• Germany edition
 
It's your funeral - burial culture changes
Photo: DPA

It's your funeral - burial culture changes

Published: 13 Nov 2012 08:00 GMT+01:00
Updated: 13 Nov 2012 08:00 GMT+01:00

The van of bodies was ready to be driven from Berlin to a cut-rate crematorium in Saxony last month when it was stolen. Families waited for weeks to reclaim the bodies of their loved ones, which were eventually found in Poland.

Their distress was a result of what macabre critics are starting to call 'corpse tourism' - increasing numbers of bodies are being driven hundreds of miles to discount crematoria in distant parts of the country.

Reports suggest that some are even making grim farewell tours as far as the Czech Republic in a bid for knock-down prices.

Many German undertakers are deeply uneasy with these developments, blaming tight-fisted relatives for driving down costs - and standards.

Cheapskate loved ones

"Maybe it’s got something to do with this cheapskate mentality we've got," Carsten Pohle, chairman of the Union of German Undertakers told The Local.

“Price is very important. Many of the bereaved are now more careful with money. And eight years ago insurance companies stopped contributing to burial costs, which has certainly sped up the development.

"There are now a lot more discount undertakers advertising," he added. "You could say there was a price war going on."

The growth of price-comparison websites certainly indicates a sea-change in attitudes: the days are long gone when it would have appeared inappropriate for the bereaved to make financial calculations.

Domestic coffin producers have been struggling in the face of competition from foreign imports, mostly from Eastern Europe. Discount providers now import two-thirds of their coffins, while domestic industrial production fell by 30 percent between 2003 and 2011, according to figures from the German association of funeral suppliers.

More cremations

Cremation, once a rarity, is fast becoming the norm, and overtook burials for the first time last year. In urban areas the trend is overwhelming: 67 percent of Berliners that die are now cremated, said Pohle.

“This also has cost reasons," Pohle said. "The funeral is cheaper and you can have a cheaper coffin. People are also more used to the idea of cremations. I’ve had many conversations with people who find the idea of cremations simply cleaner and more hygienic."

At the same time, speedy anonymous burials - usually following cremation - are on the rise.

Something significant is happening with how the nation is treating its dead. But what does it mean? Does the demise of traditional funerals, ornate coffins and regular grave-tending suggest a culture that no longer respects the dead?

Hamburg researcher Norbert Fischer said the picture was not so clear-cut. On the one hand, he agreed that anonymous burials suggested "a pragmatic, demystified way of dealing with death."

Less ritual

Yet he stressed that other trends seemed to point in a different direction. "Overall, the biggest tendency had been towards a departure from ritual," he told The Local.

"This is connected with the personalisation and privatisation of the mourning process, as well as a turning away from the crematory as the traditional place of mourning and remembrance," he said.

He pointed to the rapid growth in alternative burials, which place a greater emphasis on the identity of the deceased. Innovative gravestones are on the rise, as are communal graves with a certain identity, such as the "Garden of Women" in the Hamburg-Ohlsdorfer cemetery, and burial areas set aside for stillborn babies.

The internet has provided fertile ground for the bereaved seeking new ways to keep memories alive. Electronic condolence books, mourning blogs, even a "virtual graveyard" of obituaries where visitors can leave comments suggest a common desire to commemorate in more immediate and personal ways.

Pohle also said he had noticed relatives placing more demands on funeral companies personalising their farewell. "They have many more individual wishes. They often want a more secular burial with new rituals. The music in the funeral service, for example, reflects this," he said.

"People no longer want just an organ playing standard pieces, but want to pick music that was special to the deceased. So a widow might select the music played at her wedding.”

Woodland cemeteries growing

The increase in the number of woodland cemeteries represents yet another facet of this diversification. They have grown dramatically since legal restrictions were relaxed in 2000.

"Originally there were no options apart from a traditional burial. Since alternatives were introdcued, more and more people are taking them up", Corinna Brod told The Local.

Brod is spokeswoman for the alternative woodland burial organisation FriedWald, which scatters the ashes of the dead at the roots of a tree. The company opened in 2001 with one location; it now has 44 across Germany, and is aiming for 80 by 2018.

She attributed the change to demographics and practical considerations.

“There are a lot of single people, and families are smaller. This means there are fewer people to tend to graves. Often there’s simply nobody to do it. Our service takes care of that, which makes it attractive for some people", she said.

But the main reason for people to opt out of traditional ceremonies was more spiritual, she said. "In a recent survey we found that most people connected the woodlands with the hope that death wouldn't be so bad.

"They come and find the place just incredibly peaceful, the trees comforting, and the surroundings beautiful, she said. "They think: maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to die. Our society is always confronted by death, and in the end we all just hope that it won’t be so terrible. This sense can be part of the attraction of alternative burials.”

Though the established ways of mourning may be on the wane, it would be hard to argue that Germans are forgetting their dead.

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

15:26 November 13, 2012 by The-ex-pat
Many German undertakers are deeply uneasy with these developments, blaming tight-fisted relatives for driving down costs - and standards. And "Maybe it¦#39;s got something to do with this cheapskate mentality we've got," Carsten Pohle, chairman of the Union of German Undertakers told The Local.

Just goes to show what contempt monopolies hold their "clients" in here in German..........With this attitude they deserve to go up in smoke themselves!!
20:27 November 13, 2012 by raandy
Dying is gonna be more expensive in the future.
08:08 November 15, 2012 by Herr Ed
@The-ex-pat...Personally I think it's an attitude that's pervasive throughout the industry, especially in the US. Funeral homes prey on people at one of their weakest times, selling them $10,000 caskets because "...their loved ones deserve the best." Whether you believe in a higher power or not, what's left on the table after death is nothing but an empty vessel, and spending $10,000 or $20,000 to show how much you loved the person who formerly inhabited it is simply ridiculous. My wife and I have already made our families aware of our wishes to be cremated and to take a portion of our insurance money to throw a party for our friends. That's how we want to be remembered.
13:29 November 23, 2012 by bwjijsdtd
"They come and find the place just incredibly peaceful, the trees comforting, and the surroundings beautiful" ... then some jerk comes along with a chainsaw and cuts the tree down for firewood ...
Today's headlines
Boy, 6, among Berlin train attack victims
Photo: DPA

Boy, 6, among Berlin train attack victims

Two vicious acts of violence on Berlin trains over the weekend have shocked passengers, with the youngest attack victim aged just six. READ  

Gerst and crew get 3D printer and some mice
Gerst is waiting the arrival of the SpaceX Dragon which launched on Sunday. Photo: NASA TV/DPA

Gerst and crew get 3D printer and some mice

Alexander Gerst, Germany's man aboard the International Space Station (ISS), is at the ready to capture SpaceX's unmanned Dragon spacecraft with a cargo of supplies on Tuesday. READ  

Iraq denies entry to German military trainers
The seven trainers boarded their plane in Germany on Friday. Photo: DPA

Iraq denies entry to German military trainers

Seven German military trainers, who flew to Iraq on Friday to train Kurdish fighters battling Islamic extremists Isis, have been denied permission to enter the country. READ  

Father, 75, tries to dynamite son
Police searching the area after the TNT discovery in Nußdorf. Photo: DPA

Father, 75, tries to dynamite son

A Bavarian pensioner is being investigated on suspicion of attempted murder after planting 3.5kg of TNT in his son's garden, next door to his own home, police said on Monday. READ  

JobTalk Germany
How to become an au pair in Germany
Photo: DPA

How to become an au pair in Germany

It’s not quite as romantic as the Nanny Diaries, nor is it as magical as Mary Poppins. But being an au pair in Germany can be fun, as Emma Anderson finds out. READ  

Merkel hails 'impressive' French reform plans
Merkel and Valls on Monday in Berlin. Photo: DPA

Merkel hails 'impressive' French reform plans

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls visited Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Monday, hoping to gain Germany's blessing for his revised economic reform programme. READ  

German Fifa exec: 'Qatar won't host World Cup'
Theo Zwanziger and one of the planned stadiums in Qatar. Photo: DPA

German Fifa exec: 'Qatar won't host World Cup'

Germany's top Fifa official said on Monday Qatar will not host the 2022 World Cup as planned, due to climate conditions. Qatar's successful bid to host the tournament has been marred by corruption and human rights concerns. READ  

Germany plans air lifts to help fight Ebola
A Liberian man holds his daughter as they wait for treatment for suspected Ebola symptoms in Monrovia. Photo: DPA

Germany plans air lifts to help fight Ebola

Germany and France will send military transport planes to West Africa to help efforts to contain the Ebola epidemic, Chancellor Angela Merkel and military officials said on Friday. READ  

Amazon workers walk out again
Amazon workers striking in Graben, Bavaria, on Monday. Photo: DPA

Amazon workers walk out again

Four Amazon shipping centres in Germany were the target of fresh walkouts on Monday in a long-running wage dispute with the US online retail giant. READ  

Half of German navy helicopters grounded
A German navy Sea Lynx helicopter. Photo: DPA

Half of German navy helicopters grounded

Half of the German navy helicopter fleet has been grounded after engineers found large tears in the panelling of a British-made machine on deployment. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
DPA
Gallery
The best photos from Oktoberfest's opening weekend
Photo: DPA
Munich
Your guide to Munich Oktoberfest's food
Marks & Spencer
Sponsored Article
Marks and Spencer: Win €300 toward your new autumn wardrobe
Photo: Joanna Drath, University of Tübingen
Society
Europeans descended from three tribes
Photo: DPA
Culture
Your guide to Munich Oktoberfest's tents
Photo: DPA
Hamburg
Drunk teachers ruin school trip to Hamburg
Photo: DPA
Gallery
Oktoberfest 2014: The best and worst in dirndl fashion
Photo: Shutterstock
Gallery
Ten German words you'll never want to hear again
Photo: DPA
Education
German universities tumble in global rankings
Photo: Shutterstock
Business & Money
The three types of firms hiring foreigners
Photo: DPA
Berlin
Frisky couple shock Berlin commuters
Sponsored Article
Bilingual education from nursery to graduation at Phorms
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

3,324
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd