Cemetery Cafés Gain Popularity in Berlin

An interesting concept, to be sure…

View of cemetery from Friedhofscafé

View of cemetery from Friedhofscafé

Graveyards may not seem the ideal location for afternoon tea, but there is a trend towards opening cafes inside cemetery walls in Berlin and other cities. They offer comfort not just for the bereaved but for local people and tourists who seek tranquility.

“But no dead people were laid out here, right?” The two elderly ladies standing at the cake counter wanted to know exactly what happened here. “Oh yes, corpses were laid out right here,” replied the waitress, Johanna Helmberger, suppressing a smile.

Many visitors to Café Strauss in the the Kreuzberg district of Berlin ask her that. It doesn’t lessen the ladies’ enthusiasm. “It’s great! We’ll come again,” said one while paying.

Helmberger, 29, has a full house. Groups of pensioners, a middle-aged couple, two women with babies and a young man with a laptop. It’s a cold, rainy November day and the café, located inside the walls of a cemetery in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin, offers a view of wet headstones and family tombs. It doesn’t sound cheerful. But the guests are chatting away contentedly.

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Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington House

Arlington House also known as the Robert E. Lee Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery. Section 32 of the cemetery is in the foreground.
Photo Courtesy of the Library of Congress Archives

Located in Arlington, Virginia, Arlington National Cemetery is the second-largest national burial ground in the United States in terms of the number of people who are buried there. (The first, being Calverton National Cemetery.) More than 300,000 people buried on the green, rolling hills. Nearly 7,000 funerals are conducted in a single year at Arlington National Cemetery. An average of 28 funerals are held in a day, excluding weekends.

On June 15, 1864, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton declared Arlington Mansion (Custis-Lee Mansion) and its surrounding grounds, approximately 200 acres, a national military cemetery– They took General Robert E. Lee’s estate as a way to extract retribution from the Confederate General.
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Family lives inside cemetery

Just in time for Samhain, the family we can all be jealous of…

 

Would you be brave enough to spend Halloween sleeping in a cemetery?

For one family, this former mortuary chapel surrounded by crumbling headstones and eerie gargoyles is home 365 days of the year.

Unperturbed by its spooky statues and proximity to ancient graves, Jayne Stead and her partner Mike Blatchford fell in love with the one-time cemetery keeper’s lodge in Southampton, and set about turning it into a home for themselves and their three children.

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Speaking for myself, I wouldn’t mind living somewhere like this. I’d love to live in any converted home, especially in England. 🙂

Grand Cimetière De Port-au-Prince, Haiti

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The Grand Cemetery in Port Au Prince, Haiti suffered like the rest of the city when the devastating earthquake hit in January of 2010.  Tombs collapsed upon themselves; the pathways through the raised mausoleums were covered with rubble. Coffins were exposed and bones were jostled from within their formally secure confines.

After the tragedy, when so many Haitians were left homeless (and many remain so today), a large number of survivors turned to the Grand Cemetery for shelter.  The mausoleums that were intact were converted to unofficial dwellings for the living…after all, the stone and concrete structures provided a more solid level of protection from the elements than did the tent cities that sprang up around the city.  Long term (deceased) residents of the tombs were often evicted to make way for the living.

But while the structures may have  been more sound than others offered in different parts of the city, the cemetery wasn’t exactly a refuge from the tragedy outside the gates.  Hundreds, if not thousands of bodies were brought for burial, although a scant few of the victims’ families could actually afford the burial fees.  Without the funds to provide the burial service, many bodies ended up being abandoned at the gates and along the walkways, left to slowly deteriorate in the hot tropical sun.

The once prestigious cemetery was now a place of horror. It’s no wonder that two years after the tragedy, locals still whisper about apparitions of decomposing corpses scattered among the tombs and grave markers. A nearby place of worship for practitioners of Voodoo doesn’t help to calm the rumors of other-worldly activity.

Whether or not the cemetery actually holds the earth bound spirits of its interred or un-interred residents, it remains a horrifying and scary place on its own and will probably remain so until Haiti is able to get back on its feet.  To help, please visit the Red Cross website at www.redcross.org or any one of the many sites organized to help the victims of Haiti’s earthquake, who are still suffering two years later.