Here in America and in most of Canada, we have funeral traditions that have stood the test of time for decades, even centuries.
But our traditions are vastly different from those in other countries and cultures.
This article looks at German funeral traditions and is part of a series that highlights how different cultures care for their dead. Other parts of the series are about Yemeni funeral traditions and Lithuanian funeral traditions, among others.
Note, these traditions may vary depending on the individual and their own beliefs.
In Germany, about 58.3% of the population identifies as Christian while 35.4% identify as non-religious, as of 2016. German Christians believe in heaven and hell as the afterlife destinations, while most German Atheists don’t believe there’s an afterlife.
German Funeral Service
Depending on a person’s religious beliefs, a German funeral may follow Christian traditions or secular funeral traditions. Secular funerals, also known as Humanist funerals, are similar to traditional funerals, but they don’t have any religious elements and are typically more personalized. Families may choose a unique funeral location and personalized music and readings, among other funeral elements.
If following Christian traditions, there’s a funeral service held at a church. Most families wear dark-colored or black clothing and choose to have an open-casket viewing, similar to North American funeral traditions. Afterward, there’s the burial or cremation ceremony.
Burial and Cremation
Burial is still the most common German funeral arrangement, but some people choose cremation because it’s cheaper and or because of their personal preference. Many German Christians choose burial over cremation.
At the burial, mourners throw handfuls of dirt and sometimes flowers onto the casket before it’s lowered into the ground. A few days after the burial, loved ones decorate the gravesite with flowers, candles, and other mementos depending on the cemetery’s grave decoration rules. However, most cemeteries have a maximum burial of 30 years. Then, the graves are dug up and reused.
For cremation, many families keep the cremated remains in an urn. As of now, Bremen and North Rhine-Westphalia are the only two states of Germany that allow ash scattering.
Zuckerkuchen Funeral Cake
After the burial or cremation, there’s a funeral meal at a restaurant or someone’s home. One of the common dishes is the Zuckerkuchen Funeral Cake. It’s a sugar cake pastry served at both weddings and funerals. The cake’s origin is unclear, but it’s popular in Bremen and North Rhine-Westphalia.
To make it, you spread the dough on a baking sheet, sprinkle on butter and sugar, knead it, sprinkle with almonds, and put it in the oven to bake for about 20 minutes. Check out this recipe for more details.