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Will the classic cemetery soon die?

The funeral industry is considered a largely future-proof industry. After all, death always happens. But the classical family tomb is an obsolete model – and this makes the municipal cemeteries fall more and more into a crisis.

Too rigorous, too big, too expensive: according to experts, many classic urban cemeteries in Germany are facing a crisis – or are already in the middle of it. "It's surprising that the empty spaces are getting bigger," says Ralf Michal, vice president of the German Business Association, in Schweinfurt. "The cult of worship, as we know it from the past, is obsolete and communities have failed to create dignified and up-to-date forms of burial."

Alternative tombs favor "escape from the cemetery"

Meanwhile, relatives decide it from 20 to 25 percent for an alternative to the grave – as a community tomb, a forest burial, a burial at sea. The trend is increasing. The result: "Cemeteries are becoming increasingly deficient".

Because behind the popular alternative forms often blocked companies. Although they would have had to cooperate with a cemetery due to legal regulations, but they took home most of the costs – "and so there are no municipalities to maintain cemeteries," says Michal. "We at the Undertaker Association have always said: make your cemeteries more attractive, but now local communities have gone back ten, fifteen years."

The reason for this change: the company has changed drastically. "Today the needs are completely different," says sociologist Thorsten Benkel of the University of Passau, who is studying funeral culture in Germany. "People are much more mobile and don't spend their entire lives in one place," he says. "This is why the trend is moving away from the highly intensive care family tomb to alternative individual burial forms." Talk about "escape from the cemetery".

The individual forms of burial are the future

For his colleague Matthias Meitzler, who runs the homepage "Sociology of the cemetery" with Benkel, mixed forms are the concept of the future: "We need to rethink the cemetery," he says. Classic cemeteries next to the tombs of the urn, a forest area for natural burial as well as a common field for dogs and masters – individual offers for the individualized society.

Benkel sees a problem especially in too high cemetery taxes and repressive regulations. "Germany has the strictest funeral guidelines in Europe and is far ahead in Switzerland and the Netherlands," he says. "Why do you have to decide right away what to do with an urn, why can't you let it go to a mortal for a while and think about it?" It tells of a case in which relatives in a church cemetery were forbidden to set up a tombstone with a football logo. "It had to be a cross."

The German City Association has recognized the fundamental problem. "Although overall less space is needed, cemeteries, including their structures, must continue to be maintained," said Helmut Dedy, city council chief executive, describing the problem. "Some cities are therefore increasing taxes for the tombs of the urn to increase their participation in the maintenance costs of the entire cemetery" – others increase the subsidies.

The cemetery in Hamburg Ohlsdorf is the largest cemetery in the park of the world with its approximately 200,000 graves – and it is actually too large. "We have about 400 hectares, but in reality it would only take 100," says Hedda Scherres, spokesman for the cemetery administration. Today he sees a real "competition of cemeteries". The reason for this: "From the years we have had a growing tendency towards the urn". Of the 16,599 people who were buried in a cemetery in Hamburg in 2018, only about 4,000 were buried in a coffin in the ground. The cemetery administration is faced with the question: "What are we doing with the areas?" Cemetery Park instead of Park Cemetery?

Make good use of future cemetery areas

The Detmold School of Architecture and Interior Design at the Ostwestfalen-Lippe Technical University is currently seeking answers to these questions with the "Room for mourning – Ideas for the cemetery of the future "" You cannot simply transform a cemetery area into a barbecue area or a football field, "says Kathrin Volk, professor of landscape architecture and design at the university, saying that once he had done a self-experiment in the cemetery of Hasepark in Osnabrück next to one serious Chosen to find out what could be possible in the liberated areas of the tomb that he calls "Cemetery succession landscapes". "It was strange enough, you have to exercise it."

Pain and cemeteries are a problem that requires filial piety. Therefore, one must ask how the land can be freely combined in an appropriate and dignified way "with the city". In his view, the focus is on "not the dead but the living".