Berlin's Graveyards Are Disappearing - And Here's Why - By Carlos GaminoBy Carlos Gamino

Space is tight in Berlin. It’s so tight that cemeteries began charging rental fees for burial plots a few hundred years ago—and today some people pay to be buried in a forest cemetery outside the city limits with no gravestone (only a small plaque with the decedent’s name is nailed to the trunk of a tree, beneath which the cremains are buried).

And now, graveyards are beginning to disappear in the German capital.

They’re being transformed into places for the living—such as playgrounds at kindergartens, apartment buildings, or public parks.

“People tend to be angry — surprised and angry — at having this grave in the middle of the kindergarten,” says Christine Schlund, pastor of the Sophien Church in Berlin. She notes that many people “think it is strange children are playing on the former graveyard.”

That doesn’t change her own opinion, though. The space hasn’t been used for new burials for several years, so Schlund says it shouldn’t be a problem.

This “graveyard recycling” isn’t new, either. The kindergarten playground that Schlund is talking about was built there during the 1950s.

Several old cemeteries in the city are being converted; one was turned into a Syrian refugee community garden that grows mint, onions and tomatoes, while two more have been taken over for new housing to hold refugees and migrants. Germany has seen more than a million people come through its borders in the past few years, and finding places to house them is becoming increasingly difficult.

At the entrance to the cemetery-turned-refugee-garden, the old tombstone carver’s workshop was empty until the head gardener organized German language classes for refugees.

“It’s a space that’s been abandoned, and used for burying people, used for, now, gardening and cultivating human beings in the best way possible,” says Fetewei Tarekegn, the head gardener.

What Do You Think?

I’m not exactly sure what I think about Germany’s ancient graveyards being plowed over and developed for the housing of refugees. How about you? Share your thoughts on this strange, but not new, practice by sounding off on my Facebook page or on Twitter.

Carlos Gamino