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:
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 an end to 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 includes, however, various statements and speeches reflecting the dual nature of the anniversary.
Joy at victory over the Nazis combines with respectful remembrance of 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 central Heldenplatz square – has particular resonance.
On March 15, 1938, around a quarter of a million people gathered on the square 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 Heldenplatz 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.
(Should you wish to learn more about Austria and fascism, Heldenplatz also houses the House of Austrian History.)
2023 dates and tickets
The Fest der Freude always takes place on May 8th. The 2021 event was entirely virtual and livestreamed, but “normality” returned in 2022 when the night’s theme was “political resistance.”
The 2023 event, which begins at 7.30pm, has “civil courage” as its theme.
Entry is free: you require no ticket. The whole thing normally lasts around two hours.
How to get there
Spend more than an a couple of hours or so in Vienna and you probably pass Heldenplatz. It sits at one end of the Hofburg complex, close to the very centre of town and on most visitor walking routes.
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 (for the event)