Non-Traditional Burials Gain Popularity in Germany | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 01.11.2005
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Non-Traditional Burials Gain Popularity in Germany

The church holiday of All Saints is a day when loved ones remember deceased relatives and care for their graves. More and more however, typical gravesites marked by a headstone are declining in popularity.


Anonymous "peace forests" are becoming increasingly popular

If one were to ask a German what burial method they would choose for their last remains, most -- about 60 percent -- would choose traditional methods such as cremation with an urn as their final resting place.

"I think it's best to be cremated, because it's easier," one woman recently told German public broadcaster WDR. "There aren't any complications and such for the family."

And then there is the traditional burial, in a casket, that another German man would prefer.

"When the time comes I'll be buried in the normal way," he said. "Of course there is more cost, but the way I feel about it I'll be dead anyway and personally I wouldn't want to be cremated."

Rise i n popularity of alter n ative burials

Of the approximately 820,000 who die annually in Germany, about 15 percent opt to be buried anonymously, without ceremony. Likewise, more and more Germans are also opting for non-traditional options such as burial at sea, communal graves or burial in woodland cemeteries.

Friedwald: Urnengräber unter Bäumen

Cremation remains one of the most popular alternatives

"I think it's good, first of all because it's cheaper," said another man in a report on German television. "Especially when I think of the way my parents were buried with all that pomp, the huge headstone and so forth. I just don't think all of that is necessary."

As an alternative to traditional cemetaries, one can choose a final resting place in a forest with a tree as a marker for around 800 euros ($960). There are currently eight so-called "woodland cemeteries" in Germany, a relatively new development and one which the church frowns upon.

But for many people, the high burial costs are the deciding factor, said Berlin psychologist Silke Haase. For coffin, cemetery and funeral taxes, one can expect to pay well over 1,000 euros. Similarly, changes in family structure have played a big part in the process of saying goodbye.

Friedwald: Urnengräber unter Bäumen

Non-traditional burials are often much cheaper and viewed as less wasteful

"I think another reason is that many people don't think that it's so important anymore," Haase said. "They don't need to have a grave that they can visit daily to make peace with the deceased. They are trying to find other ways to connect with their departed relatives."

According to a recent opinion poll questioning Germans about their entombment wishes, 40 percent favored an anonymous burial, a tree burial or cremation followed by burial in a garden or at sea.

Church voices co n cer n

On the occasion of the religious holidays "All Saints" and "All Souls," on Nov. 1 and Nov. 2, the Catholic and Protestant Churches in Germany have publicly criticized the growth of such anonymous graves. Many in the clergy see this trend as yet another form of isolation for a rapidly aging population that often spends their final days of life, and death, in reclusion.


The church says it's healthy for loved ones to be able to visit a place of remembrance

Therefore, the church has sought to re-emphasize the significance of traditional entombment ceremonies as well as permanent graves, claiming that the dead should be remembered as distinctive individuals.

Likewise, they also maintain that for many people permanent memorials and gravestones hold a certain 'holy' significance. According to a recently published statement by the Protestant Church, many of those who have agreed to bury their loved-ones anonymously often suffer the consequences of not having a specific place of mourning.

Fu n eral i n dustry adopts to cha n ge i n prefere n ces

On the practical side, those who are involved with the business side of dying -- the casket industry, funeral parlors and local communities -- are reacting to such changes in pragmatic fashion by offering a new variety of products and services.

"There are many funeral parlors that have already adapted, where one can choose individual music for the funeral service or even paint the caskets themselves," Haase said.

The church remains critical of such changes in burial culture. Joachim Wanke, Bishop of Erfurt, who is himself responsible for questions of congregational policies, put forth this reservation at the German Bishops' Conference.

"It used to be that dead were at the center of funeral ceremonies," he said. "Now it's also those of us who are left behind who need a ritual."

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