Not all of Vienna’s history is about balls, carriages, cake, and cafés. The city had its darker episodes in the 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
- Includes a free classical concert on Heldenplatz square from the Wiener Symphoniker
- Always scheduled for May 8
- See also: Concerts in Vienna | Summer Night Concert
The 8th of May
(Fest der Freude; photo © Andy Wenzel)
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 millions murdered through the evils of the Holocaust.
The organisers (Mauthausen Komitee Österreich) work to preserve the legacy of the victims 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. 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.
(Heldenplatz – site of the concert)
The concert itself sees the square light up in colour as the audience enjoys some of the planet’s best musicians performing a selection of classical music.
A regular fixture on the programme is the Ode to Joy from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (written by the composer while resident in Vienna and since adopted as the official anthem of Europe).
The “house” orchestra for the occasion is none other than the Wiener Symphoniker, ably supported by different choirs, conductors, soloists, and other performers 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.
2022 dates and tickets
The Fest der Freude always takes place on May 8th. The 2021 event was entirely virtual and livestreamed, but let us hope all returns to something like normality in 2022: the theme will be “political resistance.”
Heldenplatz square in Vienna’s centre hosts the evening event, with free entry – you require no ticket. The whole thing lasts about 90-120 minutes.
There are limited seats, 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
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