Thursday, August 29, 2019

Changes in Burial Culture

The trend of changing from casket burial (Erdbestattung) to cremation (Urnenbestattung) has dramatic consequences for the maintenance of cemeteries. Red Baron went to a presentation explaining the development in Freiburg.

The introductory talk by Freiburg's mayor of finances, Stefan Breiter, was followed by a long walk over the 27 ha (66 acres) main cemetery.

Mr. Martin Leser, the head of Freiburg's cemeteries (a total of 17 !), showed that less surface is needed for burials when nowadays 70% of the people opt for cremation or even have the ashes of their defuncts spread in a grove (Hainbestattung). Ten years ago still, 70% preferred a casket burial.

It was Elisabeth's wish to be buried in the traditional way.

Pebble pond and letterbox
 We also passed by the fetus burial area. Parents had asked the municipal council for a possibility to express their mourning. Following existing examples, Freiburg's cemetery administration introduced a pond of pebbles. Parents may label the individual stones and write the last letter to their lost babies.

Within ten years Freiburg's main cemetery has become greener.
The final discussion took place at the central consecration hall. We were informed that due to less revenue but an increasing workload maintaining more and smaller lawn surfaces between existing and remaining burial sites* the cemetery administration is working on a new financing scheme.
*At Freiburg plots are ”bought” for 15 years. If the burial lease is not renewed, the site is vacated.

Temporary use for unneeded surfaces: Gardening, pet cemetery, and bees.
To reduce costs, some participants proposed during the discussion that lawn mowing is stopped and wildflowers are allowed to grow.

Here Red Baron learned that meadows need Magerböden (poor soils) while the soil at the cemetery is fertile as required for lawns. This is why in one case, peripherally located plots were liberated and alloted to private gardening (Schrebergärten).

In the end, Mr. Leser summarized his talk:

Cemeteries are central places of mourning and remembrance and should remain so!

Present-day societies require multicultural cemeteries meeting the burial needs of different ethnic and religious groups.

Cemeteries will change their appearance by choosing more and more easy-care burials.

Cemeteries must continue to fulfill their function as monofunctional green spaces.


  1. On a most recent trip to Germany, some of my fellow travelers didn't know about the leasing of their plot. I explained that this is also true in Austria and Switzerland as well. I knew in Hallstatt that it was also 15 years, I didn't know this was also true in Freiburg. I'm also saddened by the sight of Elisabeth's final resting place, I still remember our dinner on the Insel.

  2. I sing this weekend with the New Glarus Maennerchor and one of the selections is about William Tell as well as democracy, revolt against tyranny and the fight for equal treatment for all mankind. I thought, this is a real good lesson for these times!