The prettiest graveyard I’ve ever seen is located outside the Catholic church in the village of Hallstatt in the Salzkammergut lake region of Austria. This village of about one thousand people is sandwiched between the Hallstatter See (lake) and the steep hillsides that ring the lake.
Sandwiched into this space is a small Catholic church. The tiny graveyard adjacent to the church looks over the stunning lake and nearby mountains. It is like none I’ve ever seen. The surface of each grave is beautifully planted with different types of living flowers and greenery. Rather than a tombstone, each grave has a lovely marker standing above it with information about the deceased and other ornamentation. Each grave is carefully manicured.
Because of the small size of the graveyard and a ban on cremation by the Catholic church until 1963, this diminutive graveyard could not accommodate all the deceased of Hallstatt. So, and interesting custom developed.
After ten to fifteen years the skulls and long bones of the deceased were exhumed, ‘cleaned’, dried in the sun, then placed in a charnel house, the Beinhaus of Hallstatt. In order to identify the skulls, the names and dates of birth and death are carefully painted on each. They are beautifully decorated and stored with all previous residents of the graveyard, grouped with the skulls of family members.
Skulls of the Beinhaus
Of the 1200 skulls here, 600 have been hand-painted with decorations, mostly of flowers. This tradition, begun in 1720, evolved from the fact that flowers were traditionally laid on the grave sites. The painting of the skull is considered an act of love.
The last skull was placed in the charnel house in 1995 at the personal request of its ‘owner’.
At Schonnbrun Palace
The first country in Europe that we’re traveling through is Austria. Here are some things we find interesting about Austria. Because it’s our first foray into Europe, we can’t be sure whether these items are unique to Austria or more common throughout the continent.
- Among other things, Austriais famous for apple strudel, Weiner Schnitzel, and The Sound of Music.
- Austria is the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Sigmund Freud, Hitler (not from Germay), and The ex-Governator (Arnold Schwarzenegger).
- Austria is a small, land-locked country with many neighbours. Clockwise from the North these are Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Italy, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein. Having so many neighbours is a foreign concept to Canadians where we have enough challenges with the United States (and Quebec).
- Most Austrians speak a dialect of German. They all learn high German in school. Most people, especially the younger generation, also speak some English.
- Austrians are very fond of the mountains and mountain culture. There are channels on television here showing continuous live video from the mountaintops. In Austria, great mountain climbers are national heroes (unlike in Canada– can you name one famous Canadian climber?)
- The DJ’s on radio and music television stations speak German, but most of the pop music and videos are of the same English-speaking artists popular in North America (e.g. Lady Gaga)
- Some Austrians still wear traditional clothing (envision Captain Von Trapp and Maria in The Sound of Music). We’ve seen a few men wearing felt hats, capes, and/or lederhosen, and women wearing long aproned skirts.
- In comparison to Canada, virtually everything in Austria is old.
- Austrians love to eat bread, most of which is dark, heavy, and a bit tough.
- Accommodations are expensive in Austria. A double room in a hostel (not hotel) costs about $100 Canadian. Dorm beds are about $30 per person. Gas costs about 50% more than in Vancouver. However, food in restaurants and grocery stores costs about the same as in Canada.
- Austrians have a laid back attitude about alcohol. Even hard liquor is sold in grocery stores. To our delight, beer and wine sold in stores is considerably cheaper than in Canada. Bottles of acceptable wine can be purchased starting at $1.50 Canadian (that’s not a typo!), and 500 ml cans of beer are about the same price.
- Everything in Austria seems picturesque and very well maintained. The churches, buildings, homes, parks, and even the farmland look pristine.