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


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.

Evicting the Dead in Spain

MADRID — Pushed for space, a Spanish cemetery has begun placing stickers on thousands of burial sites whose leases are up as a warning to relatives or caretakers to pay up or face possible eviction.

Jose Abadia, deputy urban planning manager for northern Zaragoza city, said Monday the city’s Torrero municipal graveyard had removed remains from some 420 crypts in recent months and removed them to a common burial ground.

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What’s Haunting Your Graveyard?


The next time you find yourself in a cemetery or graveyard and you hear something out of the ordinary and think it’s a ghost, perhaps it’s really Maha Sohona, the “great graveyard demon.” This character is part of Sinhalese folklore, which I discovered while doing other research.

According to the legend, Maha Sohona was originally a giant called Jaya Sena who had offended one of the ten giant warriors of Dutthagamani, Gotaimbara. Gotaimbara challenged Jaya to a duel and since Jaya had never been defeated, he readily accepted the challenge. Unfortunately, Jaya was easily defeated and Gotaimbara kicked off his head after he’d won. The planet god Senasura (Saturn) saw what had happened and fastened a bear’s head to Jaya’s corpse, thereby bringing him back to life. However, Jaya returned to life as a demon and began haunting graveyards and was from then on called Maha Sohona.

Maha Sohona haunts graveyards in search of human prey, but has also been known to roam around the junction of three roads. He spreads cholera and dysentery and kills people by striking them between the shoulders. Anyone who is supposedly killed by this demon will have a handprint on their skin as a result of this striking. He also possesses individuals and is chief of 300,000 other demons.

He is described as being 122 feet tall with three eyes and four hands and red skin. He has the head of a bear (as previously mentioned) and rides a pig while drinking the blood of an elephant which he carries with him.

Among the chilling masks used for exorcism [is] the mask of the Maha Sohona Yaka… The Maha Sohona Yaka is a demon with a bear’s head that is said to roam cemeteries in search of human prey.

The kattadiyas or exorcists of yore feared to sell or dispose of these masks lest the wrath of the demons befell them. Legend has it that when exorcism rituals take place in one location, the Kola Sanni Yaka masks in other places begin to vibrate. When not in use, the mask is wrapped in a red cloth and kept separately from other masks.


Wikipedia and Unmasking the man behind the demons