Vienna cemeteries get a find-a-grave App

(source: Austrian Times, 31-10-2012)
Europe's largest cemetery with more than 300,000 graves has unveiled a new smartphone app to help people find their loved ones because so many people were getting lost around the sprawling grounds of the Austrian capital Vienna's Zentralfriedhof.

The new cemetery App will not just be useful for relatives looking for loved ones but also for people doing research into family histories and for cemetery staff looking to find certain graves, said Vienna cemetery spokesman Markus Pinter.

One of the reasons that cemetery officials need to find graves is because they are rented on an initial 10 year contract and after that can be extended for periods of 5 years at a time or more. If anybody fails to pay and fails to act on the requests for payment then they lose the right to rent the grave and it is rented to a new tenant. The grave is then reopened and the body put further down – typically at a depth of around 2.8 m – allowing the new body to be placed in the space above.

And tourists will also find it interesting – interred in the Zentralfriedhof are notables such as Beethoven and Schubert who were moved there in 1888, and Johannes Brahms, Antonio Salieri, Johann Strauss II and Arnold Schoenberg. There is a cenotaph erected in honour of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, but he was actually buried in nearby St. Marx Cemetery.

And the new App will be usable on all of the city's 50 cemeteries.

The Zentralfriedhof (German for "Central Cemetery") name is because of its significance as Vienna's biggest cemetery, not of its geographic location, as it is not situated in the outskirts in the outer city district of Simmering.

The musician Wolfgang Ambros honoured the Zentralfriedhof in his 1975 song "Es lebe der Zentralfriedhof" ("Long live the Zentralfriedhof"), marking with it the 100th anniversary of the cemetery's opening.

The Vienna Central Cemetery is not one that has evolved slowly with the passing of time unlike many others. The decision to establish a new, big cemetery for Vienna came in 1863. Around that time, it became clear that – due to industrialisation – the city's population would eventually increase to such an extent that the existing communal cemeteries would prove insufficient. It was expected that Vienna, then capital of the large Austro-Hungarian Empire, would grow to have four million inhabitants by the end of the 20th century, no-one could know that the Empire would collapse in 1918.

The city council therefore decided to assign an area significantly outside of the city's borders and of such a gigantic dimension, that it would suffice for a long time to come. It was decided in 1869 that a flat area in Simmering should be the site of the future Zentralfriedhof.

The official opening of the Central Cemetery took place on All Saints' Day, on 1 November 1874. The first burial was that of Jacob Zelzer and 15 other dead people followed the same day. The grave of Jacob Zelzer still exists today and is located near the administration building at the cemetery wall.

The cemetery spans 2.4 square kilometres with 3.3 million interred here, up to 20-25 burials daily. Cremation is not very popular in Austria, the rate currently hovers around 20 percent.

The App was commissioned after it was found that 30% of people visiting the cemetery had difficulty locating the gravestones that they wanted to find.

Austrian Times