Feuerhalle Simmering & Urnenhain, Vienna:
Expressionist Crematory of Early Modern Vienna
The Feuerhalle Simmering is Austria′s oldest and Vienna′s primary crematory; writing this article in English, I just realise how very interesting the name "Simmering" works for a crematory. In fact, it refers simply to the 11th district of Vienna. The Feuerhalle Simmering has a cemetery called "Urnenhain" attached to it, and comprises of a total of 215,000 square metres, covering the former southern garden of Schloss Neugebäude, a Renaissance palace. The Feuerhalle Simmering is considered to be one of Vienna′s most important expressionist buildings and was opened in 1922.
This was at a period in which there was vicious fighting between Conservatives and Socialists, with two blocks emerging that regulated life literally from cradle to grave: Conservative versus Socialist kindergartens, Conservative versus Socialist student associations, Conservative versus Socialist hiking societies. Of course, death required a political tough, too - since the conservatives were closely affiliated with the Catholic church and promoted the traditional burial of bodies, the Socialists promoted the concept of cremation.
Political Background of Feuerhalle Simmering (don't laugh)
A society appropriately called "Die Flamme" ("The Flame") formed, seconded by the "Arbeiterbestattungsverein" ("Labourer′s Undertaking Society") in lobbying for building a decent crematory. If you think this is already the climax of absurdity, here comes the motto of this peculiar anti-conservative-funeral club: "Proletarisch gelebt, proletarisch gestorben, dem Kulturfortschritt entsprechend eingeäschert" (meaning: "Lived like a proletarian, died like a proletarian, cremated in accordance with the progress of culture").
The original plans for the Feuerhalle Simmering wanted to use the area of today′s St. Marx Cemetery. Fortunately, this idea was dropped, as it would have meant that Vienna′s only Biedermeier-cemetery (including the grave of Mozart) would have been lost to the "Kulturfortschritt". Instead, the Socialist mayor Jakob Reumann decided to built the Feuerhalle crematory nearby the Zentralfriedhof (Central Cemetery).
A competition was held and won by the famous architect Josef Hoffmann; however, the plan by similarly famous architect Clemens Holzmeister that came in third place was chosen instead. This was done because it incorporated the parks of the remains of Schloss Neugebäude, in which the Feuerhalle Simmering was built. Even after the opening, the conservatives fought the project legally, but failed at the Verfassungsgerichtshof (supreme court). The first cremation was done on the 17th of January 1923. It proved to be rather successful: As soon as in the 1920ies and 1930ies, the building needed to be extended.
Feuerhalle Simmering since WWII
In the course of the "Battle of Vienna", the Feuerhalle Simmering was damaged by bombs in April 1945. It took a year until it could be re-opened again. Another extension of the - meanwhile listed - building was done in the 1960ies. Other innovations included the installation of electric cremation ovens in the 1980ies and new filters as well as a wheel-chair friendly entrance in 2008.
In terms of architecture, the Feuerhalle Simmering is highly regarded as one of the very few expressionist buildings in Vienna. Clemens Holzmeister drew inspirations from Medieval oriental fortresses. The extensions of the 1960ies were also supervised by Holzmeister as the architect in charge. The central Kuppelraum hall is decorated with the paintings Leben ("Life") and Chronos ("Time") by Anton Kolig. In front of the central building, you find the grave of Jakob Neumann, the mayor who lobbies for the construction of the Feuerhalle Simmering. He died in 1925 and was cremated here only a few years after he had opened the building. From the central hall, arcades lead to the Urnenhain and allow mourners to withdraw from the open space of the courtyard.
Attractions nearby include the Altsimmeringer Pfarrkirche, the previously mentioned Schloss Neugebäude and the Zentralfriedhof (Central Cemetery). Otherwise, Simmering is by no means attractive, so I recommend international visitors to confine their stay to this handful of sights.
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Official Website of Feuerhalle Simmering
City of Vienna on the Feuerhalle Simmering
History of Feuerhalle Simmering (German)