How did the transition from church-based to state-based regulation come about? Historically, it is hardly surprising that the influence of the German association system still guides the funeral market today.
In Berlin, the private funeral trade does not manifest itself until after the introduction of general freedom of trade in 1810 (Stein-Hardenberg reform). The new state regulations introduced in the course of the economic reform necessitate a new allocation of sanitary responsibilities, so that mortuaries are established:
"They are intended, on the one hand, to counteract the dreaded apparent death by keeping and observing the corpses for a longer period [...], and on the other hand, to make it possible to keep the dead in a hygienically perfect condition until they are buried."1the Great Dictionary of Funeral and Cemetery Culture writes. With this innovation, the custom of laying out the dead at home for a wake is abandoned, as is the festive funeral procession that gives the dead their last escort from the house where they died to the cemetery.
Dr. Dagmar Hänel, director of the LVR Institute for Regional Studies and History in Bonn, states in her book: "Undertakers in the 20th Century" that the development towards mortuaries and the professionalization of the funeral trade lead to the exclusion of the confrontation with death from the everyday life of families3. Families are increasingly dependent on funeral homes because knowledge about caring for the dead is outsourced and can no longer be accessed within a family. This is also confirmed by sociologist Prof. Dr. Klaus Feldmann: "[T]he traditional caregivers (relatives, neighbors, priests) have been partly pushed out of the field or marginalized."4. This results in excessive demands on both the bereaved and those around them, and at the same time creates new purchasing power.
The independent purchase of goods related to the funeral begins a new issue of prestige: "The selection of funeral care services according to price and quality criteria thus acquired greater importance and, moreover, became a functional requirement"5Dr. Dominic Akyel states in a study on the "economization of reverence. With increasing demand for funeral products, new consumer goods and a growing market are emerging. Burial is suddenly valued according to monetary rather than moral criteria. "The religious value hierarchy of the Middle Ages was thus replaced by a price structure based on economic criteria."5, Akyel further writes.
In order to counteract the associated rising prices and possible indebtedness of those obliged to pay for burial, price categories are being established in many municipalities. Standardized product packages reflecting graduated burial classes are becoming established1. Municipal cemeteries are now also introducing a tariff system that defines the price according to economic criteria such as the size, location and length of occupancy of the cemetery plots.2. In addition to the development of prices, the period of industrialization also had an impact on the burial system. The rediscovery of cremation at the end of the 19th century led to the establishment of crematoria.5. Once dismissed by Charlemagne as unchristian and renouncing the hope of resurrection, this form of burial became increasingly popular in the 1920s and 30s1. Cremation speeds up the burial and makes it more efficient:
"Despite the higher technical-operational expense, cremation is the less expensive form of burial because of the smaller format of the gravesite and the resulting lower maintenance costs," describe Frank Thieme and Julia Jäger in their textbook "Death and Dying in Germany"6.
The legal equality of burial in the ground and urn burial in the cremation law (1934) succeeds a trend reversal and a new competition, that of the cremation associations, arises. Thus now coffin table instructors, municipal burial offices, funeral homes and cremation associations vie for the money of the relatives. But the economic freedom of the individual trades does not last long. The creative innovations in the funeral industry were thwarted by the National Socialist restructuring, which quickly nationalized the association structures. (Continue reading Part 1)
Cover Image Credits:
- With the kind permission of the Funeral Museum Vienna
- Sörries, Reiner (2002): Großes Lexikon der Bestattungs- und Friedhofskultur, in: Zentralinstitut für Spektralkultur, Kassel (Hrsg.): Wörterbuch zur Sepulkralkultur, 1. Aufl. Bd. 1, 1. Volkskundlich-kulturgeschichtlicher Teil: von Abdankung bis Zweitbestattung, Braunschweig: Thalacker Medien.
- Akyel, Dominic; Beckert, Jens (2014): Pietät und Profit. Kultureller Wandel und Marktentstehung am Beispiel des Bestattungsmarktes, in: KZfSS Kölner Zeitschrift für Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie, 66. Jg., Heft 3/2014.
- Hänel, Dagmar (2003): Bestatter im 20. Jahrhundert. Zur kulturellen Bedeutung eines tabuisierten Berufs, Beiträge zur Volkskultur in Nordwestdeutschland Bd. 105, Münster et al.: Waxmann.
- Feldmann, Klaus (2010): Tod und Gesellschaft. Sozialwissenschaftliche Thanatologie im Überblick, 2. Aufl., Wiesbaden: VS Verlag.
- Akyel, Dominic (2013): Die Ökonomisierung der Pietät. Der Wandel des Bestattungsmarkts in Deutschland, in: Schriften aus dem Max-Planck-Institut für Gesellschaftsforschung Köln (Hrsg.): Bd. 76, Frankfurt am Main: Campus-Verlag.
- Thieme, Frank; Jäger, Julia (2019): Sterben und Tod in Deutschland. Eine Einführung in die Thanatosoziologie, Wiesbaden: Springer VS.