Business in bargain basement funerals is booming in Germany. Budget undertakers now enjoy 25 per cent of the market, up from 16 per cent two years ago.
A typical German funeral is comparable in cost to a British funeral: somewhere between £2,500 and £3,000. But the funeral price comparison website Bestattungen.de will quickly lead you to Sarg-Discount (translation: Coffindiscount), who will cremate you for as little as £412.89, and to budget undertaker Aarau, who will bury you for £860.
Old school German undertakers are not surprisingly hot under the collar about all this and respond in the language of undertakers the world over: “Either there are hidden costs, or the body is treated without dignity,” warns Rolf Lichtner of the German equivalent of the NAFD. Whatever the truth of this, the image of budget funerals in Germany is somewhat tarnished by the fact that the ceo of Aarau, Patrick Schneider, is a former Stasi officer with a criminal record – just as the image of budget funerals in the UK has been besmirched by the activities of serial cheat and bungler Richard Sage.
German budget undertakers retort, of course, that dignity isn’t something that can be measured by the number of euros spent.
There may be an interesting sociological slant to this Teutonic trend. Dagmar Haenel, an anthropologist at the University of Bonn, thinks that cheap funerals reflect a contemporary throwaway mindset and reflect a divergence in the behaviours of different social classes, noting “We also have a rise in very individualised burials, sometimes very costly” by rich and educated people. “When it comes to funerals, the struggle of the classes is gaining ground,” she concludes. Here in Britain, on the contrary, a budget funeral is generally much more interesting to educated professionals than to working class people.
It would be impossible, in Britain, to get prices down to German levels. But there’s room at the bottom for sure. And how good it would be to see more people dispense with the customary trappings and trimmings and focus their attention instead on the principal business of a funeral, the farewell ceremony, an event where what is said and what is done matter most, and where what is spent is supplementary. Not only would the bereaved get much better emotional value for money, they would also be setting a good example.
More on budget German funerals here.