German Rule of the Week: Postmortem Social Control

Serbian cemeteries feature family gravesites with the likenesses of all family members laser-etched into marble, even the ones who are still living:

Family Plot in Gracanica, Kosovo 2010
Jewish cemeteries feature the columns, books, pillars and obelisks you would expect from children of the Enlightenment:

Grave in Jewish Section of Vienna Zentralfriedhof, 2010
French and Belgian cemeteries are studded with Art Nouveau tombs that look like alien eggs. And Latin cemeteries in the swampy sections of the New World feature above-ground crypts that crumble picturesquely in the humidity:

Tombs in Lafayette Cemetery, Louisiana, 2001
And German cemeteries? Suidically dull, thanks to plodding, literal-minded regulations meant to ensure no gravestone will offend even the most tight-assed musty old Spießburger. And since Spießer-Ressentiment can be triggered by even the slightest trace of humor or originality, the list of rules must be long indeed.

Enter the Friedhofsordnung (Cemetery regulations) for the Protestant Cemetery of Falkenstein/Vogtl. It has 45 separate sections, including at least 5 dedicated to telling people exactly what their graves must look like — including a table (!) specifying the precise volume, in cubic meters, of acceptable gravestones. Cross-shaped headstones are permitted to be up to 20% wider than square ones, you'll be happy to know, as long as the cubic-meter measurement is not affected.

But that's just the beginning. Here's Section 36:

Section 36 Material, Form, and Composition

1.     For gravestones, only natural rock, wood, and cast or sculptured metal is allowed.

2.    The form of the gravestone must conform to the material and must be simple and well-proportioned.

3.     The gravestones must be formed from one piece of material.

4.    All sides of the gravestone must be equally well-worked in a manner consistent with the material.

5.     Finishes and fine engraving are permitted only as a design element in connections with letters, symbols and ornaments which, for their part, may only occupy an area in proportion to the size of the headstone.

6.    Surfaces may not be rounded.

7.     All materials, ingredients, and finishing and design elements that are not listed above are forbidden, in particular concrete, glass, plastic, pictures, engravings, plaster, porcelain, aluminum, etc.

8.    The Church Guidlines on Headstone Design from 15 September 1992 (Exhibit 1) are hereby incorporated by reference into these Cemetery Regulations.

The rules go on, and on, and on. I can't translate the rest — even the small excerpt above left me profoundly depressed. The English, it seems, are not the only ones suffering from ghastly good taste.

10 thoughts on “German Rule of the Week: Postmortem Social Control

  1. This time you are overgeneralizing. I highly doubt that in any country you would find thought provoking art at the average village cemetery.
    However, visit for example the Waldfriedhof in München and you will find enough weird demonstrations of individualism beyond death. Probably nothing one would really consider avantgarde, but still nice to think about and definitely not suicidally dull.

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  2. This time you are overgeneralizing. I highly doubt that in any country you would find thought provoking art at the average village cemetery.
    However, visit for example the Waldfriedhof in München and you will find enough weird demonstrations of individualism beyond death. Probably nothing one would really consider avantgarde, but still nice to think about and definitely not suicidally dull.

    Like

  3. That depends on the cemetery. I buried my Mom on a cemetery that’s very old and kind of “unter Denkmalschutz”, and they don’t have a paper with regulations, but they ask one or two questions about the design (It’s a small village). The grave next to my Mom’s is profoundly ugly and cheesy, and the administration guy told us in the funny regional slang that that was a mistake, and that “that lady” should have been buried at the other cemetery with more “Gestaltungsfreiheit”. Since the place is very beautiful, I actually like the fact that they try to keep an eye on the designs. After all, it’s not mandatory to be buried there.
    I have one friend who never bothers much what people might think and she had the headstone for her Mom made in the shape of a Koala bear (If I remember right it was a Koala, or a Panda) because her Mom said she looked like a Koala. You see, if you are in the right spot, there’s nothing you can’t do.

    Like

  4. That depends on the cemetery. I buried my Mom on a cemetery that’s very old and kind of “unter Denkmalschutz”, and they don’t have a paper with regulations, but they ask one or two questions about the design (It’s a small village). The grave next to my Mom’s is profoundly ugly and cheesy, and the administration guy told us in the funny regional slang that that was a mistake, and that “that lady” should have been buried at the other cemetery with more “Gestaltungsfreiheit”. Since the place is very beautiful, I actually like the fact that they try to keep an eye on the designs. After all, it’s not mandatory to be buried there.
    I have one friend who never bothers much what people might think and she had the headstone for her Mom made in the shape of a Koala bear (If I remember right it was a Koala, or a Panda) because her Mom said she looked like a Koala. You see, if you are in the right spot, there’s nothing you can’t do.

    Like

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