, with puzzling humor.
Installed in the basements of a fiery Art Deco chapel in the central cemetery of the Austrian capital, this place was the first in the world to exhibit, from 1967, a collection of coffins and shrouds to trace the evolution of the culture of mourning.
“Many people fear the Grim Reaper, but it’s like taxes, you can’t cut it“, quips a seventy-year-old Viennese of American origin, Jack Curtin.
He came with his companion, an expert on the diseases of the most famous deceased and both roam the rooms in the dim light finding the idea of such a place “excellent“.
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Japan, Canada … visitors used to come from far away, but with the coronavirus pandemic and the border closures, Austrians now have this 300 m2 site just for them on All Saints’ Day.
– “Morbid side” –
Here, the saying goes that death is Viennese and the public is passionate about the temporary exhibition mounted on the occasion of the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, resting close by.
It does not retrace the life of the German composer, but unveils his death mask and meticulously describes his agony linked to an illness.
Ditto for Joseph Haydn, whose skull was stolen in 1809 by young medical students and buried nearly a century and a half later.
“Vienna is quite famous for its morbid side“, explains Julia Würzl, a young woman who came to take a deliciously melancholy autumnal walk through the graves.
The central cemetery offers a last rest to three million souls, a record in Europe, while the living inhabitants of the city, they are not two million.
The emergence of the Covid-19 disease has not dissuaded the museum from opening its doors and on the contrary, financed by the municipality, it proposes more than ever to consider death as a part of life.
“I believe that with the epidemic people started to think more strongly about how they would like to be buried“, explains to AFP Sarah Hierhacker, in charge of public relations.
– Lego hearse –
In Vienna, cradle of the “death drive“theorized by Sigmund Freud, the biodegradable urn is now on the rise, as are the vaults which make room for Labradors and Chihuahuas …
The pure imperial tradition turned any beer into a spectacular display of power, and it remains fashionable in the ancient city of the Habsburgs “successful burial“.
Nothing is more frowned upon than to dodge the subject, even with the youngest: crematorium, hearse, skeleton … the museum shop offers a whole range of Lego, available nowhere else, allowing you to “play death“in the playgrounds.
“While it is certainly necessary to choose words that are suitable for them, it is however crucial to be clear and transparent with children of all ages, because feeling alone (in the face of death) creates fear and trauma.“, insists psychotherapist Michaela Tomek.
The educational virtues of these toys worthy of the “addams family“are appreciated by the Austrians. Without finding this dismal, they buy them like hot cakes.
They also flock to fabric masks on which the museum, which handles black humor, has inscribed the epitaph: “Coronasceptics free up jobs“.
“We printed 3,000 but we had 7,000 requests“Says Sarah Hierhacker, while a dapper lady is disappointed to leave empty-handed.
Squeaking, another visitor asks if the city will be reactivating the “hearse tram“At the height of the Spanish flu in 1918, Vienna had set up a dark train to collect the bodies.
A century later, the public transport line 71 still follows its route. Hence the Viennese expression “take the 71“, which means to succumb.