Quiet music wafts through the air and a pack of tissues sits on a table at the Portaleum animal crematorium in Berlin. Nearby, there's a book: “Seeing Each Other Once More in Paradise – Will we meet our animals Again?”
Animal crematoriums like Portaleum have grown in popularity in Germany in recent years – in 2003 there were about 25 nationwide while today there are 120. The Portaleum itself has only been open since February, but it's already getting between 25 and 50 visitors each week.
Such businesses fill a gap for Germans devastated by their pets' deaths. They help grieving owners arrange everything from burial services to cremation – and even turning a beloved pet's ashes into a brilliant diamond.
“We pick the animals up, offer our mourning space, cremate the animals and think over with the owners which form of remembrance suits them best,” said Eberhard Leis, one of Portaleum's employees.
Many owners choose to simply cremate their pets and keep an urn of ashes with them forever. But they can also choose burial plots with personalised plaques. The most expensive choice – heating and compacting a pet's remains to turn them into a diamond – costs €2,890.
Why make a dead pet into jewellery? For some owners, it helps maintain an enduring connection to a dead pet. But other owners are worried that veterinary offices dispose of them improperly, according to Ralf Hendrichs of the Association of Pet Undertakers.
“Word gets out about what happens there,” Hendrichs said, charging that dead animals are sometimes turned into wallpaper paste, or something similar, by vets.
This, of course, is something German veterinarians vehemently deny.
But in any event, animal undertakers provide a service vets can't: They let people mourn over dead pets just like a dearly departed relative.
Leis said Portaleum has dealt with everything from dead dogs to a metre-long iguana. And even the toughest-looking people have broken down in tears – like the tattoo and piercing covered man who wept while mourning his dead rat.
“We perform real grief work,” Leis said.