Not all of Vienna’s history is about balls, carriages and cafés. There are darker sides to the city’s past, too. The end of one of the darkest underpins the Fest der Freude (Festival of Joy), an annual free concert and memorial event.
- Celebrates the end of Nazi oppression while also remembering the (many) victims
- Free classical concert on Heldenplatz square from the Vienna Symphony Orchestra
- Always held May 8 (so the 2020 event is a Friday)
- See also: Concerts in Vienna | Summer Night Concert
The 8th of May
On May 8, 1945, the German army surrendered unconditionally to the allies, bringing to an end the years of Nazi rule and oppression.
The Fest der Freude is an open-air evening event that celebrates the occasion with a free concert. The festival begins, however, with statements and speeches reflecting the dual nature of the anniversary.
On the one hand, there is joy at victory over the Nazis. On the other, sadness at the many millions who lost their lives, particularly through the Holocaust.
The location – Vienna’s Heldenplatz square – has particular resonance here. On March 15, 1938, around a quarter of a million people gathered there to listen to Hitler as he formally announced the annexation of Austria by Germany from the balcony of the National Library. Most of the crowd approved of his speech.
The concert itself sees the square light up in colour as the audience enjoys some of the planet’s best musicians performing a programme of classical music. The “house” orchestra for the occasion is none other than the Wiener Symphoniker, ably supported by different choirs and soloists each year.
As such, it’s a chance to hear a world-class orchestra in a magnificent setting (for free) and reflect on how the wheel of time sometimes turns in a more positive direction.
I don’t have the 2020 programme, yet, but the 10,000 people at the 2019 event saw the Wiener Symphoniker and conductor, Eva Ollikainen, perform works by Ravel, Shostakovich, Arvo Pärt, Mahler, and others. All I know so far is that the 2020 version will have a stronger Beethoven theme to it, to fit with the year of celebrations of his works.
The concert always ends anyway with the traditional Ode to Joy (written by Beethoven in Vienna and since adopted as the official anthem of Europe).
2020 dates and tickets
The Fest der Freude is always held on May 8th, whatever the weather, with free entry – you require no ticket. The start time is typically around 7.30pm and the whole event lasts about 90-120 minutes.
There are limited seats put out, and these are intended for those who truly need them. Video walls show close-ups for those unable to get a place near to the stage.
How to get there
Spend more than an hour or so in Vienna and you’ll have been to Heldenplatz. It sits at one end of the Hofburg Palace, close to the very centre of town.
Subway: The nearest stations are Herrengasse on the U3 line and Volkstheater on the U3 and U2 lines.
Tram/bus: The 1, 2, D and 71 tram lines stop at either end of Heldenplatz. Get out at Ring/Volkstheater or Burgring.
Address: Heldenplatz, 1010 Vienna | Website