A matter of life and death

”In order to understand a society you must find out how the people live, eat and die.” That’s a quote by … well, me, although somebody else might have got there first. In my previous blog I took you on an unlikely tour of Vienna and in this instalment I’m heading south east to the 11th district Simmering to explore the altogether weightier issues of life, death and lunch.

A lot of people live in Vienna and it turns out they need somewhere to live. In a city boasting such a wealth of grand period buildings it takes a trip out on the U-Bahn to “escape” this period drama – except that the newer buildings I have come to see are no less dramatic.


Many towns are burdened by a contaminated and run-down industrial hinterland and at the centre you will commonly find some unsightly gasworks buildings. It’s no different here except that the four brick gas tanks constructed in the last gasp of the 19th century survived the bulldozers only to be reborn a thoroughly modern urban complex.

Life in the round
Life in the round

Collectively known as “Gasometer” each of the four towers was re-purposed by a different architect a century after its creation. Today almost 2000 people live in modern gasometer apartments and while the purpose-built U-Bahn stop makes this an ideal commuter village there’s a real community here and Gasometer is a destination in itself.

Fuel for thought
Fuel for thought

Offices, shops and a cinema contribute to a unique community. Kevin McCloud would have something to say about this regeneration project.

Nobody light a match...
Nobody light a match…

Perhaps most remarkable of all there is a 3000 capacity concert hall within Gasometer B. I didn’t get to go in but a walk of fame set into the walkway above catalogued famous names such as Alice Cooper, Slade, Boney M, Suzi Quattro, Deep Purple and of course Racey…

Stardust

The people here know how to live.


They also know how to die. The vast acreage of Vienna’s famous central cemetery – it is served by 18 bus stops – is impressive for more than just its size. The Zentralfriedhof as it is called locally provides a final resting place to 3.3 million people – a statistic that hints towards the size of the population but also reflects the unpopularity of cremation here.

We're all DOOMED!
We’re all DOOMED!

Unlike British Graveyards (I’ve already written about one or two – what’s wrong with me?) the Austrians don’t shovel over the last spade of dirt and then let trails of ivy consume the burial site. Here the memorials of loved ones are more likely to be kept fresh and honoured. Florists thrive in this neighbourhood as those left behind (or perhaps those who are forgetful) can pay somebody else to remember their loved ones for them.

Say it with flowers
Say it with flowers

Floral tributes aren’t just administered remotely. Many visitors come to pay last respects in person and with a couple of dozen burials every day this is still a living cemetery. The appeal of Zentralfriedhof as a tourist draw becomes apparent as soon as you enter via the main entrance and spot the ubiquitous horse-drawn cart.

Brother-in-law of the uncle of one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse
Brother-in-law of the uncle of one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse

The fag-toting horseman certainly looks the part, like some brother-in-law of the uncle of one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. The domed art nouveau Karl-Borromäus Church proves well worth a visit. This Monday it is eerily quiet and as we sit awhile on the pews a ghostly melodic incantation drifts through the stone floors from some subterranean chamber, perhaps the crypt … or beyond

...voices from beyond...
…voices from beyond…

Candles are lit in the side chamber and mercifully today there is no corpse on display. Besides this building is best appreciated by the living. It has a beautiful ceiling and you know the recently departed just aren’t going to get into the spirit and appreciate this sort of thing.

Good heavens!
Heavens above!

All of this of course is a side-show to the main event. The reason most of the tourists decide to venture out of District 1 and into this headstone metropolis is but a semiquaver away. A cacophony of composers lie buried in close formation – Beethoven, Strauss, Schubert, Strauss, Brahms and Falco. There’s also a monument to Mozart who is buried elsewhere but here in spirit I’m sure.

Safely beyond the reach of Simon Cowell

One of the defining characteristics of the cemetery is the demographic variety of incumbents. The graveyard is split into sections specifically for Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, etc, etc. It would be hasty and shallow to merely ogle memorials to the composers and leave without exploring some of these dedicated areas. But the old feet are a bit jaded. And we are hungry! If only there was somewhere to eat this far out of town…


Schloss Concordia is a café / restaurant situated on the Simmeringer Hauptstraße a headstones throw from the cemetery. The quirky nature of this eatery can be readily explained by the fact that it is under the same ownership as the barking mad Villa Aurora restaurant situated at the other end of the city.

Would sir care for any wine or water?
Would sir care for any wine or water?

On the approach a massive statue of Jesus welcomes you and I’m hoping it’s not another of these bread and fish events. The café has seemingly established itself on the former site of a stone mason’s yard. This may explain the unfinished (or unpaid for) headstones we came across in the back yard, if not the presence of Jesus Himself.

Echoes of Fred and Ginger
Echoes of Fred and Ginger

Inside it’s a different affair. The classy but dated interior carries the echoes of a former existence, perhaps as some happening ballroom or maybe it served as a summer-house for the Habsburg imperial set. Now it serves a legendary schnitzel and with the obligatory side order of ambience it attracts a mixed clientele. Locals, students and a few tourists dine here plus, today, a fully decked out “trolley dolly” en-route to her shift at the airport a few stops out. I wonder where one flies to from Vienna. Or, more precisely, why?

In my third and final account of Vienna I will attempt to prove that this is a worthy question…

Light Fantastic

When you have spent most of your life in and around a particular area you get a feeling when genuine change is afoot. I’m not talking about the change sometimes espoused by high profile local figures – rhetoric heavy top-down campaigns lacking in sustained conviction that may have more to do with personal agendas than the common good. I’m referring to the change instigated by or at least widely bought into by the general public.

Derby has had a reputation for being something of a shy inward looking soul. I feel it has previously defined itself largely in terms of an industrial past and perhaps falsely aspired to be like its’ “big brother” Nottingham. Fast forward 20 years and things are vastly different. There has been a massive investment in industry with the likes of Pride Park, retail (Westfield) and infrastructure with the new bus station, modernised train station and (after a 40 year wait!) the imminent completion of the inner ring road. There has also been a notable shift in the city demographic with a great influx of national and international young students swelling University numbers, feeding the economy and driving a creative small business culture. Derby is reclaiming its crown as the city of ideas.

The City has come of age, it has the new found confidence to stop following and start leading. Nowhere is this more evident than in a growing programme of cultural events that is attracting national attention, such as the maturing Derby Feste – now in its third year. And now a new addition to the local calendar is attracting national media interest. The inaugural staging of the week long Derby Gleam festival of light ended last night. I headed out on opening night to take in some of the light shows projected against local city landmarks and returned to see last nights festival finale in defiance of the near freezing fog.

Light Trail projection in The Strand
Light Trail projection in The Strand

The Cathedral Quarter light trail is attracting a diverse range of people who, like me, clutch the glossy trail guides that are being handed out around the route. I join the trail on The Strand where rural scenes are being projected against the white walls of a building. Interesting yes, but it’s a little ineffectual due to the surrounding street lighting.

Court like an Egyptian?
Court like an Egyptian?

A short stroll to the old Magistrates Court reveals a more convincing display. It’s a peaceful setting – normally this street would be deserted in the evening – and there is little light pollution. It’s tough getting any decent photos as the images scroll across the building but it works when you are there…

A courthouse projection
A courthouse projection

…although some of the images escape my understanding.

Illuminati grafitti?
Illuminati grafitti?

The strains of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata emanate as I walk towards the next projection against the Cathedral tower on Iron Gate. This is my favourite yet with spheres of colour gracefully rotating to good effect against this timeless structure. The music is becalming and it is striking to see young groups dressed up for a night out stop a second in temporary appreciative silence to watch before continuing onto the local pubs.

The big screen on drugs
The big screen on drugs

The Market Place has been billed as the main event tonight. The big screen has been given over to what I can only describe as a kind of Incredible Hulk hallucinatory figure. There are roaming spotlight projections against the market hall and the surrounding buildings.

Market place under the spotlight
Market place under the spotlight

Articles in the media this week have concentrated on the interactive light displays of Seeper whereby projected animations bring alive or accentuate the natural features of the targeted buildings. The building appropriately targeted here is Quad and a regular 5 minute sequence sees glowing blocks of light dance their way around the glass windows in time to a soundtrack. It’s clever stuff, if not quite as dramatic as some of the incredible displays orchestrated against other buildings to be found via the Seeper website.

The Quad comes alive
The Quad comes alive

That’s as much as I have to share with you tonight. There’s a bit more – some confusing and missing video installations down the party street otherwise known as Sadlergate, but I have devised my own liquid trail starting at the Horse & Groom so that’s your lot for tonight.

Roll on a week to the final night of Derby Gleam and the closing parade. There is a thick blanket of fog and at one point I assume it must be called off. A twitter buddy assures me it is going ahead and I head out into the cold night. There’s a lantern parade to the market place that I have missed but the climax is due at Cathedral Green so I head straight there.

Before the advent of fire...
Before the advent of fire…

The gradually thinning fog rolls over the river derwent and as people start to assemble there is a real sense of expectation. Drumming marks the arrival of a modest entourage from the market place – how these people have endured the cold for so long I have no idea. A parade float heads the procession and shivering children swing home made lanterns.

Parade float
Parade float

Attention turns to a lively display of fire twirling which takes everyone’s mind off the cold.

Playing with fire
Playing with fire

It’s impressive fare at close hand with lit batons, burning hula-hoops and (intentional?) fire breathing.

River fire display team
River fire display team

The finale of the finale is marked by a bright fizzing stream of fireworks and firecrackers.

Derby Gleam 2010 finale
Derby Gleam 2010 finale

The last embers of the firework display blink out and an evocative smell of cordite settles on the fog as the appreciative audience disperses into the night. It’s tempting to join them in some welcoming hostelry but the show isn’t over. There is the 365 day light display for those who take the time to look on a night like this…

Cathedral Green foot bridge
Cathedral Green foot bridge
Foggy outline of Cathedral from footbridge
Foggy outline of Cathedral from footbridge
Exeter Bridge over the Derwent
Exeter Bridge over the Derwent
Derby Silk Mill or a scene from Dickins?
Derby Silk Mill or a scene from Dickins?
Gleam 365 at St Marys Church
Gleam 365 at St Marys Church

So the festival is over for this year. Like any new idea it needs to evolve and to improve. Some of the events ran late, a few aspects of the light trail were a little hard to fathom or mysteriously absent but broadly there were plenty of plusses and the public embraced it. It is a work in progress, like Derby itself. There’s more and better to come.