Not all of Vienna’s history is about balls, carriages and cafés. There are the 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 victims
- Free classical concert on Heldenplatz square from the Vienna Symphony Orchestra
- Always scheduled for May 8
- See also: Concerts in Vienna | Summer Night Concert
The 8th of May
On May 8, 1945 (Victory in Europe Day), 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 evils of the Holocaust.
The organisers (Mauthausen Komitee Österreich) work to preserve the legacy of the victims of the Holocaust through memorial events such as the May 8 concert and through activities aimed at combatting fascism and racism.
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.
The conductor will be Karina Canellakis, chief conductor of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra.
The concert typically ends with the traditional Ode to Joy (written by Beethoven while resident in Vienna and since adopted as the official anthem of Europe).
2021 dates and tickets
Heldenplatz hosts the Fest der Freude on May 8th each year, with free entry – you require no ticket. The start time is typically around 7.30pm and the whole event lasts about 90-120 minutes.
The 2021 date and/or event organisation depends, of course, on whether COVID-related measures continue to impact events in May.
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