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Berlin Cemeteries before 1800

The immediately adjoining medieval cities of Berlin and Cölln were first mentioned in documents dating from the middle of the 13th century. From that time until the 18th century, the dead were for the most part buried in churches and on church graveyards, i.e., directly around the churches.

The graveyards of the Middle Ages were lawn areas with only a few tombstones. There were no such thing as grave care and cemetery management in the modern sense. Since the churchyards frequently constituted the only open areas, markets and festivals were also held there. Moreover, the areas were also used for laundry-drying, stock-grazing, as work-spaces for craftspeople, and as beer-gardens.

Only with the enlightenment and the incipient discussion of sanitation did this begin to change, as the health-endangering consequences of the smell of putrefaction, the so-called “mephitic fumes,” were feared.

The establishment of new cemeteries within the city walls of Berlin was prohibited by Frederick William I and Frederick II. The General State Law Code for the Prussian States of 1794 had a major effect on changing the cemetery system. It established for all communities that “in the churches and in inhabited areas of the cities, no corpses should be buried,” and it stipulated the rights and duties of the churches and the state for the establishment and the maintenance of burial grounds.

New cemeteries were now established outside the city walls. A comparison of old and modern maps of the city will show how the city has developed: development progressed, and the cemeteries lay like a ring around it, in every epoch. Examples are the cemeteries built in front of the Hallesches Tor (Halle Gate), or near Bergmannstraße.

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