Aside from death and taxes, the fact that time stands
still for no one is another certainty. More often than not, the speed of that change can be a bit unnerving. Have you tried to find a pay phone lately, or even needed one? When was the last time you visited a library and used the card catalog? Raise your hand if you have used a phone book in the last year.
Funeral and burial practices are not exempt from changing times. In Scandinavian countries the practice of cremating the body on a floating funeral pyre was once a common practice. In Egypt, there was a time when the mummification of the deceased, as well as their pets and servants, and the building of elaborate tombs was big business. In the Soviet Union the Center for Scientific Research and Teaching Methods in Biochemical Technologies was established in Moscow with its primary task being the preservation of Vladimir Lenin’s body.
In the modern era of globalization, funeral practices in western countries, including the United States, are undergoing a rather dramatic change. Cremation rather than traditional burial is fast becoming the choice for families. In several European Union countries as well as the United States and Canada, families can take home the cremated remains of their loved ones. In Germany, however, this is forbidden as burial laws require that human remains must be buried in an officially designated cemetery or specially designated area.
Increasingly, European funeral homes now also offer burials in nature. This allows for cremated remains in urns to be buried in forests, fruit orchards, or other location, or to have the ashes can scattered at sea. The FriedWald cemetery outside Berlin offers tree grave sites. The family of internationally acclaimed artist Wilem Bor, a founding member of the Dutch Route 66 Associations chose this option in the Netherlands. Some municipalities in Germany are also trying to be more flexible when it comes to environmentally friendly burials. In Planegg, southwest of Munich, a cemetery owner is considering the planting of a mixed fruit orchard and then offer tree and meadow interment.
In a recent article published by Deutsche Welle the evolving traditions of burial were addressed from the standpoint of cemetery owners. “”About a third of the cemeteries in Germany won’t continue to exist in their present form five to ten years from now,” says Judith Könsgen of the German Cemetery Association. Urns only take up about one tenth of the space required for a casket. As a result, almost all cemeteries have swathes of unused ground surfaces. They suffer from a slump in earnings despite a steep rise in burial fees, Könsgen says, adding that city administrations are not allowed to cross-subsidize cemeteries with funds from other sources. At the same time, cemeteries’ fixed costs remain high.”
In Berlin city planners are looking toward cemeteries as urban natural spaces, an alternative heavily trafficked public parks, where both flora and fauna can develop in a somewhat protected environment. According to a recent survey, cemeteries visitors often use the space to read, walk or sit in the sun and meditate. Three out of four cemetery administrations interviewed for the survey said they are putting in place various measures that will help sustain biodiversity including nesting aids for birds.
Cemeteries have historically been viewed as eternal resting places. In the 21st century, cemeteries are evolving to become a place for the living as well as the deceased.