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Undertaker's coat of arms from Vienna (around 1900)

The undertaker (Austrian also Pompfüneberer after pompe funèbre ) exercises the service profession of bringing a deceased to the cemetery . The professional field of the undertaker ranges from the transfer of the corpse from the place of death, possibly also the rescue, e.g. after accidents, over the hygienic care of the dead , cosmetic treatment and clothing, embedding in a coffin to the entire arrangement of a funeral with a church or secular funeral service and the Burial of coffin or urn . In addition, the bereaved are advised and supported in dealing with authorities, transfers and executions. Undertakers are now performing the task of traditional grave diggers again in some parts of Germany (especially southern Germany) .

Scientifically, thanatology deals with the funeral system. In smaller towns and in the country, the undertaker's trade is also carried out by the local carpenter . In the big cities, the undertaker has often become the first point of contact for relatives affected by death.

The undertaker brings a dead person in his place , the last place in the cemetery. This is a veiled phrase for putting in the grave .


The undertaker's profession has been a recognized teaching profession in Germany since 2003. The historical research of his professional field is still pending.

The funeral service was guaranteed in antiquity by a large number of professions based on the division of labor. Even if Jesus of Nazareth subordinates caring for the dead to working for the kingdom of God , the burial of the dead in the Christian communities soon became one of the works of mercy . It was a Christian duty. The church increasingly determined the funeral culture and the liturgical sequence of funeral services. Preferred burial places were the cemeteries directly around the church, especially prominent grave sites were in the church.

Since the Reformation, the church ordinances of the regional churches have regulated burials, which have become a duty of neighbors and friends within the class society. The Protestantism took place with De sacralization of the cemetery secularisation of funerals that in the French period of the first municipal cemeteries led without denomination.

Today's undertaker has only emerged from the craft of carpenter, gardener, carter and the office of corpse bitter since the middle of the 19th century . These professions are still present at every funeral with the coffin, the wreaths and flowers, the delivery vehicle and the person responsible for the ceremonial. Together they form the basis of the undertaker's service.

Fields of activity

The undertaker has two types of burial: burial (burial, burial) and cremation (cremation of corpse and coffin, then burial of the urn in the grave or in the columbarium , sea ​​urn burial , natural burial ).

The first phase ranges from the first contact with the undertaker in the event of death to the laying out of the deceased. This may include finding and recovering them and, after the doctor has issued the death certificate, transferring the dead person from the apartment, from the retirement home or nursing home, from the hospital or from the scene of the accident to the funeral home. This is followed by hygienic care for the dead , caring for the corpse and, if necessary, thanatopraxia . After the decision of the relatives about clothing (own clothing or washing of the dead by the institute), the choice of the coffin or the urn and the decoration (coffin decorations, flower arrangements, wreaths, green plants), the corpse is clad and embedded or coffin, open or closed Farewell room of the institute, in the morgue in the cemetery or in the church with a corresponding overpass. The undertaker's duties include - after consultation with the bereaved - contacting the registry office about the death certificate, the bearer of the cemetery about the grave site, the clergyman or the funeral orator about the funeral service and ordering the obituary in the press and arranging for the printing of funeral letters, death notes and party papers . The undertaker has text suggestions ready and advises the bereaved on the selection of suitable texts. By publishing the death, condolences can be given, and the death becomes a personal bereavement.

The second phase is the mourning and burial phase itself. At the funeral service or the secular funeral service in the church, in the cemetery or in the undertaker's premises, clergy or funeral orators , organists or other musicians take part , depending on the agreement . This is followed by the entombment or later urn burial. The undertaker arranges the decoration of the premises and the grave site, takes care of pallbearers and the transport of funeral wreaths and, if desired, provides a condolence book and flowers for the farewell of the mourners at the grave.


The old image of the undertaker with the bitter face is no longer up to date. The ambivalence lies in the fact that his service is used, but one tends to avoid him. Like the doctor and the pastor, the undertaker is confronted with an excess of emotions on the part of those affected in his professional practice. These professions are also referred to as “crisis agents”.

The reputation of the undertaker in the big city with a decidedly competitive situation compared to other providers is different from that in the country or in the small town. Wherever he pursues his actual job as a carpenter, gardener or stonemason, he only appears as a so-called “also undertaker”. As a rule, the undertaker does not only see himself as a coffin supplier and organizer of the transport of corpses and burials, but also acts in the emotional area. By constantly advising relatives on the formulation of obituaries, undertakers are continuously and effectively helping to determine which ideas in society are associated with death.

Although the pastor regularly meets the undertaker in the official act of a church funeral in the cemetery or in the funeral home, for a long time he did not see the undertaker personally at all. Until the end of the 1960s, the term “undertaker” did not appear at all in the entire practical theological literature of pastor training, only that of burial, although at that time the church was still dominant in the field of burials. Yorick Spiegel observes a number of role conflicts between undertakers and pastors, not least caused by the higher degree of social recognition that pastors enjoy compared to undertakers.

Industry structure

In Germany, the undertaker's profession is free and unregulated. It can be practiced without training or examination. All that is required is a trade license and compliance with the Funeral Act , the right to use graves and the applicable cemetery regulations of the municipalities and parishes as cemeteries. Since 2003 there has been a nationwide apprenticeship as a funeral specialist , since 2005 the federal training center for undertakers with its own training cemetery in Münnerstadt in Lower Franconia.

In Germany there are currently (as of June 30, 2012) 5,244 registered funeral directors with a turnover including cemeteries and crematoria of around 16 billion euros. Of these, 3,002 belong to the Bundesverband Deutscher Bestatter e. V. , an association of state associations and state guilds of the funeral industry. The specialist publisher of the German funeral industry provides funeral culture every month . The magazine of the Bundesverband Deutscher Bestatter e. V. out.


  • Oliver Wirthmann, Klaus Dirschauer (Ed.): Burial between tradition + departure. Contributions to culture, law and association perspectives of the 21st century , Düsseldorf 2016, ISBN 978-3-936057-54-6 .
  • Dagmar Hänel: Undertaker in the 20th century. On the cultural significance of a taboo profession. Waxmann, Münster / New York / Munich / Berlin 2003, ISBN 3-8309-1281-1 .
  • Dagmar Hänel: Last trip. How to deal with death in the Rhineland. Greven Verlag, Cologne 2009, ISBN 978-3-7743-0434-5 .
  • Michael Nüchtern, Stefan Schütze: Burial culture in transition (= EZW-Texte 200). Evangelical Central Office for Weltanschauung questions , Berlin 2008, DNB 991147758 .
  • Klemens Richter (ed.), Monika Ausel (co-author): Dealing with the dead. Death and burial in the Christian community. Herder Verlag, Freiburg-Basel-Vienna 1990, ( Quaestiones disputatae 123), ISBN 3-451-02123-4 .
  • Secretariat of the German Bishops' Conference (Ed.): Bury the dead and comfort the mourning. The changing burial culture from a Catholic perspective. (= The German Bishops No. 81). Bonn 2005, DNB 976297477 .
  • Secretariat of the German Bishops' Conference (Ed.): “The Lord complete in you what he began in baptism.” Catholic burial culture in the face of new challenges. (= The German Bishops No. 97) Bonn 2011, DNB 1018426701 .
  • Hans-Martin Gutmann: Living with the Dead - an Evangelical Perspective. 2nd Edition. Pawlas & Petersen Verlag, Hamburg 2011, ISBN 978-3-938718-13-1 .
  • Christine Schlott: Undertaker in Leipzig. Ritual provider in secular times. Thelem Verlag, Dresden 2011, ISBN 978-3-942411-45-5 .
  • Klaus Dirschauer: Buried in words: designing and creating funeral speeches. Donat Verlag, Bremen 2012, ISBN 978-3-943425-08-6 .
  • Dominic Akyel: The Economization of Piety. The change in the funeral market in Germany. Campus Verlag Frankfurt / New York 2013, ISBN 978-3-593-39878-5 .

Web links

Commons : Undertaker  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Undertaker  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Reiner Sörries: Large encyclopedia of funeral and cemetery culture. Dictionary of Sepulchral Culture. Volume 2. Haymarket Media Verlag, Braunschweig 2005, p. 42.
  2. ^ Klaus Dirschauer: Undertaker and Church . In: Forum 1992. Burial and Church. Specialized publisher of the German funeral industry, Düsseldorf 1992, p. 16.
  3. ^ Reiner Sörries: Large encyclopedia of funeral and cemetery culture. Dictionary of Sepulchral Culture. Volume 2. Haymarket Media Verlag, Braunschweig 2005, p. 4; bury. In: Kluge: Etymological dictionary of the German language. 23rd edition. Berlin / New York 1999, ISBN 3-11-016392-6 , p. 102.
  4. ^ Friedemann Merkel: Burial. Historical. In: Theological Real Encyclopedia. Volume V, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin / New York, 1980, pp. 743-749; Reiner Sörries: Large encyclopedia of funeral and cemetery culture. Dictionary of Sepulchral Culture. Volume 1, Haymarket Media Verlag, Braunschweig 2005, p. 43.
  5. “Let the dead bury their dead; but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God. "( Lk 9.60  EU )
  6. Barbara Happe: Death is mine. The diversity of today's burial culture and its origins. Reimer Verlag, Berlin 2012, pp. 34–49.
  7. Klaus Dirschauer: The self-image of the undertaker from the perspective of the theologian. In: Deutsches Pfarrerblatt. 75th year 1975, pp. 686-689.
  8. Klaus Dirschauer: Warm condolences. A little etiquette for bereavement. 2nd Edition. Claudius Verlag, Munich 2009, ISBN 978-3-532-62402-9 .
  9. The Federal Association of the Funeral Industry has its own job description in the brochure Mitten wir im Leben are surrounded by death. Specialized publisher of the German funeral industry, Düsseldorf 1986, shown.
  10. Johannes Dirschauer: Remembering and forgetting. Notes on the relationship between pastors and undertakers . In: Course of the Years. 25 years training department of the Bremen Evangelical Church. Bremen 1998.
  11. Yorick Spiegel: The process of mourning. Analysis and advice. 8th edition. Christian Kaiser Verlag, Munich 1995, ISBN 3-579-05060-5 , p. 126.
  12. ^ Paul Flora: Mourning flora . Diogenes Verlag, Zurich 1858; Ezzelino von Wedel: In the event of death . In: In the middle of life we ​​are surrounded by death. Fachverlag des Deutschen Bestattungsgewerbes, Düsseldorf 1986, pp. 31–44; Dagmar Hänel: Undertaker in the 20th century. On the cultural significance of a taboo profession. Waxmann Verlag, Münster / New York / Munich / Berlin 2003, p. 329 ff.
  13. Yorick Spiegel: The process of mourning. Analysis and advice. 8th edition. Christian Kaiser Verlag, Munich 1995, ISBN 3-579-05060-5 , p. 127.
  14. Klaus Dirschauer: Death hushed up. Theological Aspects of Church Burial. Schünemann Verlag, Bremen 1973, ISBN 3-7961-3040-2 .
  15. Yorick Spiegel: The process of mourning. Analysis and advice. 8th edition. Christian Kaiser Verlag, Munich 1995, ISBN 3-579-05060-5 , p. 127 f.
  16. Dominic Akyel: The economization of piety. The change in the funeral market in Germany , Campus Verlag Frankfurt / New York, 2013, p. 73.
  17. ^ Bundesverband Deutscher Bestatter e. V .: Undertaker checked by the trade. Düsseldorf 2013.