Academy for undertakers offers ‘recession-proof’ job training

German trainee undertakers are being put through their paces at Europe's only "funeral school" in Münnerstadt - anything but a dying business in the fast-ageing continent.

Academy for undertakers offers 'recession-proof' job training
Photo: DPA

The training course at this north Bavarian town lasts three years, involving both schooling and on-the-job practical apprenticeships.

In addition to learning how to dig a grave, students at the Theo Remmertz Academy are taught how to deal with grieving families, how to properly cement a vault, how to prepare bodies for the funeral, and even how to write out death notices.

“We often have foreigners contacting us. We’ve even had groups from China and Russia looking into our methods of training,” said Rosina Eckert, who heads the school’s administrative centre.

“Some people wondered how I got into this,” says 26-year-old Lisa Magera as she works up a sweat digging a grave from the frozen earth in the school’s mock cemetery.

“Before I worked as an assistant nurse,” says Magera, one of 525 apprentices at the school which bills itself as the only one of its kind in Europe.

“When someone died, I was always keen to see what the funeral parlour people did when they came to pick up the corpse. I found it interesting,” she added.

Next to the mock grave she is digging lies a grey marble headstone to honour the memory of one “August Weisheit, 1878-1961, beloved husband and dear father.” But there are no flowers and no body for this make-believe burial.

Lara Escher, a 20-year-old, finds the whole experience uplifting.

“I wanted to do something involving people rather than just sitting all day long in an office,” she said.

Trainer Wilhelm Lautenbach, who travels to teach here from his northern home town of Hannover, acknowledges that the trade used to be one that got handed down from father to son.

His own firm was set up in 1896 and he hopes his son, Malte, will one day take over.

“But changes are taking place” and more and more people from different backgrounds are drawn to this near recession-proof job, he says.

Funeral costs in Germany vary greatly, but a consumer association has calculated that the average price of dying lies between €2,000 and €5,000.

According to official German statistics, there were 8.1 births per 1,000 people compared to 10.4 deaths per 1,000 in 2009, a “greying” trend shared by most other European countries.

Death “is more and more talked about. And one spends ever more time thinking of the fact that there’s death after life,” says Lautenbach.

“The most difficult thing in this job is satisfying the dead person’s relatives. But that’s also what makes it most interesting,” says 24-year-old Christian Richter as he hammers metal handles into a coffin.

“You’ve got to take great care in making sure the padding is well stapled into the corners of the coffin,” says Sven Schroeder, another trainer, as he bends over Richter’s work, minutely checking all the details.

In addition to a workshop, the school also has a “hygiene room” where students learn how to wash and embalm dead bodies, allowing them to be preserved over several days.

Dealing with dead bodies? “It’s all part of the job,” says Magera.

“Of course, at first it’s a little strange … but you take it step by step and get used to it,” she adds.

Would-be undertakers “train” with people who have given their bodies to science. The school also houses a chapel, fully equipped with pews and artificial wreaths to allow mock funeral services to be held.

And the school library offers a large amount of specialised material from the “dictionary of funeral services,” to “the psychology of grieving,” and a raft of marketing books including one titled: “He who doesn’t advertise dies!”

The key to it all? “Know how to be compassionate while keeping your distance,” says Magera.


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Bar closures and no Christmas markets: How Bavaria is tightening Covid rules

Bavaria will order the closure of all bars and clubs as part of sweeping new restrictions to try and control the Covid spread and ease overrun hospitals. Here's a look at what's planned.

Closed Christmas market stalls in Munich.
Closed Christmas market stalls in Munich. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sven Hoppe

On Friday Bavarian state leader Markus Söder announced more tough restrictions to deal with spiralling Covid infections and packed intensive care units.

“The corona drama continues,” said Söder after the cabinet meeting, adding that 90 percent of Covid patients in state hospitals are unvaccinated. “Being unvaccinated is a real risk.”

Bavaria has a vaccination rate of 65.9 percent – lower than the nationwide rate of almost 68 percent.

READ ALSO: Bavaria cancels all Christmas markets in Covid surge

Söder said the state’s Covid package was about “blocking, braking and boosting”, adding that vaccination centres will be ramped up. 

“We must act,” he said. “Bavaria is exhausting almost all legal means until December 15th.”

Earlier this week, Bavaria introduced a state-wide 2G rule, meaning only vaccinated people (geimpft) and people who’ve recovered from Covid (genesen) can enter many public spaces. People who are eligible to get vaccinated but choose not to get it are excluded. 

Here’s an overview of the planned restrictions set to come in on Wednesday, as reported by local broadcaster BR24. 

Bars, clubs and restaurant curfew

From Wednesday, and for three weeks, all nightlife like clubs, discos, bars, pubs and brothels in Bavaria are set to close their doors. Restaurants will have to shut at 10pm. So planned Christmas nights out will likely need to be cancelled or postponed. 

Christmas markets

There will be no Christmas or Christkindl markets in Bavaria this year. In the past days, several cities had announced that they would not be holding these events this year due to the Covid situation. 

Contact restrictions on the unvaccinated

Söder announced new restrictions on the number of people those who are not inoculated can socialise with. A maximum of five unvaccinated people will be allowed to meet, from two different households. Children under 12 will not be included in the total, as well as vaccinated or people who’ve recovered from Covid.

Cultural and sporting events

All cultural and sporting events can only take place with significantly reduced spectators. At theatres, opera performances, sporting events, in leisure centres and at trade fairs, there will be a 25-percent capacity limit. The 2G plus rule also applies. This means that only vaccinated and recovered people are allowed to enter (not the unvaccinated) – and only with a negative rapid test. Masks are compulsory everywhere.

Universities, driving schools, close-body services: 2G plus

All universities, driving schools, adult education centres and music schools will only be open to those who have been vaccinated and have recovered – making it 2G. This rule also applies to body-related services, like hairdressers and beauty salons. Only medical, therapeutic and nursing services are exempt from the 2G rule. So unvaccinated people can still go to the doctor or receive a medical procedure. 

KEY POINTS: Germany finalises new Covid restrictions for winter


Shops remain exempt from 2G rules, meaning unvaccinated people can visit them. However, there is to be limits on capacity. This means that fewer customers are allowed into a shop at the same time.

Special rules for hotspots

Currently, the incidence in eight Bavarian districts is above 1,000 infections per 100,000 people in seven days. Here and in all other regions where the incidence goes above this number, public life is to be shut down as far as possible.

This means that restaurants, hotels and all sports and cultural venues will have to close. Hairdressers and other body-related service providers will also not be allowed to open for three weeks, and events will also have to be cancelled. Universities will only be allowed to offer digital teaching. Shops will remain open, but there must be 20 square metres of space per customer. This means that only half as many customers as in other regions are allowed in a shop.

If the incidence falls below 1,000 for at least five days, the rules are lifted.

Schools and daycare

Throughout Bavaria, schools and daycare centres are to remain open. However, there will be regular Covid testing. Children and young people have to continue to wear a face mask during lessons, including school sports, unless they are exercising outside. 

Bavaria is expected to approve the measures on Tuesday and they will be in force until at least December 15th. We’ll keep you updated if there are any changes.