Monday, January 07, 2008

Decay Deficit in Deutschland

As a current Der Spiegal article explains, the deceased in Germany have been overstaying their welcome. Germany evidently likes to reuse those graveyards, but the dearly departed are refusing to cooperate. I doubt they'll be able to hold out long against the modern technological tools wielded by the living:
[...] Corpses are no longer decaying in many German cemeteries. Instead, the deceased become waxen, an uncanny process that has become so rampant it can no longer be ignored.[...]

A high moisture content in the subsoil combined with low temperatures and a lack of oxygen are the main culprits. These conditions transform the soft tissue of many bodies not into humus, but rather "a gray-white, paste-like, soft mass," says soil expert Rainer Horn from the Christian Albrecht University in Kiel, Germany.

As time passes, the remains of the departed coagulate to form "a hard, durable substance." When knocked with a spade, the wax-like bodies sound hollow.

This "grave wax" buildup has disturbed the natural cycle of decay -- and created a horror scenario for burial authorities. When bodies don't decompose, their graves can't be reused -- a common practice in Germany. Contrary to many other countries, where final resting places are traditionally maintained in perpetuity, Germany recycles cemetery plots after a period of 15 to 25 years. Experience has shown that the earthly remains of the deceased rot away almost entirely in this amount of time, but only under favorable soil conditions.

Many German cemeteries today have far from ideal conditions. To make matters worse, the problem appears to be a homemade one: "Huge blunders committed over the past few decades" are to blame, says engineer Heinrich Kettler, who specializes in reconditioning soils that have become unsuitable for decomposition. [...]

This widespread problem has given rise to an entire industry that aims to save the day with new methods of rot. The latest innovation on this morbid market is the Swiss-engineered Linder reconditioning system -- a severe method that involves deep incursions into cemeteries. After excavating the unusable soil, Linder fills the area with a "custom mixture of topsoil, woodchips and gravel." Finishing touches to the burial place include a drainage system with additional filter and seepage layers. [...]

The city of Cologne has ordered a total of 5,000 concrete vaulted chambers and the nearby town of Herne has purchased 3,000. Many wealthy private individuals order these sarcophagi, made of pre-fab components, as a final resting place. [Salesman Bernhard] Ufer delivered three of them recently to Kürten in the Rhineland for relatives of the late composer Karlheinz Stockhausen.
A straight-faced reference to a "late composer" in an article about decomposition? That's either authorial restraint or a missed opportunity.
These barren chambers are meant to offer the rot-friendly atmosphere that graveyard soils can no longer provide . . .

Some manufacturers have fine-tuned their product and installed filters in the concrete crypts. Now the funeral trade has pinned its hopes on another Swiss invention called "Rapid Rot," a fungal extract designed to accelerate the decomposition of wooden coffins.[...]
They're morbidly upbeat about their chances for success.

Crossposted on Soccer Dad

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