Tag Archives: Offbeat

An evening at Vienna’s Central Cemetery

It was meant to be a search for the final resting places of music legends Schubert, Brahms and Mozart. In two hours, however, the Central Cemetery in Vienna gave us all the trappings of a horror flick with a surprising cast of characters. No, they weren’t the ghosts of music past. 

It all started quite harmlessly. We had earlier visited the St Marx Cemetery that once contained the remains of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and now just had a representative grave. 

 It seemed only right that we follow the trail of his remains, which were resting at the city’s largest cemetery, Vienna Central Cemetery or Zentral Friedhof. His grave was moved in 1891 on the occasion of his 100th death anniversary. Another attraction was the fact the cemetery was home to the graves of over 2.5 million souls. 

There we were, having braved a 40-minute tram ride to the cemetery, situated on the outskirts of the city at Simmering, on a cold and wet evening. On entering, we perused the map, neatly divided and numbered into sections. There was no mention of the grave we were out to find so we decided to start walking, hoping the memorial would be conspicuous enough to spot. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t. 

The oldest and largest cemetery in Vienna, much like the rest of the city, is pleasing to the eye. Every grave was different and more intricate than the rest. We spotted the normal angels and religious figures gazing beatifically down; statues of children clutching toys and pets as if they were frozen in time (creepy, yes); canopies shielded scenes from history; busts of people; They were creepy but we couldn’t help admiring the artwork; many tombstones also had the names of the architects who built them. 

Aside: History lesson  The cemetery was built in 1870 and opened on All Saints Day in 1874. It is quite interdenominational – houses a Protestant cemetery, a Muslim burial ground, two Jewish cemeteries, Russian Orthodox Burial Ground – which caused much controversy at the time. At 620 acres, it is the largest in Europe and the dead population is believed to be more than the actual population of Vienna! 

The cemetery was empty but for us, and another couple who walked ahead, frequently taking detours to hunt among the rows. We stuck to the main path, losing them in the bargain, and 40 minutes later, couldn’t find anything; even the tombstones had begun to lose their charm. 

We were ready to give up and return – the light was fading and a slight drizzle had begun – when we spotted the church. It suddenly struck us that the most important graves would be around the structure and so set off towards it. Our hunch proved right when we stumbled on the Music Graves, and there were the souls we had come to see. 

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In the centre was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; to the left was Ludwig van Beethoven, to the right was Franz Schubert and a little further away, Johannes Strauss and Johannes Brahms. 

Suitably wowed – we were in the presence of geniuses, after all – we turned back. It was only after reaching the gate, half an hour later, that we realised it was shut. We were locked in. (I confess, at this point, I had a moment of terror. I’m not a fan of cemeteries and especially not when it was getting dark and we were all alone in). A few tense moments later, we realised there was a sign for an emergency gate so we started walking back the way we had come, this time taking a short cut through the muddy paths between the graves. 

A few steps later, my friend K (who has been laughing at my attempts at stalking all the dogs I saw during my trip) suddenly said, “I saw a dog here”. We were both surprises, stray dogs don’t exist in most European countries and who would bring their pet to a cemetery. We continue walking and then in the distance, the ‘dog’ appears. It isn’t a dog but a deer and it freezes just like the idiom it gave rise to. We pull out our cameras with as little noise as possible, not wishing to scare it away before we get a shot at it. But, it scampered away. We ran into it again, a few metres away but my squeal of surprise scared it. It seemed alone and we couldn’t spot any other deer or any other animal around, leading us to wonder what it was doing in an empty cemetery. 

We will never know. 

Conclusion: After walking through half the cemetery in the rain, we found the tiny emergency gate and made our exit quickly. We don’t know what happened to the couple, we didn’t spot them anywhere.  

At: Zentralfriedhof, Simmeringer Hauptstraße 234, 1110 Vienna (look for group 32A).

 

[A version of this story was published in Hindu: On the Graveyard shift in Vienna on December 27, 2017]

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Let’s go LEGO!

We walked into the museum and paused, allowing our jaws to gently drop to the floor. Ahead of us was a room filled with glass, behind which lay bricks, lovingly shaped and turned into different scenes. To the left was a section dedicated to Formula racing, further ahead were cranes and construction sites, followed by trains and  finally, other vehicles. The middle section was like a city in itself with little houses, a police station, trains, factories and little people going about their daily work. 

It was a veritable treasure trove of LEGO at Prague’s LEGO museum. 

Once we picked up our jaws off the floor, we walked through the two floors, marvelling at some of the structures, pressing switches and button that made the planes and trains move and exclaiming in delight like little children. 

Here’s what to find: 

Star Wars 

If you’re one of the millions of people who worship the cult space saga, the museum’s top floor is where you can go and pay homage. There are battleships, beloved characters and scenes from the menu. I am not a fan but was impressed at the intricacy and the detailing of the structures. My friend though, was like a kid in a candy store (he loved LEGO and Star Wars), even pressing his nose  against the glass for a glimpse of the battleships. 

 

Harry Potter

As a Potterhead, I consume the Harry Potter world in every possible form. I was excited on hearing the museum had scenes from the book and was expecting a grand Hogwarts Castle. What we did see can only be described as cute – giant spiders, Hagrid’s hut, Quidditch, the classrooms, the Gryffindor tower and the characters. None of it was inspiring enough to wow me, but I did spend a happy few minutes trying to guess the exact scenes displayed. 

 

Famous (heritage) structures 

It was all there, from the pristine white Taj Mahal, the shades of red in the Kremlin to the inspiring Golden Gate Bridge. Each structure is accompanied by small snippets about how/ when it was built and other trivia. For instance: the Taj Mahal is the biggest factory set Lego has ever made, with 5,922 bricks. 

Our favourites were the Prague monuments especially the Charles Bridge – the five meter long monument was too big to capture in a single frame and was decorated with 1000 figurines. We were encouraged to look closer and observe the minute details, find our favourite Star Wars characters/ animals in it or count the coins in beggars’ bowls. The National Museum was a two meter wide model built of 1,00,000 bricks. As impressive as it was from the front, looking at it from the behind revealed different floors, visitors and exhibits too! 

Beloved characters

The museum had many popular children’s characters, from books and television – Batman, Captain Jack Sparrow, Blue Beard and well, Barbie and Ken. 

If you haven’t had your fill of these blocks, there is a separate play room containing stations where you can create your own masterpieces. And, like us, you can also buy your fill of LEGO characters or blocks – their selection of keychains featuring characters like Batman, Darth Vader and Wonderwoman is impressive.
The museum is located at Praha, Národní 362/31; it is open from 10 am to 8 pm; the nearest tram stop and metro station is Narodni Trida; log on to Lego Museum
 

Science day out: Copernicus

It all started with a conversation with my couchsurfing hosts in Warsaw. I asked them to suggest a place I could spend my morning exploring. I was expecting a park or garden but they looked at each other and answered in one voice: Copernicus.  

The science museum/ centre is located on the banks of the Vistula River and is a favourite with locals and tourists alike. In fact, every schoolkid has spent hours, if not days, at the centre. “It’s the best way to pass your time, and you get to learn so much,” said Kasia. “You need three whole days to be able to explore the whole place.”

After spending three hours, I realised Kasia was right: it was impossible to truly explore Copernicus when against a half-day deadline. I tried.

Copernicus may be a science centre but the glass and steel building has exhibitions, a planetarium – showing 2D and 3D films, and weekend workshops. At then entrance is an interactive robot that will sing songs if you ask nicely. 

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A two-storey high Foucault pendulum, greets you as you enter the atrium

It is a kingdom of interactive experiments, over 400, covering astronomy, physics, chemistry, music, robotics, history and psychology over 22.000 m². It is geared to kids, but you will spot adults having a lot of fun too.

The exhibits I visited were On the Move – focussing on motion; on The Roots of Civilization exhibit looks at the development of mankind and inventions though history; the Re: generation Zone is for older kids and explores psychology, sociology, economics and biotechnology; Lightzone for those who like crime mysteries; Humans and the Environment for in-depth knowledge about humankind (the mind and body) and their relationship with the environment. 

In my three hours there I explored mirrors and their impact on light and movement, saw my name spelled in Egyptian hieroglyphics, saw a fire tornado, helped fill water and examine its effect on turbines, created 10-feet and higher soap walls using soapy water, became a DJ, conducted an orchestra, experienced an earthquake, and got my photo clicked in an astronaut suit! 

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Yep, that’s me!

My favourite exhibits were Electrobard – a robot poet, who writes and recites poems on request; the pschology section that tested my memory and observation skills – I was really bad at spotting clues at a crime scene but got full marks on the memory and song puzzles and a stairmaster that allowed me to create electricity. 

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Mirror selfies get a whole new meaning here!

There’s also an outdoor gallery, ampitheatre, labratories and a rooftop garden, which I didn’t get time to explore. Go here to view a fun video.  

Go to Copernicus if you want to experience push-the-buttons-and-see-what-happens exhibits and learn how science can actually be fun. Bonus: every exhibit is in English and Polish. 


How to get there: The centre is a five-minute walk from the Centrum Nauki Kopernik subway (metro) station; via bus it is bus no. 118, 127, 105 (Biblioteka Uniwersytecka bus stop) and bus no 185 (Metro Centrum Nauki Kopernik). 

Log on to Copernicus for more details.