Arts, Culture & Media

In Germany, some cemeteries are being turned into parks, playgrounds and gardens

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A pupil at the Sophienkirche daycare climbs atop a gravestone in the center's playground. The children are encouraged to explore the space, and not discouraged from climbing on some of the stones.

Credit:

Shane Thomas McMillan

Burials have gone out of fashion in Berlin. As space started getting tight, cemeteries have started charging rental fees on plots, and people are now choosing cremation instead.

With the drop in demand, there are cemeteries being recycled and converted into public parks, playgrounds or gardens.

To some, it might sound macabre. But in Germany, it reflects evolving attitudes about death. Photographer Shane Thomas McMillan visited four of these former cemeteries.

Playground

Pupils at the Sophienkirche daycare play soccer near a headstone in the center’s playground. On this afternoon, the headstone also serves as a boundary line for the game.

Credit:

Shane Thomas McMillan

A Sophienkirche daycare pupil makes marks on a gravestone in the center’s playground.

Credit:

Shane Thomas McMillan

Children climb near a gravestone in the Sophienkirche daycare playground in Berlin. The daycare is located on the grounds of the Sophienkirche church, and it’s playground occupies a space that was once the parish’s graveyard.

Credit:

Shane Thomas McMillan

Garden

A mother and son from the neighborhood enter a community garden called “Die Gartnerei” that has sprung up in the retired section of the Jerusalem Church cemetery in Berlin's Neukolln district. The garden grew up as a project of a non-profit maker-space and other Berlin initiatives.

Credit:

Shane Thomas McMillan

Due to poor soil, the garden in the retired segment of the Jerusalem Church cemetery is primarily for flowers, but spread between the roses and marigolds is the occasional stalk of corn or a head of lettuce.

Credit:

Shane Thomas McMillan

One of the gardeners who manages the space reaches for some herbs in a special bed off to the edge of the garden. The boundaries of the garden beds and plots are often marked off with bricks and stones that were once the foundations of the grave markers they dug up when excavating the garden.

Credit:

Shane Thomas McMillan

Pensioner Matthew Smith pauses from his cleanup work at Berlin’s Jerusalem Church cemetery on a recent afternoon. Smith says he comes to the cemetery regularly to tend his son’s grave. The church’s plan to use the cemetery for new public spaces doesn’t bother him.

Credit:

Shane Thomas McMillan

Retired grave markers sit outside the main office of the “Die Gartnerei” project.

Credit:

Shane Thomas McMillan

Forest

Tree FWA 46 in the FriedWald Furstenwalde burial forest is a “family tree.” In this cemetery an hour east of Berlin, clients buy a burial spot at the base of a tree. Upon death, the person’s cremated remains are buried in a biodegradable urn at the foot of the tree of their choice. In this case, the family intends be buried together around this tree.

Credit:

Shane Thomas McMillan

Flowers rest at a burial site in the FriedWald Furstenwalde outside Berlin. Mourners are allowed only to leave native species picked from the forest on the graves, otherwise they are removed.

Credit:

Shane Thomas McMillan

A small mobile hangs from a tree in the FriedWald Furstenwalde burial forest. Though graves are not meant to be decorated, some mourners dress the burial sites with small, personal trinkets like this one.

Credit:

Shane Thomas McMillan

Park

A young guest climbs a tree near a headstone in Berlin’s Leise Park, a former cemetery in Berlin's hip Prenzlauerberg neighborhood. The children in the park all report having favorite headstones and trees in the small, walled-off garden park.

Credit:

Shane Thomas McMillan

Towering graves have been replaced with jungle-gyms in Berlin’s Leise Park. Opened in 2011, the former cemetery is now a park and playground in a neighborhood that is known for it’s young, hip parents.

Credit:

Shane Thomas McMillan

A young family plays in Berlin’s Leise Park, just yards way from this headstone. Though many of the headstones and remains have been removed from the park, some remain.

Credit:

Shane Thomas McMillan