Eerie Escapes: Cemeteries in Berlin
A part of everyday living
By Dilara Cevik
For some, cemeteries might be disturbing places that remind them of their mortality, but not for Berliners. During a stroll through one of these peaceful oases in Berlin, you’ll see people engaged in many activities besides the intended purpose. Taking a walk, going for a run, reading a book, or meeting with a friend in a cemetery is quite ordinary, not only in Berlin but throughout Europe. After all, with their abundance of greenery and wildlife, cemeteries make excellent places for a peaceful getaway in modern chaotic cities.
In many places around the world, however, spending leisure time where the deceased rest is taboo. Fear of disrespecting the dead, or fear of death alone, keeps people away from this ‘gloomy’ setting. This contrast also illustrates how different cultures view death in different ways.
Berlin too, has a unique attitude towards this, as with so many other things. In a city where all the edges are welcomed, life and death also come together in various ways. Here you’ll find the cosiest cafes located inside cemeteries. Many have been converted for new purposes. One cemetery in the fast-growing neighbourhood of Neukölln is partly turned into a community garden. Another one in Prenzlauer Berg is now being used as a park and a playground. It might be unsettling for some to see children playing near a gravestone, or growing food on land that is home to the city’s former inhabitants. However, since urban centres are running out of space, this change seems inevitable. Here are some peaceful cemeteries in Berlin that will help you take a break from the bustle of the city.
Located in the charming neighborhood of Bergmannkiez, this complex consists of four adjacent cemeteries that cover a substantial area. The spaciousness combined with the lush greenery creates an attractive place for recreational use. Your stroll here will be accompanied by fearless squirrels and chirping birds, making it even more enjoyable. As you walk along the graves, you will be amazed by the beautiful architecture of the mausoleums, designed by well-known architects and sculptors. And if you need some rest, you can stop and take in the scenery at a few scenic spots. The southwest corner of the Luisenstadt Cemetery features an open space filled with chairs facing toward the sunset, with a view of the futuristic sphere of the radar tower in Tempelhofer Feld. Or you can sip some delicious coffee among the arches of Cafe Strauss, a former chapel restored by an architect who came up with the idea while reconstructing the tombs in the cemetery.
Bergmannstraße 39–47, Südstern 8–10, 10961, Berlin
Old St. Matthew’s Cemetery
Every cemetery has many tales to tell, but this is home to the most famous ones. Here, you’ll find the graves of the Brothers Grimm, the fairytale writers who spent their last years in Berlin working on the German dictionary. Two simple columns of black marble mark their resting place. Despite them having very humble gravestones, the cemetery contains many spectacular mausoleums of rich families from the 19th century. Here, those tragically lost are also remembered.
A memorial for people who died of AIDS stands right behind the graves of the Brothers Grimm. Families of miscarriages and stillbirths can find comfort in the memorial site for “Star children”. Before you leave this story-filled site and return to the real world, you should visit the charming cafe near the entrance. Founded by a German actor in 2007, it is the first cemetery cafe in Berlin.
Großgörschenstraße 12-14, 10829, Berlin
Among Berlin’s most famous cemeteries is the Dorotheenstadt Cemetery. While it is located in the center today, it was still outside the city walls when it first opened in 1770. Early on, it served as a burial ground for the common people, but this began to change in the 19th century.
Being close to Humboldt University, the Charité hospital, and the Academy of Arts, more and more prominent figures have started to be buried here. Numerous honorary graves of significant authors, artists, and thinkers lie here today.
One hidden gem of the cemetery can be found in the cemetery chapel. Around the time the sun sets, the light installation by world-known artist James Turrell starts to fill the chapel with its bright colorful lights. The permanent installation can be seen from Friday to Sunday on a guided tour.
Chauseestraße 126, 10115, Berlin
With its idyllic location around Lake Sausuhlensee, Heerstrasse Cemetery offers one of the most serene settings. Its carefully designed landscape makes it more reminiscent of a park than a cemetery. Originally planned as a forest cemetery for the residents of Villenkolonie Westend, it suffered major changes by the National Socialists during the preparation for the Olympic games. The chapel’s roof was modified as a result of being visible from the Olympic Stadium. Numerous changes to the landscape were made. But above all, what mainly triggered them to make these modifications was the large number of Jewish burial sites in the cemetery. Today, with 51 honorary graves, it is one of Berlin’s celebrity cemeteries.
Trakehner Allee 1, 14053, Berlin
Cemeteries at Hallesches Tor
You may have noticed this large green space right at Mehringdamm U Bahn station if you ever passed by Mehringdamm in Kreuzberg. Located in an area where there are few large parks, this group of six cemeteries comes like a breath of fresh air. The cemetery was founded at the beginning of the 18th century and is one of the oldest in the city. As with Dorotheenstadt Cemetery, it was located outside the city walls when it was first established. Today, it is in the heart of lively Kreuzberg, making it an ideal place for residents to jog or walk. It was affected by theft and vandalism throughout the years, and many precious artifacts were lost. In the present day, the aged tombs and damaged mausoleums give the cemetery a unique character.
Mehringdamm 21, 10961, Berlin
Georgen-Parochial Cemetery I
What makes this cemetery unique is not its beauty or its famous graves, but its conversion to use. Aside from being partly used as a gardening place for children, this cemetery is adjacent to an old churchyard that was converted into a park in 2011. At the time, the cemetery had not been used for burials for more than 30 years.
The church then decided to sell a part of the cemetery. In order to prevent more housing projects from being built in the neighbourhood, residents started an initiative. It was their efforts that convinced the Berlin Senate to purchase the land, which was then converted into a park. The name “Quiet Park” honours the park’s former use and expresses residents’ desire to maintain the tranquility of the place. Even though some gravestones have been cleared, many of them still stand near a playground or a hammock, adding an eerie touch to the park.
Greifswalder Straße 229-234, 10405, Berlin
All words and photos: Dilara Cevik
This article is taken from our Autumn / Winter magazine
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