Funeral forest

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Remscheid burial forest
Forest cemetery / burial forest Bad Endbach- Wommelshausen

A Natural burial (including urns, funeral, rest or FriedWald ) is at the turn of the 21st century, first in Switzerland imported burial place for dead ashes in selected for trees. Gravestones and individual grave maintenance are not required and are not permitted. In contrast to Switzerland, where the ashes of the dead can be scattered as desired, in Germany and Austria - apart from the more recent exceptions in Bremen and North Rhine-Westphalia - urns are also compulsory for tree burials, whereby biodegradable urns are preferred.

With regard to the planning, establishment and operation of burial forests, tasks and income are shared between the often private operators and the forest owners and communities . Both are legal as well as economic and ecological draw aspects into consideration.

Beginnings and development

The idea and concept of the funeral forest originate from the Swiss Ueli Sauter , who lives in Mammern , who, after many years of efforts and first tree burials on his own property, received official approval to set up a funeral forest in 1999. With the burial of the dead ashes, Sauter associates ideas of a return to the cycle of nature and the emergence of new life, as the tree roots absorb the nutrients contained in the ashes. 20 years later, Sauter and his employees are running 70 burial forests in Switzerland.

As early as 2000, Sauter sold its trademark rights to Germany, where FriedWald GmbH and then RuheForst GmbH established themselves as the largest operator of funeral forests. "With more than 50 percent cremations in Germany, almost every tenth urn finds its final resting place under a tree," says Christoph Keldenich, Chairman of Aeternitas e. V. The areas specially designated for this purpose are dedicated as a public cemetery in Germany and Austria ; the ashes of the dead are to be placed in an urn. In some federal states as well as in Switzerland, where there is no compulsory burial in a cemetery, the ashes can also be scattered. The sponsor is therefore the municipality or municipality or (in rare cases) a church institution, regardless of who is the owner of the forest. The ongoing operation is carried out by private or public organizations. In addition to companies, numerous municipalities also operate burial forests. There are also burial forests in Austria, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic . In the USA there is a “natural burial” offering similarly aimed at being close to nature without cremation.

A distinction must be made between burial forests and forest sites that are exclusively dedicated to remembrance and are not buried, such as the forest of remembrance for soldiers of the Bundeswehr who died on deployment abroad.

Motifs for tree burials

Bioplastic urn with tinplate lid

According to a study by cultural scientist Stefanie Rüter, a precautionary concept is characteristic of tree burials: Here, the focus is on living people and their wishes. "He himself determines where and how he would like to be remembered and what his grave and its surroundings should look like."

Social changes since the 1980s can be considered as a driver of a development that makes the interest in new forms of burial in general and in tree burial in particular understandable. The pioneers in this regard were the hospice movement and the AIDS movement, as well as the striving for a dignified burial of premature and stillborn babies. Sylvia Frevert underscores the pioneering role of those affected by AIDS: "Confronted with their own dying for years, experiencing the death of friends, they planned their own end and also the things that should happen afterwards." The evaluation of various recent studies on burial culture is loud Isa Straub recognize that the decision for a cremation is often determined by the possibility of being buried in nature. "35% could imagine their final resting place on an alpine pasture, in the funeral forest or another place in nature, because they want to go back to nature (27%) or they simply like it better (17%)."

A primary motive for the desire to be buried in the burial forest is the associated elimination of grave maintenance: the relatives should be relieved of the costs and time required for the grave maintenance. In the case of tree burial, there are no social control mechanisms in this regard in the cemetery community, as well as any feelings of guilt on the part of relatives for neglect in caring for the grave. "A characteristic feature of all burial forests , despite their differences, is the auspicious offer", so also Reiner Sörries , "that nature itself takes care of the grave and thus relieves the bereaved of grave maintenance."

Unlike anonymous grave sites, burial forests offer relatives of the deceased and others close to them, like conventional cemeteries, a specific place to mourn and commemorate. It is sometimes important for those interested in tree burial that the bereaved should visit the burial site on their own initiative and not “out of pure obligation”.

The tree burial alternative is preferred by some because of the rejection of the usual burial rituals and rules of conduct in cemeteries. The standards of behavior required there, from the funeral to the processing of mourning, “are no longer considered sensible, but rather as nodding and patronizing. There is a clear striving for freedom and individual scope for decision-making, which affects both how to deal with death and the dead as well as one's own coping with grief. "

According to Rüter, it is already evident in everyday life that an effective relationship is established with the tree of one's own later burial with the selection decision: This tree is often a popular object for its owners to visit, regardless of whether a family member is already buried there. "It is watched to flourish and seen as part of one's life."

Establishment and operation

Hearse with urn in the forest near Plesse Castle
Urn grave in the Usedom funeral forest after the burial
Urn grave in the forest near Bönningstedt
Extension of the Möhnesee cemetery ( North Rhine-Westphalia ) in April 2016

The forest owners make the areas available for use as burial areas, apply for entries in the land register for the grave trees and are responsible for providing parking spaces. The forest floor is dug to a depth of at least 80 cm, the funeral urn is buried directly in the tree root area. Depending on the protection status of the claimed forest area, urns made of wood, biodegradable plastic or durable stainless steel are used. Trees and urn positions are measured and drawn on maps.

Different burial variants are usually offered in a funeral forest.

  • The ashes of various deceased who are not necessarily related to a person are buried on the community tree. Those involved have no influence on who will later be buried on this tree; the sequence of those to be buried is similar to that of a row grave . This also eliminates the need to determine the exact burial site.
  • A family and friendship tree is partly similar to a family grave. Here the tree is reserved for several urns.
  • The ashes are buried by one or two people on the single or partner tree . There are no other burials around this tree.
  • Further variants of burial in the funeral forest are the base place (with rest periods shortened to 15 to 30 years compared to those of up to 99 years for the above options) and the shooting star tree for children who have died up to the age of three. In some burial forests there are also so-called rainbow biotopes. " Star children " are buried at these free of charge.

The deceased can be remembered on the trees themselves with a name tag. Usually the name, date of birth and death are noted on it. Symbols and short quotations with or without a religious reference are also possible. The urns are buried within the root area at a distance of two to three meters from the tree trunk.

Before a funeral forest can be put into service, extensive silvicultural measures are required, through which paths and parking spaces are created, the natural regeneration is thinned and a thinning is carried out. After that, the management shifts to the recovery of broken wood after storm events, crown clearings and undergrowth removal.

In every funeral forest, a specific order applies, which is intended to help maintain the dignity of the burial site. Grave decorations are forbidden, which some bereaved relatives do not follow consistently. In the case of increased game damage, hunting may be permitted and even necessary in individual cases.

Graves in a funeral forest are maintenance-free graves that are increasingly favored in Germany. Horticultural care and grave design are not required. Tree burials are now also being offered in existing cemeteries.

The provision of cemeteries is one of the municipal compulsory tasks. Often, classic cemeteries are already under existential cost pressure due to changing demand for the type of burial. Any deficits that arise may not be subsidized by the municipal budget, but only compensated for by adjusting cemetery fees or by converting or closing cemeteries. The Association of Friedhofsverwalter Deutschlands e. V. warns that a community will ultimately compete with itself by creating new burial forests if the profitability of the existing cemeteries is weakened.

The nature of forest areas means that barrier-free access is often not possible depending on the local conditions and the location of the burial tree. For people with restricted mobility and elderly people, access to the tree they are looking for can therefore be difficult or impossible. The main paths, however, must be free and accessible for wheelchairs and walkers.

Legal Aspects

In Germany, Austria and Switzerland, the cemetery system is part of the cultural sovereignty of the federal states or cantons, so the legislation and approval of burial forests is subject to their respective responsibility. In Germany, a municipality or a religious community recognized as a corporation under public law or, in some federal states, a "world view community" is generally required as the bearer of a cemetery. In Swiss cemetery forests, the ashes are scattered and not buried in an urn. The earmarking as a funeral forest is secured through a registered easement . This is usually 99 years from opening. In the event of the insolvency of the operator of the funeral forest, a local authority must continue to maintain the funeral forest until the minimum rest period of the last funeral has expired. The minimum rest periods are regulated in the funeral laws of the federal states.

The relevant usage regulations for burial forests, such as the maintenance of the grave sites or usage rules for visitors, result from the usage regulations of the organization or the church cemetery regulations. Bags of the dead are subject to piety until the end of the rest period, the rest of the dead must not be disturbed. As a rule, rebursts are only carried out if urns are stuck in raised root plates after storm events.

In contrast to funerals and usage rights of municipal or church organizations, the services of private service providers are subject to regular tax liability, including a. full sales tax , which is why privately operated urn forests do not charge fees , but fees .

In Switzerland, where there is no compulsory cemetery for urns, individual burials can take place in the forest without a permit. For a final resting place with a low level of use, conditions may have to be met. Use with strong interference in the forest is only possible after a clearing permit procedure.

economic aspects

When planning, setting up and operating burial forests, questions arise with regard to profitability, profit generation and the effects on existing cemeteries. Last but not least, it is about the distribution of costs and income between the commercial operators, the forest owners and the municipalities responsible for approval and warranty. Examination and approval procedures can take a long time. As a long-term cost factor, the division of the specific traffic safety obligation in burial forests between operators and forest owners is significant.

In the operational life of a funeral forest guaranteed for 99 years from commissioning, the main income is incurred at the beginning of the period, while the maintenance costs are incurred during the entire operating period. Newer approaches to more efficient use of the total operating time of a funeral forest take this fact into account, for example by offering an occupancy for only 30 years on certain trees at a lower price so that multiple occupancies can be carried out there within the guaranteed stand period. In general, the prices for a tree burial - as well as cemetery fees - can increase.

Especially for funeral forest operators who have to ensure that traffic safety in the burial area is restored as quickly as possible , forest damage caused by drought or storm in the course of global warming is a major challenge.

Conservation aspects

Wind throw in the funeral forest in Glücksburg
Replacement marking of a grave after a wind throw in the Glücksburg funeral forest

In the course of life the human organism stores a number of heavy metals such as lead , cadmium , copper , chromium , zinc and tin . The cremation ashes in the biodegradable urns, which are largely used for tree burials in Germany and Austria, are also not free from heavy metals. For this reason, concerns are sometimes expressed about the environmental impact of this type of burial, which relates to soils, plants and groundwater. In Germany, Section 12 of the Federal Soil Protection and Contaminated Sites Ordinance is particularly relevant.

In contrast to the practice in cemeteries, where burials are to be carried out outside of the crown eaves area, burials are carried out in burial forests in the deeply rooted soil horizon. These interventions in forests that are protected under the Habitats Directive are particularly controversial . The removal of dead wood and the resulting deterioration of the biotope, including for woodpeckers and forest mushrooms, are also objected to.

Research results and recommendations on water and soil protection

A study carried out by the University of Freiburg on behalf of Friedwald GmbH in 2015 states that the additional input at the Friedwald locations is significantly lower compared to the normal heavy metal input in local forests, which occurs everywhere anyway. The study comes to the conclusion: "It thus shows that in the present times after the burial (8–13 years) there was no measurable shift of heavy metals from the cremation ashes into the soil below."

With the research results of the Federal Environment Agency presented at the end of 2019, it was confirmed that cremation ashes are contaminated with heavy metals, including those of non-human origin, and thus also to be regarded as contamination. The office classifies the burial of biodegradable urns in burial forests as mostly harmless, but gives the following restrictive recommendations for action:

  • Strongly acidic, neutral or basic soils harbor the risk of contamination of the groundwater. No degradable urns should be buried here.
  • For the safe operation of burial forests, contact of degradable urns with the groundwater must be consistently avoided. A distance of one meter between the burial horizon of the urn and the site-specific highest groundwater level is therefore recommended for burials.
  • Heavy metal inputs from urns in burial forests can lead to the precautionary values ​​of the Federal Soil Protection Ordinance being exceeded at locations with already high levels of heavy metal in the soil. For this reason, it is advisable to analyze the heavy metal contamination of the soil beforehand in order to exclude or minimize the risk of the precautionary values ​​being exceeded.
  • The chromium load on the cremation ashes can be reduced most effectively by modifying the cremation technique, for example by using chromium-free materials. Investigations into the effectiveness of thermal post-treatment of the ashes should also be carried out.

Implementation, official determinations

The implementation of limiting measures is inconsistent. In 2016, a cemetery was opened without a final permit and only half of it was released to protect the groundwater. Also for reasons of water protection, it is planned for the Meerbusch funeral forest not to bury the urns, but to empty them on the spot, so that the concentration of the ash in the ground is distributed over a larger area. From Baden-Württemberg , the ban on perishable urns or the stipulation of the use of imperishable urns made of ceramic or stainless steel has become known, in a single case on Lake Constance the order to retrieve the urns after the rest period has expired.

The neighboring countries of Switzerland and the Netherlands have also imposed limitations on burial forests.

Reception and discourse aspects

Press reports on burial forests appear mainly in local newspapers or online articles, mostly on the occasion of a new opening or the application for the establishment of a burial forest by local communities. National newspapers mostly mention them in the context of current forms of burial. There are, on the one hand, purely positive representations, which often use accents and vocabulary of the tree burial providers, and, on the other hand, articles in which critical statements are made, "mainly by representatives of political parties or churches, by theologians and occasionally also by cemetery managers". The Association of Cemetery Administrators in Germany, for example, is critical of burial forests. For all those who have to do with conventional cemeteries professionally, forest burials are an attack on their livelihood, for stonemasons who make grave monuments and for cemetery gardeners. As a result, the cemeteries themselves avoid grave fees.

Judaism and Islam as well as Christian Orthodoxy only know burials . As a result of religious tradition, cremations and thus forest burials are excluded. On the part of the church it was criticized, among other things, that if the deceased no longer had a place in the living space of the living, this was a sign that they would be released from cultural memory. On the other hand, easily accessible cemeteries, grave maintenance and embossed symbols of remembrance stand for this bond.

The Catholic bishops criticized the opening of the first German cemetery in 2001 in their pastoral letter from 2005: “The conception of the so-called 'Friedwald' (free, unenclosed forest; completely natural forest, invisibility of the urn field; tree symbolism; anonymity; no grave maintenance - the Nature takes care of graves) lacks central elements of a humane and Christian burial culture. "

In 2008, the former Evangelical Council President Margot Käßmann emphasized in a lecture in the Kreuzkirche Hannover that cemeteries are hometowns, where you can read on the tombstone, how short or how long a life was, where the family thought and stories were passed on. There the dead remained part of our lives. In a time of mobility, in which firm family ties threaten to fall apart, cemeteries are needed as places of remembrance. An evangelical dean from Donauwörth announced that natural burials may appear “natural”, but that a lot of technical effort had to be made to cremate the deceased.

According to the Institute for Weltanschauungsrecht, however, the original reservations on the part of the churches are now taking a back seat. A parish in Schleswig-Holstein and a Protestant foundation in Bavaria, on the other hand, have made their own forests available for urn burials. There is also cooperation with FriedWald and Ruheforst in the Catholic dioceses of Fulda and Trier .

The first WWF path was created in FriedWald Reinhardswald in 2005 , on the sides of which certain burial trees are reserved for donors to the organization. In Greenpeace magazine , tree root burial was recommended as an “environmentally friendly variant of burial”. The umbrella organization for traditional natural religion promotes the "death row" in the Friedwald as the only possibility to hold a pagan funeral service in the open air.

Reiner Sörries , the long-time director of the Museum for Sepulchral Culture , sees the opening of the first cemetery in Germany in 2001 as a “turning point in the funeral and cemetery sector”. Since then, the offer in this regard has increased continuously: "The familiar grave in a conventional cemetery is no longer the norm, but is becoming one of the possible alternatives." With natural burials, urn churches, burial at sea and other alternatives offered abroad, the previously valid cemetery obligation is now in the 21st century Century "perforated in all places".

See also

  • holy grove (protected grove, some with graves and ancestor worship)


  • Britta Bauer: Tree burials in Germany. Social scientific investigation of an alternative form of burial. Publishing house Dr. Kovac, Hamburg 2015. ISBN 978-3-8300-8766-3
  • Norbert Fischer : From the churchyard to the crematorium. A social history of the cemeteries in Germany since the 18th century . Cologne / Weimar / Vienna 1996
  • Sylvia Frevert: FriedWald. The burial alternative. Gütersloh 2010, ISBN 978-3-579-06834-3 .
  • Oliver Roland (Ed.): Friedhof - Ade? The funeral culture of the 21st century (= anthology for religion 5). Azur Verlag, Mannheim 2006, ISBN 3-934634-32-X .
  • Stefanie Rüter: Friedwald. Forest awareness and burial culture. Münster 2011, ISBN 978-3-8309-2356-5 .
  • Haimo Schulz Meinen: The grave in your own garden. Private cemeteries in Germany? (= Cemetery culture today 2 = Fachhochschulverlag. Vol. 191). Fachhochschul-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2009, ISBN 978-3-940087-47-8 (At the same time: Hannover, Univ., Diss., 2009: Private cemeteries in Germany? ). Online version
  • Reiner Sörries : Alternative burials. Forms and consequences. A guide (= Fachhochschulverlag. Vol. 190). Fachhochschulverlag, Frankfurt am Main 2008, ISBN 978-3-940087-18-8 .

Web links

Commons : Natural burial grounds  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Commons : Friedwalds in Germany  - Collection of images, videos and audio files


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  89. Reiner Sörries: One last greeting. The new diversity of funeral and mourning culture. Kevelaer 2016, p. 15. The provisional final point, according to Sörries, was set by the Bremen citizenship by allowing the death's ashes to be spread on private properties or specially designated public areas from January 2015, if a written decree of the deceased made during his lifetime provides for this . (Ibid.)