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Berlin Cemeteries, 1948 to 1990

The developments in the eastern and western parts of the city proceeded differently, even with respect to the cemetery system.

In East Berlin, the existing cemetery land was generally sufficient. Smaller local cemeteries were closed in 1970 in order to concentrate burials on larger cemeteries. In West Berlin, the situation was different; there was more likely to be a shortage of burial space. In the winter of 1969-‘70, a very large number of people died during a short period from a flu epidemic. The crematoriums in Wedding and Wilmersdorf were overburdened. Moreover, due to the severe cold, no burials could be carried out at all for several weeks. The coffins were stored in greenhouses and abandoned subway tunnels.

In order to prevent a repetition of this dramatic situation, cemeteries such as the Heidefriedhof Tempelhof (Tempelhof Heath Cemetery) were enlarged, and new cemeteries were established, including the Friedhof am Fließtal (Cemetery at the Creek Valley) in Tegel or the Landschaftsfriedhof Gatow (Gatow Landscape Cemetery). In addition, changes in the law reduced the demand for cemetery space. The repose time was reduced from twenty-five to twenty years, and the communal urn grave facility was introduced as a new, space-saving funeral option.

These measures, together with changes in funeral practices, i.e. an increase in cremations and a drop in the numbers of deaths, meant that by the ’80s, West Berlin had an excess of cemetery space.