Yesterday, Aaron and I went for an evening stroll on our own. We wandered in directions previously unexplored. We eventually found our way to the Old Graveyard, which is much more pleasant than it sounds. This is the second graveyard we’ve stumbled upon, and both have been immaculately landscaped, each gravesite maintained with tasteful shrubs and flowers. All this upkeep makes the graveyards disturbingly inviting. Each row entices you with more overhanging willows. The atmosphere is as enchanting as a fairy tale, which is appropriate because our bewitched walk through the first graveyard led us to this unexpected find:
At the Old Graveyard in Martina and Jürgen’s neighborhood, we came across a headstone with Jürgen’s family name, Manthey. Martina had told us that Manthey is a rare name in Germany, so we figured this must be a relative, and sure enough, upon returning home, Martina confirmed this is Jürgen’s father and stepmother.
Then, she poured out a surprising story about burial customs in Germany. Apparently, space is tight for the dead, so each family can pay for a 20-year interment. After those 20 years elapse, either the family pays again for another 20 years or the body is exhumed and cremated. During the 20-year term, gravesite upkeep is the family’s responsibility. So that explains why these graveyards are so glorious. But, this tradition poses some problems for modern German families. When someone wants to be buried, they burden their family with a 20-year commitment to a particular place. This isn’t so bad if your family is settled and unlikely to move, but that’s increasingly not the case. Martina’s daughters have mobile careers, and maybe neither one will settle in Berlin, so where would Martina reserve a gravesite? Because of these complications, Martina says more people are starting to choose immediate cremation.