Montag, 18. Februar 2013

Some Thoughts about German Cemeteries

Have you ever noticed the huge differences between German and American cemeteries?

Every time I'm in the US (and I try to get there at least once a year), I observe them.

As a genealogist, I'm always thrilled when I visit an American cemetery and find those old tombstones dating from 200 or 250 years ago. You hardly find them on German cemeteries. Why is that?

It's pretty simple, actually. Our country is much smaller, and - compared to the U.S. - overcrowded. So were the cemeteries. We simply don't have the space to keep the graves of our loved ones forever and a day.

That is why German cemetery administrations invented "resting periods". This means that when someone is buried, the plot must not be reused for a certain amount of years. The length of these resting periods can differ due to the regulations of the particular cemetery and is sometimes shorter when someone had an urn interment, but generally the resting period lasts 15 years or longer.For example, the cemeteries where my grandparents are buried have resting periods of 25, respectively 30 years.

When the resting period is over, the family of the buried person is asked how they wish to proceed.

If they decide to keep the plot, they have to pay a fee (again) for another resting period. Yes, you've read correctly. There are fees, and they are not cheap. For a family grave, you can easily pay 5,000 EUR per resting period. Oh, and usually, small annual fees apply for perpetual care.

If the family decides not to keep the gravesite, the space can be given to someone else, usually after a period of another 5 years. Nevertheless and ironically, nowadays many cemeteries deal with the problem of being too large. People tend to get older than the generations before them, and more and more people get interred in urns that take up less space. Plus, Germany is known for its low birth rates. 

You see, being buried in Germany is not cheap. Which leads to another reason why many cemeteries (no matter if operated by the town or the church) deal with financial problems. People think twice before renewing the contract for another few decades. Modern work reality demands geographical flexibility, and many of the old folks fear that with their children living all over the country, nobody will be there to take care of the grave.

Which is what brings us to the next point: The visual differences.

On American cemeteries you find tombstones in rows, decorated with no more than a few flowers and American flags.

On German cemeteries, you find the full range of German gardening skills. I've seen magazines whose only purpose was to inform their readers about the latest developments in the care-of-the-grave department. Especially gardening magazines often publish articles about this topic. People whose homes don't come with large flowerbeds devote all their exuberant energy to creating the most beautiful arrangements. On the other hand, don't dare to neglect the gravesite - you'll be the talk of the town...

I guess all of this might be considered typically German. Why keep it simple if you can make it complicated? 

1 Kommentar:

  1. I was lucky enough to live in Germany for three years and there was a small-town cemetery just down the street from us. We walked past it all the time and I was always taken with how much care the local people took with the graves. As you mentioned it was almost more like a garden on each plot then just a tombstone. You see that sometimes here in America, but nothing like there. I kind of like the idea of "resting periods." My only fear would be the loss of information from years ago, but in typical German style I bet the paperwork would be maintained well!