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Vienna – the Fifth

Things you don’t hear every morning: “Good luck at the graveyard!”

While some mornings, much like yesterday, I feel as though indeed there is nothing but a metaphorical graveyard waiting for me if I leave the tender embrace of my covers, this morning there is an actual, real graveyard that I’m heading to today (as a visitor). I’m going to save the long story for a rainy day (today it’s just snowing), but I should tell you that my genealogy is well established on my father’s side of the family, and for my mother’s dad – but on my mother’s mother’s side it gets murky, and my goal today is to achieve one more step towards clarification; namely, locating my great-grandparents’ graves.

Here is what I know: My great-grandfather’s name was George Felix Bume, changed from Baum for obvious reasons during the holocaust and WWI; he passed in 1936. His first wife’s name was Grete Katarina Bume; his second wife was also Grete Bume, and she passed in either 1963 or 64. A little confusing with the two Grete Bumes, but otherwise fairly straightforward.

Here’s the only clue I have to finding their graves: “Both of your grandparents are buried somewhere in Vienna.”

Let me make something clear: Vienna, as a city, is gigantic. 1.7 million in the city, with 2.3 million in the overall metropolitan area, which makes it the tenth largest city in the EU. Seattle, by comparison, has a little over 600,000 in the city, with, yes, 3.3 million in the metro area (go us, being 15th largest in the U.S. based on population). In terms of land area though, the city of Seattle is 83.87 square miles; Vienna, 152.7. In that space there are not one, not two, but twelve different and well-spaced cemeteries on the map have; in reality there are fifty distinct cemeteries in Vienna.

And I’m looking for two graves. Maybe. If, in the course of your studies, you are required to define or give an example of “a fool’s errand”, please, feel free to cite this one.

Where to begin? Zentralfriedhof, or “Central Cemetery”, located absolutely nowhere near the center of anything. Here’s how you reach it: Take the orange (U4) line to the very last station (Simmering); get off, climb up the stairs, and walk for two kilometers through the city.

For those of you that haven’t already brought up the Wikipedia article on “Zentralfriedhof”, let me give you the juicy parts:

-the cemetery spans over 2.4 square kilometers, with over 3.3 million interred here. That makes it the second largest cemetery in Europe, and more creepily, it holds the entire population of the Seattle metro area dead and buried.

-the musician Wolfgang Ambros wrote a song called “Long Live the Zentralfriedhof”… Just think about that for a moment.

-there are two Jewish sections in the cemetery (which is where I’m searching, in case you couldn’t guess by the “Baum”), one of which was mostly destroyed by the Nazis during Kristallnacht.

Right now my plan consists of going to the cemetery, and running around the Jewish sections until my hands freeze. Never, ever, put me in charge of search and rescue unless you don’t want to get found.


Sitting at breakfast, doing my eating thing. I’m sitting at a table with three other lovely ladies; two of them are talking to each other, and the third is just sitting quietly on the other side of the table with her breakfast. I don’t know any of them, nor am I planning on striking up a conversation – instead, during the lunchroom game this morning, I asked myself how I wanted to start the day, and decided I would rather at least be sitting at a table with people than at a table by myself. And these ladies look friendly enough. Let’s eat.

During the course of my breakfast (which was almost identical to yesterday’s, save for two kiwis), Andrew and Rachel showed up. I hadn’t factored them into my lunchroom game before because it was already 8:30 when I got there (breakfast ends at 9 o’clock sharp) and I thought I had missed them; needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised when they showed up.


Honestly, it’s probably the coldest I’ve ever experienced, which might make me sound like a wuss, but I fully welcome you to bask in the glorious bone-shattering chill. I’m wearing my heavy pants, a sweater over my shirt, and my heavier jacket, and I am quite cold – and I’m less bundled than most of the natives we’re seeing.

Andrew, Rachel and I are trekking to Media Markt (no “e”). Andrew and I are on a mission: He needs to buy a new cord for his netbook (it short-circuited courtesy of Venetian floods) and I need a new flash drive (I already have 4-gig and 16-gig sticks, but I have maxed them out with all my music, pictures and videos). What I really need is a 1.5 terabyte drive – of my 14 gigs of pictures and recordings, I took 12 gigs of that since December 17th (that converts to just under 6 gigs a week) and I am picky about deleting (of the pictures I take each week, I’ll delete maybe 5%, not counting the pictures that I put in multiple albums). Granted, at that rate it would take me a while to fill up a terabyte and a half, but that doesn’t include my music collection, my videos, or my design work. So Santa, I’m getting a head start on my list this year.

Anyway, we’re in Media Markt, which is a risky proposition for me – I tend to be an impulsive shopper. Fortunately, I have two tricks at my disposal as I peruse the 32-gig flash drives or the even more awesome 32-gig Extreme (TM) San Disk camera cards (did I mention it sounds amazing?): one, I multiply every price by 1.5, which is only a little higher than the current exchange rate (ouch) and two, I’m only carrying roughly 25 Euro on me.

Fifteen minutes later, now, and we’re just leaving – me with an 8-gig drive and some more batteries (they keep on freezing), and Andrew with the knowledge that he could technically run the computer with cord, without the battery, since the cord is actually not broken (he tested it).

Now to test a hypothesis: I have no more cash on me. There is ATM outside the Media Markt. I am going to Prague tomorrow (surprise!) so I don’t need that much more to survive – let’s say 50 Euro for whatever may happen. Remember the “Theory of Moody ATMs” posited in my previous entry? Yeah, it’s been proven. One bill, a 50, ejected from the slot. Oh well.


Rachel, Andrew, and I parted ways at Karlsplatz, where they left to go to a cafe and find the opera house; I continued on the U3 line to the transfer point to the U4 at Landestrasse, went to Simmering, and took the aforementioned trek down to my current location, the Zentralfriedhof.

It’s big.

From my location in the corner (my point of entry, closest to the Jewish area) I am staring down fairly wide roads, and am unable to see the far walls – its just a forest of tombstones and other instances of funereal remembrance. More than creepy it is elegant; the quiet I am now enfolded in is not that of death, per se, but of regality; I am a visitor at millions of palaces, each with their lone regent beneath the frozen ground.

A moment of silence for those who have passed.

Now it’s time to begin the search. I am purposely not looking at a map yet so not to get discouraged (yet). I’m doing a loop around the outside of the first group of tombstones I see – ten squares of tombstones, laid twenty by twenty. Round, around, then in and out, across and back – always stepping right behind the head of the tombstones in the previous row so as to carefully and respectfully avoid trespassing on someone’s throne. Back, forth, up down, back forth, across, again.

Two thousand tombstones later, I am starting to get discouraged, and more than that I am beginning to chill. My messenger bag is frozen, as is my map and my enthusiasm for this task. I still manage to push on, muttering something to myself about how this is family, and how I shouldn’t give up; a thousand tombstones ago it wasn’t a mutter, but a fresh reprimand for even thinking about stopping – but most things are dead in a cemetery, and my resolve was quickly joining their ranks.

Finally, I look at the map of the Jewish section – in terms of my foolish enthusiasm, this is the death blow. Those ten squares comprised roughly one-fifth of “Area 6.” There are, according to the map, twelve areas remaining, some larger than this. By rough approximation, I have one-hundred-and-eighteen thousand tombstones left. In this cemetery



I was absolutely freezing while my resolve lay on its death bed; a such, we held the funeral in the heated church at the front entrance to the entire Zentralfriedhof. The body was carried down the long road for twenty minutes, from the side wall to the main entrance; laid to rest in the main church; and then buried in my memory. I was the only one in attendance.


Best idea ever? Catching the tram back to the Simmering subway station rather than walking another two and a half kilometers. next best idea? Food. Broke that 50 like a glass bowling ball, and received two excellent melts from one of the bakeries inside the station. Caught the subway back to Landestrasse; then on to Hutteldorf. Got a bottle of water on the way back to the hostel.

Now I’m packing for my inadvertent foray to Prague. I had initially taken over all my allotted space (I do that well) so getting all of my animals back in their respective cages is a difficult task. I’ve already pulled out the singular outfit that I’m wearing tonight and tomorrow, and have set aside my shower gear and other toiletries; the rest of my mess is being systematically removed from my bed, the platform at the head of my bed, the platform at the foot of my bed, the bed underneath mine, the floor, the communal table, two of the communal chairs, and my closet. I came, I saw, I conquered, and now I’m retreating, making a clean international getaway.


To put the rest of my day in the style of one of my favorite alternative periodicals: nothing really happened today, except that Andrew and I grabbed various packages of tortellinis and dumplings from the nearby Spar for dinner, used a microwave (for what purpose, I’m not sure), and settled down with Rachel in the lounge to eat our cold dinner and discuss the details of the next leg of our now-aligned journeys: Prague.