Dear Tante Lene: What’s the Story On Germans Digging Up Old Graves?

By Darlene Fuchs on Email

Dear Tante Lene,

“Is true that graves, in Germany, are dug up after a certain amount of time to make room for another deceased person?”

Your favorite niece,


Dear Kathlene,

Because of space limitations, German cemeteries began reusing graves approximately 200 years ago. Most German cemeteries allow their “guests” to rest in peace for a maximum of 20 to 30 years, the time needed until there is hardly anything left of a body (That’s why the period is shorter for young children in some cemeteries).

Rent for this time period typically costs between $1000 – $5000, which must be paid again if the contract is renewed. If you do not renew the contract, you must relinquish the grave to another deceased soul. Just before the time is up, a sticker is placed on the headstone as a reminder. When the time is up, they will excavate the grave, dig a little deeper and rebury any remains, together with the new tenant, as reverentially as possible

The growing trend is for cemeteries to lay aside a grassy plot usually referred to as the “Field of the Unknown,” for anonymous burials. There are no headstones for the deceased, just one monument, declaring the area’s purpose. Anonymous burials actually costs more, but perpetual care of the plot is included in the price and one saves on the cost of a headstone.

About 40 percent of Germans choose cremation. Although it is a very popular practice in the US to scatter the cremated remains, it is not allowed in Germany, except when spread over a designated ash field in a cemetery.

If one wants their post-mortem abode to be in the woods, they can choose an alternative form of burial. The ashes of the deceased is buried in a biodegradable urn within the root system of a tree, located in the Friedwald (“Peaceful Forest”). Headstones, flowers, or other such markers are forbidden. The tree itself is the marker and a small plate may be attached to its trunk. The Friedwald company keeps a detailed map of the buried urns. Of course, in Germany this is highly regulated.

Germany is a world leader in recycling, even when it comes to burying their dead.

Tante Lene


Photo by Dancing with Ghosts via Flickr

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Darlene Fuchs