After researching customs and views of death in Germany, I discovered some similarities and some differences compared to how American customs. In Germany, it is common for the government to be responsible for embalming and cremations. In most states, such as Berlin, it is required by law to bury or cremate the deceased within 96 hours (AngloInfo 2015). The first customary thing to do after a loved one dies is to obtain death certificate or Todesbescheinigung. (AngloInfo 2015). If the death occurs in a hospital, the doctor will complete the death certificate. If death occurs in a home, the doctor must be contacted and he/she will confirm the date and time of death (AngloInfo 2015). In Germany, they have a similar way of declaring a person dead. According to the German Reference Centre for Ethics in Life Sciences (DRZE), “brain death must be diagnosed beyond doubt by two independently acting physicians who are not a part of the transplantation team…” (DRZE). There are strict guidelines for diagnosing brain death, but inevitably mistakes can be made. On March 24, 2015, a 92-year-old woman woke up in her coffin after mistakenly being pronounced dead in a nursing home. She woke up asking, “Where am I?” She was then moved to a hospital where she sadly fell ill and died a few days later. This proves the necessity of strict rules for pronouncing someone brain dead. (Daily Mail 2015).
After obtaining a death certificate, the death must be reported to the local registrar or Standesamt (AngloInfo 2015). This usually requires the death certificate, passport, birth certificate, and sometimes a marriage license or permit of residence. The cost of a funeral in Germany is extremely high due to the high cost of embalming and headstones. The average funeral in Germany today averages around $6,660 (DW 2005). Once a funeral home is chosen, they usually take care of the rest of the details such as: collecting the body, arranging the funeral service, and choosing the coffin/urn. Germany is very conservative when it comes to funerals. It is by law, mandatory for both coffins and urns to be buried in a cemetery. This obligation of burial is called Friedhofspflicht (AngloInfo 2015). In fact, cremation was illegal in Germany until around the 1900s when Bremen opened the first crematorium in 1907 (Ameskamp 2006). Munich and Berlin followed the cremation movement with some resistance from the Catholic Church, but crematoriums were granted legal funerary practices in all of Germany in 1934 (Ameskamp 2006). There are no open-caskets, last goodbyes, or scattering of ashes allowed (DW 2005). To lower the cost of funerals, many people are foregoing headstones and cremating the bodies instead of burying. This, however, has caused some conflict for the Catholic Church. A spokesperson for the German Bishops’ Conference stated, “the clear increase in anonymous graves signifies a break with the culture in remembrance in Germany’ (DW 2005). In other words, the lack of headstones correlates with a lack of remembrance for the deceased.
Not unlike American customs, sermons are often held at the graveside before the body or ashes are buried. In the 16th century, these sermons were called Leichenpredigten. Ministers usually gave these sermons and it included “names, dates, places, relatives, life histories, and sometimes pedigrees for many generations” (FamilySearch 2015). A sermon given by a minister or loved one before burial is still common to this day.
In her article, Long concludes that there are many different but parallel views about dying a good death. She states, ““people interpret and utilize their ideas in light of their own experience and creatively recombine elements from them, contributing to the maintenance, creation, and reinterpretation of notions of a good death” (Long 2004). German culture is more conservative than what we are used to in America, but the notions and traditions they have about death are the only way they know.
Ameskamp, S. (2006, August 25). On Fire- Cremation in Germany, 1870s-1934. Retrieved July 23, 2015, from https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=qL9aDj0bTTQC&oi=fnd&pg=PA1&dq=cremation in germany&ots=ibgXErctzz&sig=cBwZ6x1_mQVwq_YQfckFrNZkXYU#v=onepage&q=cremation in germany&f=false
Newton, J., & Hall, A. (2015, March 24). The Walking Dead: German undertaker passes out in shock when dead woman woke up and asked “Where am I?” Retrieved July 23, 2015, from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3009482/The-walking-dead-German-undertaker-passes-shock-dead-woman-woke-asked-I.html
The Criterion Of Brain Death. (n.d.). Retrieved July 21, 2015, from http://www.drze.de/in-focus/organ-transplantation/modules/hirntodkriterium?set_language=en
German Funerary Customs and Practices. (n.d.). Retrieved July 22, 2015, from https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/Germany_Funerary_Customs_and_Practices
Walker, T. (2005, February 28). Bringing New Life Into Old Rites. Retrieved July 22, 2015, from http://www.dw.com/en/breathing-new-life-into-old-rites/a-1501208
Death and Dying in Germany. (n.d.). Retrieved July 23, 2015, from http://berlin.angloinfo.com/information/healthcare/death-dying/