Museum of Funeral History (Bestattungsmuseum), Vienna

It makes sense for a funeral museum to be in a cemetery. If I’m honest I have never seen a cemetery quite like it. Vienna has incredible architecture. Every building in the centre is dripping with carvings. It would appear that in Vienna a building could not be classed as finished unless it’s topped with a couple of horses and a handful of urns. I exaggerate of course, but the scale and quantity of the stonework is incredible and this is a feature that extends from areas designed for the living to the memorials of the dead.

The vast walled Central Cemetery (Zentralfriedhof) has some incredible tombs. Weeping veiled widows drape themselves over elaborate plinths. There are dramatic angels, wreaths and flowers, all painstakingly carved from stone. Stat wise Vienna’s central cemetery covers an area of 2.5 million square meters, has 300,000 graves with over 3 million individuals buried here, which makes it Europe’s second largest cemetery. Next to Tor 2 is the Museum of Funeral History, which looks at the Viennese relationship with the death.

When you step through the door to the exhibition space it takes a few seconds for your eyes to accustom to the dark. Since in the Western world we tend to associate traditional funerals with dark colours this seems quite a fitting entrance, especially considering the high drama of some of the tombs that commemorate the dead in the cemetery just outside.

Object cases glow, and objects on open display are well lit with cool coloured spotlights. In hindsight, it’s probably not too dark a space, it’s in fact that the cases are so bright that the rest of the room is dark in contrast. It’s not a cosy environment, but it isn’t scary either. It’s incredibly well designed and interesting, which I’m not entirely convinced that my camera has been able to truly pick up owing to the high contrasts between light and dark in the space. The use of a basic colour palette of greys and black fits into the colours we associate with funerals, but it’s not dull and dark because there are a range of textures in the selected objects.

All labels are in both German and English. There has clearly been a decision on text length and layout which means that there isn’t an overwhelming amount of information. The languages are also clearly separated, with English in italics and set side by side. The label layout and style is consistent throughout which saves the time of having to skim through to find the information you desire. With larger displays there is an image outlining the objects, rather than putting numbers next to them, that you can match up to the correct interpretation, allowing information to be retrieved with ease.

Museum of Funeral History Sound Track

I loved the playlist, which was not only visible for the visitor, but also allowed you to select the next track, it meant classics such as ‘Time to say Goodbye’ drifted dramatically through the gallery space, rather than it being silent . . . as the grave.

The mixture of items on display was pleasing. There is one wall like structure that has a mixture of fabric, paper and photographs, with digital screens dotted in between allowing both still and moving images which drew the eye. All in all it’s a really well designed small museum with an interesting story to tell; admittedly I imagine it’s a bit too morbid for some, but I loved it.

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