The German Way of Death

A favorite monument in Friedhof II der Sophiengemeind

My favorite walking route on my morning commute takes me through a Protestant cemetery. Like much of Berlin the exterior walls of Friedhof II der Sophiengemeind are covered in graffiti, but just inside is a woodland oasis. There are flowers, but they are the flowers of a landscaped yard—rhododendrons and hydrangea—rather than the sanitized cut arrangements you often see in an American cemetery. There are some grand monuments, but mostly the landscape is unruly: full of rambling ivy, shrubs, and, in summer, leafy boughs bisecting your line of sight. Most striking is the contrast of the German predilection for chaos in death versus their stereotypical Teutonic rigidness in life. Perhaps in his final resting place, a German finally lets himself go.

A typical grave

As a non-German speaker, I look for clues about the culture of my host country outside of language: in the aisles of a grocery store (I’m not sure what condiments in a tube tells me, but I’m sure it’s something), the walls of a gallery, and even the paths of a cemetery. Still, the paths of the Friedhof II der Sophiengemeind remind me of one bit of language a co-worker taught me. It’s a Swabian saying, “schaffe, schaffe, Häusle baue” that means “work, work, build a house.” According to my colleague, the saying captures not just the hard-working nature of Swabians, but also the more universally relatable ideal of a house in the country.

In Mitte, the central district of Berlin where the cemetery lies, there’s no such thing as a standalone house; the streets are lined with five-story apartment blocks. But here in Friedhof I like to think the residents have finally built their house. It’s a lovely, rambling affair and as far outside the city as you can get without leaving.

Watering cans near the cemetery entrance

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  • Reply
    Theresa Dillon
    July 23, 2015 at 10:13 pm

    I am intrigued by the colorful collection of watering cans near the entrance…?

  • Reply
    July 24, 2015 at 5:33 pm

    I guess they're for loved ones to do a bit of watering when they visit. I'm intrigued by them, too.

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