1 The Lord of the graves
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At the honorary grave of the sculptor Franz West, Markus Pinter looks a bit like
a museum director strolling through his gallery. Meticulously he examines the pink
Sculpture that seems to be boring out of the earth like an oversized earthworm. That
Some visitors find the modern work of art at Vienna's Central Cemetery strange
Cemetery manager Pinter smiles. Irritation is part of it, he says, even in the case of
Since 2015, Pinter has directed the Vienna Central Cemetery, which, with around 330,000 graves, 750 employees and 500 hectares of green space, is one of the largest burial sites in the world. For 150,000 tourists a year, the Central Cemetery is a symbol of morbid Vienna, a popular walking area for the Viennese – and for the 41-year-old Pinter a place that also has to function as a business enterprise.
Night Tours in the Cemetery and Test Lies in the Coffin He is constantly talking about new "products" that are offered around the tombs. The native of Styria, who has already got to know the work in the area of death in his parents' funeral home, wants to give the cemetery a younger, more modern image, to fill it with life. Pinter organizes concerts in front of the cemetery church, offers night tours, a few years ago opened its own funerary museum its doors, where for special reason Oddities are offered: about Probeliegen in the coffin. Even a café with a sunny terrace, run by the health spa Oberlaa, has been inviting guests for coffee and cake in the cemetery walls since spring. It would have been unthinkable 20 years ago, says Pinter. Nothing was allowed to disturb the peace of the dead at that time.
When Pinter runs through his empire, he shakes hands with politician, waving to a driver, chatting with the gatekeeper. The manager laughs a lot and jokes, as if he wants to defy the melancholy aura that fills his job.
"Graveyards are always a reflection of our time."
Markus Pinter, Director of the Vienna Central Cemetery "Cemeteries are always a reflection of our time," says Pinter. The old Viennese coquetry with death, as it is still sung in the dialect pop and in the Viennese song, no longer seems to fit into today's Vienna. On the one hand, Pinter says this is due to death, which has become a taboo topic – at least until "it comes over one". And it's also because the city is getting younger and younger. While the average age of the Viennese population rose continuously in the post-war decades, the immigration of the last time of the metropolis brought a trend reversal. In the seventies there were 30,000 funerals a year in Vienna, this year only 10,000.
Nevertheless, Pinzer does not believe that the operation could come to a standstill in the huge city of the dead. The central cemetery has long been attracting willing Japanese tourists who, after their death, would like to be buried close to their favorite composers such as Beethoven, Schubert or Brahms. The deceased are cremated in their homeland and their urns then transferred to Vienna. The rush is great, says Pinter.
Instead of the "Ave Maria" Andreas Gabalier sounds more and more often from the speakers
This article is from TIME no. 45/2018. Here you can read the entire issue.
Not only among the Japanese clientele take unusual funeral wishes. Since autumn, Pinter offers about animal-human graves: In most cases, a pet dies before the owner. Then it is cremated and buried in the common grave, which its owner will one day follow. The cemetery manager often observes how lovingly people look after the graves of their deceased pets while their relatives' graves are orphaned. He also does not want to dismiss it as a bizarre fact that his company is already offering funeral celebrations including obituaries for dogs, cats or guinea pigs. Death is a very personal matter that everyone handles differently.
For Pinter, he is also a business that can be expressed in numbers. As Managing Director of the Funeral and Cemeteries Vienna, he is responsible for 46 of the 51 burial places in the city. By far the largest of these is the Central Cemetery. Since its opening in 1874, more than three million people have been buried there. Today there are on average 40 funerals per day – with fluctuations. Before a strong change in the weather, for example, it would be particularly stressful for the logistics and the staff.
He already knew such quirks of the industry. Even as a teenager Pinter had to help out in the funeral home of his parents in Deutschlandsberg in southern Styria. He attended the Federal College of Horticulture in Vienna-Schönbrunn, during the holidays he took care of the flower arrangements for the funerals and graduated after the Matura the qualification examination for the Undertaking industry.