The German Way of Death: Pets and Animals

Pets and Animals • German Pet Cemeteries • der Tierfriedhof
By Hyde Flippo

The German Way of Death and Funerals > Pets and Animals

English-speaking expats living in Germany, Austria or Switzerland are sometimes confronted with the death of a beloved pet animal. They may be at a loss in trying to deal with the German way of handling this situation. Below is a guide to saying farewell to a loyal furry, feathered or scaled companion in German-speaking Europe.

Berlin Tierfriedhof

Berlin’s animal cemetery (Tierfriedhof) is part of the city’s modern animal shelter (Tierheim), featured in the 2005 sci-fi film Aeon Flux. PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

Laws, Rules and Regulations
Fortunately, there are far fewer restrictions related to burying or cremating a pet in Germany than for humans. You have many more options after the death of your pet than after the death of a person in Germany. The Animal Carcass Disposal Law, das Tierkörper-beseitigungsgesetz (TierKBG), exempts pets and other small animals from the requirement that animal carcasses be processed by an animal carcass disposal facility (Tierkörperbeseitigungs-anstalten, TBA). But a dead pet or animal not claimed by an owner will end up at a TBA, to be rendered into animal by-products.

Not that long ago, only about 10 percent of deceased pets in Germany were given a funeral of any kind. Pet funeral homes and pet cemeteries were rare in Germany. The other 90 percent ended up in an animal carcass disposal facility or were illegally disposed of. However, since the 1980s, there has been an upward trend for pet burial or cremation in Germany.

Der Tierfriedhof
Today in many parts of Germany you can find pet cemeteries (Tierfriedhöfe or Haustierfriedhöfe). However, unlike for deceased humans in Germany, there are more options for your pet’s earthly remains. As with humans, you can have your deceased pet buried or cremated. Unlike with humans, if you have your pet cremated, you can keep the ashes yourself or dispose of them pretty much as you want, including spreading the ashes at sea or in a forest. You can even bury your pet in your own yard or garden. (In Germany there are a few legal restrictions on private pet burial, mostly having to do with land in a watershed, and the depth of the grave.)

Pet Sematary
The 1983 horror novel by Stephen King, PET SEMATARY, later made into two movies, is called FRIEDHOF DER KUSCHELTIERE in German (“cemetery of the cuddly toy animals”). Did the book/films have an influence on the growth of pet cemeteries in Germany in the late ’80s and 1990s? Gute Frage. (Good question.)

As with humans, cremation is also a growing trend for animals in Germany. Besides the full funeral offered by most pet funeral homes, at least one German pet and animal funeral home (Tierfriedhof Beyers in Kerken, NRW) offers the special option of having a pet’s ashes turned into a diamond. But most people elect to have their pet’s cremains placed in an urn that they can take with them, even if they move to another town or city.

Pet Funeral Options
Because most Germans live in an apartment, they have no yard or garden in which to bury their pet. Thus, pet cemeteries are more important in Germany than in some other countries. The Beyers pet funeral home mentioned above, has a 5,000 sq. meter (1.2-acre) pet cemetery that now contains over 400 pet animal graves. Similar pet cemeteries are found in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, but it can sometimes be difficult to find one near your home. That is why many pet owners opt for cremation. Simple pet cremation costs (with burial or urn) range from about 60 to 410 euros, depending on the size of the pet and the type of grave.

In 2015 the city of Essen opened the first cemetery in Germany that allows the cremated remains of people to be buried along with their pets. Many older people outlive their friends and live out the end of their lives with a pet. They often wish to be buried with their pet or pets. This first of its kind “humans and pets” cemetery (Mensch-Hund-Friedhof) is aimed at helping them.

The First Pet Cemetery
The Cimetière des chiens (“dog cemetery”) on the northwestern outskirts of Paris was one of the world’s first pet and animal cemeteries. Opened in 1899, today the cemetery is also the final resting place for all sorts of animals – from horses to fish. One of its most famous deceased residents is the canine Hollywood star Rin Tin Tin. – The largest and oldest pet cemetery in the US (in Hartsdale, New York) dates from 1896.

Besides cats and dogs, Germans also bury their pet parakeets (Wellensittiche), guinea pigs (Meerschweinchen), rabbits (Kaninchen) and other animal companions. The burial charges at most German pet cemeteries are based on the size of the animal. A burial plot for a Saint Bernard (Bernhardiner) costs more than one for a poodle (Pudel). Typical costs also depend on the type of the pet’s grave and grave marker. An anonymous grave costs less than an elaborate memorial grave. As with humans, there is an added charge for extending the term of burial. Usually the initial term for animals is two or three years, with an additional annual charge for renewal.

Germany’s First Pet Cemetery?
Der Norddeutsche Haustierfriedhof Timmaspe
Although there are over 300 pet cemeteries in Germany today, the pet cemetery concept in Germany is a fairly recent phenomenon. While the first pet cemetery in France dates back to 1899, the concept was so new in Germany in 1980 that Walter Lorentsen had trouble convincing the local authorities to allow him to set up a pet cemetery in the village of Timmaspe near the northern German city of Kiel in Schleswig-Holstein. A retired postage stamp dealer, Lorentsen was inspired by a documentary he had seen on TV about dogs and a pet cemetery in the United States. It took him four years to get his Haustierfriedhof established. In 1983, an association (Verein für die Erhaltung und Gestaltung des Norddeutschen Haustierfriedhofes Timmaspe e.V.) was set up to keep the cemetery running.

Da liegt der Hund begraben
Since 1980, his pet cemetery, now Germany’s largest, has become the final resting place for over 6,000 pets, mostly dogs (80%), but also cats (19%), as well as birds and other small animals (1%). In the early days, Lorentsen used newspaper ads and visits to local veterinarians to spread the word about his new pet cemetery. Following Lorentsen’s death in 1995, Waldfried Howe took over running the cemetery, which lies in a scenic area between two German nature reserves (Naturparks Aukrug and Westensee).

Do you know of a pet cemetery in Germany that is older than Timmaspe? If so, please contact me.

Friedrich der Große
The Prussian king Friedrich der Große (Frederick the Great, 1712-1786) had his 13 beloved Italian greyhounds (Windspiele) buried near his own grave at Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam. (See photo below.)

Potsdam Sanssouci Palace and fountain

Frederick the Great’s grave is located at Sanssouci Palace, seen here. His pet greyhounds also rest in peace nearby. PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

Other Pet Cemeteries in Germany
The Tierfriedhof – Tierheim Berlin is part of Berlin’s modern animal shelter (Tierheim, featured in the 2005 sci-fi film Aeon Flux). A pet grave there costs between 90 and 150 euros for the first three years, a very reasonable rate. The term can be extended for another two years for a flat fee of 70 euros. Berlin is also home to several other pet cemeteries and pet funeral homes (Tierbestattung).

The Tierfriedhof / Gärtnerhof Matthias in the town of Brandenburg southwest of Berlin has been in business since 2002. A pet grave there costs between 60 and 330 euros. Peter Matthias’ 2,000 sq. meter (half-acre) pet cemetery is now the resting place for about 400 pets. About 50 new graves are added each year.

The Tierfriedhof München is even newer. Opened in 2004, this full-service Munich pet funeral home and cemetery is located in Hallbergmoos bei München, not far from the Munich airport. Prices for a pet grave with a three-year term start at 300 euros. An anonymous grave costs 150 euros and up, depending on the size of the animal. Cremation is also available.

Virtual Pet Cemetery Memorial
In Germany you even have the option of an online virtual pet cemetery! MemoryGarden24 (“die virtuelle Tiergedenkstätte”) offers both free and paid virtual graves and grave markers to memorialize your deceased pet. (The website is in German only: “Unabhängig von Ort und Zeit haben Sie hier die Möglichkeit, Ihr Tier rund um die Uhr zu besuchen.”)

Veterinarians (Tierärzte)
Most veterinarians in German-speaking Europe can help a pet owner arrange for the burial or cremation of a deceased pet. Since it is often at the vet that a pet passes away, your Tierarzt usually knows about local pet funeral homes, pet cemeteries or pet crematories. A pet owner or the vet can contact a pet crematorium directly to make arrangements for pet cremation. Just remember, if you simply leave your deceased pet with the vet, without making any funeral arrangements, it will end up in a rendering facility.

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