What Explains Anonymous Burials

Now I’ve got a real question for my readers.  When I walk through German cemeteries, there is always a section for "anonymous graves," and almost every funeral home offers anonymous burials.  As this article on German funeral customs explains: "many people choose an anonymous grave with no headstone (something that’s found in Germany’s European neighbors but virtually unknown in North America)."  According to the same article, 27 percent of the burials in Hamburg are anonymous. 

My question to my German readers, and to everyone else who might have an answer, is:

1.  What’s the typical profile of someone who is buried anonymously? 

2.  Presumably you would have to arrange this before you die; how do you accomplish that?

3.  Most importantly, why would you choose to be buried anonymously?

I’m sure I’m not the only expat who’s asked himself these questions.  Any answers would be much appreciated.

6 thoughts on “What Explains Anonymous Burials

  1. For me, the question would be, “Why would anyone want to be buried in a graveyard in the first place?”. But that’s just me. As I understand it, even people like myself with no religious affiliation must, by law, be buried (either in an urn after cremation or in a coffin) in a graveyard in Germany. What I *really* would prefer is to be cremated and have my ashes handed over to my surviving family. As this is not allowed here, should I die in Germany (god forbid)I would choose an anonymous grave to spare my family the time and expense involved in caring for a marked grave for years and years. To me, dead is dead and the memories of the deceased are no less without a fancy sign to mark the spot. I think most family members make it clear many years before they die what preferences they have in regards to funeral/burial issues. I know my family has. Oh yes, I think there may also be a cost factor involved in anonymous burials, apart from the cost of the grave stone.


  2. What explains headstones? Your family will know the grave anyway. So, if all the relations that are meaningful to you are private, you won’t need one. Likewise, if people you have some ties to are not local and will visit the grave only once, at your funeral, you can do without a stone. The more you are integrated into the local community, the less you will want to be buried anonymously; the less you are integrated with society and the less your network is integrated locally, the more important will be the cost factor, of course dependent on your economic situation. Partly, the integration factor(s) will depend on the religion in the usual way (Catholic/community vs. Protestant/individuality). Just an ad hoc hypothesis.


  3. Graves in Germany are not permanent. After a certain number of years, when the body has sufficiently decomposed, the headstone (if there was one) is removed and the grave re-used for another body. So why purchase an expensive stone headstone, if it’s not going to be there forever? My husband’s Oma purchased one for her husband, and when it was removed, it was in her garden for many, many years. Now that she’s gone, I don’t know what happened to it.


  4. I just returned from Hamburg, after burying my Oma. She wanted to be buried anonymously due to the fact that her husband died in WWII without a proper burial. It was always her wish to be buried the same way. The family, however, knows exactly how to find her. Also, the cemeteries in Germany are absolutely beautiful. Families tend to plots like little gardens. When I heard that my Oma was to be buried anonymously, I was horrified, but in actuality, it turned out to be quite beautiful.


  5. I don’t want to be buried or cremated. I want to be processed into cat food, placed in tiny cans, and fed to cats. The label could read, “A taste of Seth in every bite!”


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