Dennis Bilbrey 2006

Federal German Building Authority

The situation of the cemeteries in Berlin and the development of new ideas to preserve their historical substance

The Berlin cemetery scene is marked by a complex cultural heritage administered in a decentralised manner. One hundred and ninety-one cemeteries are used for burials: the municipal Senate Administration runs 69, and 115 are owned by Protestant and Catholic parishes. There are also Jewish, Russian-Orthodox and Muslim burial grounds as well as a British cemetery. All the burial sites together amount to an area of 1,5 % of the whole metropolitan area. The Berlin Senate Administration estimated that about half of the city’s cemetery area is not required. In 1989 the Foundation for Historic Churchyards and Cemeteries in Berlin started preserving exceptional historical structures. Since then nearly 700 objects have been saved from ruin. Later on, these projects were improved and added also the aspects of nature preservation and cemetery management. With the aim of developing model solutions, a task group was set up by the Protestant Church in 2002. As a result, the reorganization of their sites on an economic basis is being realised. But aside from the necessary quantitative changes it is also important to take into consideration the qualitative aspects of the Berlin cemetery landscape. A transformation into a museum may be the opportunity to utilize the fascination of the spaces and to solve the problems especially affecting historic sites, where a different use is not possible anymore. The main point is to preserve objects directly on the spot which they are connected with. The objects are already there, the idea is to make them accessible. Finally, the idea of a museum will create new images, a new context. The perception of the site will change in an abstract way, a new appreciation can be fostered and therefore reflect the increasing willingness to defend the existing heritage, even in financial aspects.


The Cemetery Research Group runs two events a year: in May and in November. Follow the links and send in an abstract