Whilst in Vienna recently, a tourist guide suggested I paid a visit to the city’s famous Zentralfriedhof – the Central Cemetery. “That is where you will find the true Vienna,” she declared. So, on that recommendation I spent a sunny winter’s afternoon exploring its grounds and came face-to-face, or rather face-to-headstone with some legendary figures synonymous with the Austrian capital.
The cemetery is one of the largest in the world with over three million people laid to rest there. The most famous ‘residents’ are grouped together in Ehrengräbers, honorary graves close to the main entrance (Gate Two) which is helpful as it makes locating them rather easy.
Maybe there is no room left in this Ehrengräber to explain why the flamboyant Johann Hans Hölzel a.k.a. Falco, was not buried with his fellow Austrian and German composers. His huge 1986 hit Rock Me Amadeus, paying tribute to his fellow countryman Mozart, is still the most chart-successful German language song to date.
There was one other grave that I was determined to find during my visit to the cemetery. It could be argued that it is the most famous grave of all in the Zentralfriedhof, yet very few people will recognise the name on the gravestone.
It is not actually the family members laid to rest here that are famous, but the grave itself for it was here in 1948 that film director Carol Reed filmed the burials (for there were two) and exhumation of Harry Lime, the main protagonist in Reed’s movie adaptation of The Third Man.
Some say Carol Reed chose this grave plot simply because it was the next open grave – with the best view of the Friedhofskirche in the background – available to use during the day of filming. Hours later, once the film crew had gone, the first member of the family Grün was laid to rest in the plot.
Yet, some rather eagle-eyed fans of the movie argue that Reed actually used the pathway between the family Grün grave and the family Elchinger plot further right, to act as Lime’s final resting place.
Reed’s movie adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel is regarded as one of the greatest British films ever made, and in my opinion rightly so. It is full of memorable classic scenes including the famous ending where Anna – Lime’s heartbroken girlfriend – walks from the grave and out of the cemetery, purposely snubbing Lime’s friend Holly Martins who waits for her along the path. Reed filmed this scene along the pathway between grave group 41A and the Friedhofsgärtnerei Wirtschaftsgebäude (cemetery garden outbuildings), not far from the family Grün grave.
Those hawk-eyed movie fans have once again noticed that in Anna’s penultimate walking scene she appears to be walking along this path away from the grave, but in that iconic last scene of the film she walks along it in the opposite direction, technically back towards the grave.
The place where Reed’s Harry Lime lived and supposedly died in front of was Josephsplatz 5 in central Vienna. Although most of Vienna has been completely rebuilt since the war and the filming of The Third Man, the façade of this particular building and the surrounding square have been preserved and appear unchanged to this day, much to the excitement of fans of the movie (i.e. me!).
The twist in the story that Lime is actually still alive was filmed on the doorstep of Schreyvogelgasse 8, not far from Rathausplatz. Again, fans of the movie will be pleased to know that this location has changed very little either since its starring role in the film.
When Martins sees Lime at the doorway and gives chase, he loses Lime in neighbouring Am Hof, yet another location that has barely changed in seventy years.
Although the Am Hof sewer kiosk had just been a prop, it wasn’t just a figment of Greene and Reed’s imaginations. Such kiosks did and still do exist in Vienna.
Martins finally meets Lime for the first time after Lime’s ‘death’ at the Wiener Riesenrad – the city’s iconic Ferris wheel. The wheel was commissioned and built in 1897 to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Emperor Franz Josef I. It was the centrepiece of the Prater amusement park, built to give the working classes of Vienna a place to let their hair down. The wheel became very popular, and the Viennese – from all classes – took it to their hearts.
During the 1940s, whilst the rest of the city was being ruthlessly destroyed in bomb raids, the wheel seemed to escape almost unscathed and locals turned it into a symbol of hope and survival. During the last few weeks of the war however, a fire almost destroyed the wheel beyond repair. The love and fondness the Viennese had for the wheel and the strong symbolism it carried for them resulted in its reconstruction almost immediately after the war ended. It was back in service by 1947… just in time for Graham Greene and Carol Reed to be inspired by it.
Although Carol Reed used the Prater amusement park for the exterior shots between Lime and Martins, the interior shots inside one of the Ferris wheel carriages where Lime made his famous brotherly love “cuckoo clock” speech, were filmed in a London studio.
Reed’s movie is highly revered in Vienna to this day with nightly screenings, weekly walking tours of key movie locations both above and below ground, and even a museum dedicated exclusively to the movie.
The film’s enduring popularity is primarily due to it being a rare and truthful depiction of the city almost immediately after the war. The Third Man isn’t just a story of post-war survival and corruption. Reed’s movie captured on film the real affect and devastation several years of war had on the Austrian capital. Those piles of rubble and fallen buildings the cast clamber over in the film were not staged scenery or props. Vienna genuinely was at the time one big bomb site.
The city was also occupied by the allied forces for several years after its Nazi liberation. It had been divided into four zones, one for each of the occupying allied armies – the Americans, British, French and despised Soviets – with one further zone in the centre where each army took it in turns monthly to administrate. Freedoms were enjoyed by the Viennese entitled to live in the western zones, but many hated the harsh communist regime of the Soviet zone and like Anna in The Third Man, those holding eastern European passports desperately tried to escape it.
Yet, whilst the locals were trying to survive and rebuild their lives in post-war Vienna, the allied armies chose to set up their headquarters in the most luxurious hotels still standing in the city.
Desperate to protect the beautiful interiors of the Hotel Imperial from the Soviets, the hotel’s loyal Viennese staff removed everything they could from the premises and hid it all away until the Soviets finally left years later. The hatred the Viennese felt for the Soviet regime lives on and is exercised quite publicly every night to this day in an act of defiance just around the corner from the Imperial.
During the occupation, the Soviet Army built a huge memorial to the Red Army on neighbouring Schwarzenbergplatz, close to the grounds of Schloss Belvedere. It consisted of plaques naming their honoured dead and a large column with a gilded statue of the ‘unnamed soldier’ at the top of it. After Vienna’s occupation ended, it was declared that a condition of the settlement was that any memorial or statue placed in the city after 1945, regardless of whom and what it represented and which army put it there had to remain in place and had to be maintained. Grudgingly, the Viennese agreed leaving the Soviet memorial untouched. But, pass by the memorial in the evening today and one will notice how dimly lit the memorial is compared to its surrounding buildings and monuments. Only enough light is used to illuminate it for traffic safety purposes, but it certainly isn’t enough to worry environmentalists and energy preservers.
A memorial to Viennese peacetime has recently been placed in Helmutzilkplatz, opposite the Albertina. A large nineteenth-century Viennese apartment block known as Philipp-Hof once stood on the spot where the Monument Against War and Fascism now stands. As with most buildings of its type, the block had a huge bunker-like cellar to it and the owner of the premises allowed people to take shelter in it during World War II bombing raids. On the night of March 12th 1945, a bomb hit and destroyed the building completely and turned its cellar into a tomb. No one knows how many people took shelter in the cellar that night but it is believed to have been hundreds. A rescue dig proved impossible at the time and none of the bodies were ever recovered. The plot was never rebuilt on out of respect, but in 1988 it was deemed the most appropriate spot in the city to place the Monument Against War and Fascism.
This was The Third Man‘s Vienna, but who was Vienna’s true Third Man? The answer lies in an apartment block just north of the city centre.
In February 1934, civil war broke out in the city between the ruling fascists and socialists. A number of key socialists were trapped for several days inside the Karl Marx apartment block in northern Vienna after the fascists located them and had the building surrounded. An English socialist-sympathising agent who was stationed in Vienna at the time was able to get inside the building and organise a unique and successful escape for the trapped socialists via the apartment sewers. During the Second World War, this English agent was promoted to a high ranking position at the British intelligence organisation MI6. When Graham Greene was recruited to the same intelligence branch in the early 1940s, the English agent became Greene’s superior and eventually, a good friend. Because of their close friendship and mutual interest in espionage, it is very likely that the English agent told Greene of his exploits during the Viennese civil war and the sewer escape plot. If this is the case, then it could be argued Graham Greene did base Harry Lime on a real person, and that Lime’s exploits were based on real events carried out by that individual in the city.
Vienna’s true Third Man therefore is the English agent, and the identity of this person was…
…the notorious double agent Kim Philby.
If planning a trip to Vienna’s Central Cemetery, arm yourself with a map of the grounds. Copies can be hired at some of the main gates, but you can download one here for free. It is in German only, but is easy enough to understand regardless of what language you speak. The cemetery is open daily until sundown and entrance is free.
If visiting just the Ehrengräbers where the great Germanic composers and writers of our time are laid to rest, the easiest way to get there via public transport is to take U-Bahn line U3 to Simmering then pick up either tram 71 or tram 6 just outside the station and get off about six stops later at ‘Zentralfriedhof 2. Tor’ which is the stop directly in front of the cemetery’s Gate Two. Don’t be tempted to alight at Gate One or Gate Three unless you are looking for a grave nearer to these gates, otherwise it is a long walk back to Gate Two. Once through the gate walk towards the beautiful Friedhofskirche ahead and the honorary grave groups can be found along the path on either side.
As I was looking for other graves elsewhere in the grounds, I went via the overland train line S7 from Wein Mitte and alighted at Zentralfriedhof (about four stops before Vienna Airport). From here it was a short walk along the cemetery perimeter wall to Gate Eleven on the other side of the cemetery and from there I followed the map to my desired graves.
The fare for either route from central Vienna is covered by the Vienna 24/48/72 travelcards. Zentralfriedhof is just on the city boundary covered by the cards.
Josephsplatz (Lime’s apartment), Schreyvogelgasse (the famous doorway), Am Hof, Lothringerstrasse (where the real sewer kiosk can be found), Stadtpark (the sewers), the hotels, the Soviet War memorial, the Memorial Against War & Fascism and the Prater amusement park are all within central Vienna, are all within walking distance of a U-Bahn station and can easily be found on a city map. The Karl Marx apartment block is directly opposite Spittlelau station on U-Bahn line U4.
The Dritte Mann museum is a short walk from U-Bahn station Kettenbrückengasse on line U4, on the corner of Pressgasse and Mühlgasse. The museum is presently only open on Saturdays between 2pm and 6pm. It is spread across a number of rooms in a stunning white building that are strangely not all inter-linked, so when you arrive and buy your ticket you will be directed to go back outside and down Pressgasse to another part of the building to enjoy the first part of the collection (the door is marked with balloons). When you are finished here, ask an assistant to bring you to the next section of the exhibition which is in the part of the building next door but can only be reached by going outside again and walking up to the second door along. Again, once finished here another assistant will direct you back to the main entrance of the building to finish your visit. It seems silly, but well worth the inconvenience and there are plenty of bilingual assistants who are very happy to help and guide you around. For more information about ticket prices and the collection, visit the museum’s official website here.
As well as this blog, I have also produced a short documentary film about The Third Man starring Harry the Lime. Just press play below or click here to watch it.
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