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Pedagogical sepulchral culture

This unwieldy word has to settle before one can think about it further. Sepulchral culture, a word that at first sounds pretty much like something with culture, or at least along those lines. You are not so wrong here. Because more precisely, this term is about the culture of the people with the topics of death, dying, mourning and burial. So all topics that you don’t really want to have anything to do with in everyday life, and certainly not in your role as a teacher.

But if we think about this topic more closely, we quickly realize that we inevitably have to deal with it… and “unfortunately” the children too.

What are your experiences with the topic of death or loss? How did you and your family deal with it? What was painful and which situations or rituals gave stop? In the vicinity, for example, a teacher died unexpectedly and all colleagues, logically completely unprepared, were faced with the task of conveying this event to the children in a child-friendly way. But more on that later.

I would like to end this comprehensive article and pack almost all general topics of the most important areas of sepulchral culture into one article. Here you have the opportunity to find basic information both for the day-care center and for yourself. Therefore, this post is beyond the scope and now follows a table of contents so that you can jump to the topics that are relevant to you.

Table of Contents

General facts and information

Cemetery and burial culture in Germany

Burial obligation / obligation to bear costs



funeral arrangements

grief and grief symptoms

Pedagogical sepulchral culture

General facts and information

In order to be able to grasp what the sepulchral culture is all about, you have to know basic information about our cultural approach to these topics. Because there is no one sepulchral culture. Every nation deals with death and grief differently. Even in Germany, rituals and norms depend on the region. Therefore, the statements in this article relate to a basic mourning and burial culture that is mostly consistent in the regions.

Cemetery and burial culture in Germany

In Germany, the cemetery and burial culture has a long cultural background. In the beginning, burials mostly took place in church forecourts, the so-called churchyards. Municipal cemeteries only developed over time. In Germany, the topics of cemeteries and burials are fundamentally a matter for the federal states, which means that each federal state has similar but different regulations. Again, this state law is broken down to the municipal level, which means that each municipality can, to a certain extent, issue its own rules and regulations.

Who must organize a funeral and who pays for it?

In the respective burial laws of the federal states we find the obligation of next of kin to organize the burial. This is called burial obligation in the technical jargon. In this way, the legislature ensures that every deceased person is properly buried.

The burials are usually listed in order of priority. The next of kin such as spouses, life partners or adult children are obliged first. Only then do the parents, grandparents and grandchildren usually follow.

Burial is usually required for:

  1. the spouse or partner
  2. the life partner
  3. the adult children
  4. the parents
  5. the grandparents
  6. adult siblings and grandchildren

The burial obligation creates not only an obligation but also a right to organize the burial. If the spouse dies, the surviving partner has to be buried before the children. He has the right to order the burial himself.

Note : Legally ordered care generally ends with the death of the person requiring care. This means that the legal guardian is not allowed to organize the burial! The relatives specified by the funeral laws are responsible for this.

A burial obligation is not the same as an obligation to bear the costs

The obligation to bear costs according to Section 1968 of the German Civil Code must be distinguished from the obligation to burial. Here the heir bears the cost of a befitting funeral. However, the Federal Court of Justice ruled that an heir was not obliged to assume the costs for care and maintenance of the grave! If no person entitled to inherit is found, the spouse is obliged according to §1360 BGB, only then does the person responsible for maintenance follow according to §1615 II BGB.

If there are no heirs, the state becomes the legal heir according to §1936 BGB. According to Section 1968 BGB, the latter then bears the funeral costs. However, this is rarely the case in practice. Because the state is entitled to limit its liability solely to the estate.

What if I don’t have any assets?

According to §74 SGB XII, legally obliged persons can apply to the social welfare office for the assumption of funeral costs if they are unable to bear the costs for the funeral. In principle, the social welfare office that granted benefits for the deceased is responsible. If no benefits have been received from the social welfare office, the social welfare office at the place of death is responsible.

Attention : If several people are obliged to bear the costs, for example if three children have to take care of the burial, each person must submit their own application to the responsible social welfare office!

What happens if I don’t care?

Nowadays, the situation arises more often that there are relatives who have to carry out the funeral, but they refuse to take over the organization of the funeral. In such cases, the police authority (office for public order) must inform the relatives about the existing burial obligation.

If the relatives refuse again, the authorities will organize the burial as part of the security measures. This is done with a local burial. The authorities will request the costs incurred from the person responsible for the burial in the form of a benefit notice.

In principle, it is therefore not possible to release oneself from the burial obligation.

When do I not have to worry?

A person who is obliged to undertake a burial does not have to take care of the burial if calling for a burial would be disproportionate in the individual case. This applies in particular to sexual offenses against the person who is obliged to be buried. In these cases, it is not reasonable for the person to take care of the burial of the deceased.

However, if the deceased and the person responsible for the burial did not know each other or the contact broke off many years ago, this is not a basis for refusing the burial requirement. In such cases, the burial obligation continues in principle.

It remains to be noted that the case law only allows a refusal of the obligation to pay for a burial and costs in absolutely exceptional cases.

The burial

Historical development

Burial is one of the oldest forms of burial in the world. Evaluated records go back to more than 10,000 years BC. back. At the beginning of this period, the deceased people were buried in bogs and swamps. Mummification and the sinking of the corpse in water were also used. Approx. 4,000-1,800 B.C. The first burials developed in the form of megalithic tombs.

1,000 BC The Celts buried their relatives in large burial mounds. After that, cemetery sites slowly developed (often in front of churches and on the outskirts of towns). At that time, the churches took over the burial. The municipalities only took over this work in the 18th century.

Today, burial is one of the most popular types of burial, along with cremation. However, as cremation becomes more common due to lower costs, the increasing number of atheists, and the increasing “anonymity” of our society, burial has to lose its leading place as the most chosen form of burial.

In addition, there are modern types of burial such as forest burial, lake burial, meadow burial, etc. Since cremation is a basic requirement for all of these types of burial, this contributes significantly to an increasing number of cremations.

Legal regulations

In the Federal Republic of Germany, the burial law (public law) and the municipal statutes (cemetery law) determine the proper burial of a deceased. It is regulated by state laws, which means that there are no federal regulations and laws. Ultimately, the cemetery regulations of the respective municipalities arise from these legally binding regulations.

Due to the fact that burial law is a matter for the federal states, there are different laws from federal state to federal state, which are mostly similar but not always comparable. This can often lead to a greater formal effort if a deceased person is to be transferred to another federal state or even abroad.

The cremation

Historical development

Cremation is common and firmly established in many cultures. However, Christianity rejected this form of burial for centuries. The reason for this was the Christian faith, which believes in a resurrection after death. For these reasons, Christianity is based on the burial of Jesus Christ, with the result that only a burial was possible for deceased persons.

The first German crematorium was not opened in Gotha until 1878. At that time, however, the majority of the population was opposed to cremation. This is certainly also due to the Catholic Church of the time, since Pope Leo XIII called the cremation of a corpse a “barbaric custom”. The Protestant Church was also rather opposed to cremation.

Only in 1917 was the cath. Church lifted the ban on cremation. Today she recommends burial. However, cremation is permitted only on condition that the cremation is not performed to express denial of faith.

Today, more than half of all burials in the Federal Republic of Germany are cremations followed by an urn burial. The lower price of the cremation as well as the hygienic considerations play a role in this strong increase. There are also new modern types of burial such as forest burial, lake burial and meadow burial.

Since cremation is a basic requirement for all of these types of burial, this contributes significantly to the increasing number of cremations.

Legal regulations

In the Federal Republic of Germany, the burial law (public law) and the municipal statutes (cemetery law) determine the proper burial of a deceased. It is regulated by state laws, which means that there are no federal regulations and laws. For cremation, an additional post-mortem examination by a medical officer is required. This is usually carried out in the crematorium. Furthermore, the police may require a clearance certificate. The reason for these regulations is that the identity of the deceased must be established beyond doubt, because after cremation no conclusions can be drawn as to the manner of death. With this official certificate, the deceased is released for cremation and can then be cremated.

performing the cremation

In the Federal Republic of Germany, cremation is generally only carried out in the crematoria provided for this purpose. For example, open-air cremation is not permitted. After a consultation with the undertaker you trust has been held, the deceased will be given hygienic care and then embedded in a coffin.

The deceased is then transferred to a crematorium by the funeral home. Here the corpse remains in a refrigerated cell until all the necessary papers are available.

As soon as all the necessary papers are available, a fireclay brick is attached to the corpse, which enables unequivocal identification. Now the coffin with the corpse is driven into a muffle furnace. This has already been preheated to approx. 900°C, which means that the coffin will ignite by itself after it has been inserted. In the first phase, which lasts about 45 minutes, combustion is only supported by additional warm air. Only after this time is the furnace heated to approx. 1,200°C. This incinerates remaining ingredients.

Due to this high temperature, only mineral bone components remain. These bones and teeth are ground up and filled with the ash into an ash box. The entire cremation process takes about 1.5-2.5 hours on average. Finally, the ash capsule is sealed by a crematorium employee.

The chamotte stone enclosed with the cremation and the engraving of personal data of the deceased on the ashtray make it impossible to confuse the mortal remains with other cremated persons.

funeral arrangements

Protection and relief during lifetime

When concluding a funeral plan, many people often think of old or very sick people. This group of people is very often aware of the finiteness of life and the conclusion of a funeral plan is actively addressed. People in other, younger phases of life are less aware of the finitude of life. Nothing’s going to happen to me and I’m not that old yet, that can be settled later are frequent statements from younger adults.

But even young people can die unexpectedly. Be it an acute illness or an accident while practicing the sport. In road traffic alone, we had a total of 3,180 fatalities in Germany in 2017. Of these, 2,186 people were under the age of 65. Unfortunately, in life, young age can protect neither from illness nor from worse blows of fate.

preventive care options

Against this background, the demand for funeral arrangements, especially among people over the age of 60, is rising sharply. People want to decide for themselves which way to go in the end and regulate this in a binding manner during their lifetime. This usually raises questions or ambiguities among the population, which can be clarified together with a funeral home in Germany.

At the end of a pension discussion, there is an individual pension concept. Adapted and manufactured according to the wishes of the insured person. The pension contract can be secured by various financial options:

  • Payment by a death benefit insurance
    • e.g.: Monuta death benefit insurance
  • Deposit of an escrow account
    • e.g.: Deutsche Bestattungsberatung Treuhand AG
  • Deposit of a savings account
  • Direct payment to the undertaker

I recommend clients to always use a secure form of deposit. These would be the account held in trust and the purchase of a death benefit insurance. From experience, blocking notices can be removed from savings accounts afterwards, and in the case of direct payment to an undertaker, the pension funds can be lost if the undertaker becomes insolvent at a later date. In this day and age, there is no good reason for clients to deposit money directly with a funeral home!

Undertakers are the point of contact for the population in Germany when it comes to the topics of death, mourning and funeral arrangements. They support people in difficult situations, arrange professional help for bereavement problems if necessary and help organize the desired funeral.

Are funeral arrangements attachable?

The Federal Social Court ruled on March 18, 2008:

  1. Appropriate burial provision and appropriate grave care is according to the hardship regulation of §90 para. 3 clause 1 SGB XII.
  2. If a burial provision exceeds a reasonable limit, it does not have to be dissolved if this would be uneconomical. The usual compensation claim of an undertaker after deducting the saved expenses does not usually exceed this threshold.
  3. The short-term conclusion of a burial plan before admission to a retirement or nursing home does not change anything in the hardship regulation, unless the burial plan was concluded intentionally or through gross negligence in order to receive social welfare benefits.

Federal Social Court, judgment of March 18, 2008 – B 8 / 9b SO 9/06 R

grief and grief symptoms

When a person loses a loved one or friend, the grief that follows is a natural response. It takes place on different levels and affects, among other things, the mental, cognitive and affective areas. The grief also manifests itself physically. From my point of view, the goal of mourning is always to overcome the current exceptional situation, followed by dealing with the causes and consequences for oneself. There are various theories of mourning. These classify current situations and symptoms into certain phases of grief. In particular, Verena Kast, Yorick Spiegel, John Bowlby and Elisabeth Kübler-Ross should be mentioned here.

The symptoms listed below can, but do not have to, indicate clinical depression. It is extremely difficult to differentiate between a normal grieving process and the onset of depression, especially when you are in mourning. In many cases, further development is only decided within the grieving process itself and depends on many internal (feelings, attitudes, mental state, etc.) and external (society, family, financial situation, religion, etc.) influencing factors.

For these reasons, recognizing disruptions in the grieving process is a very difficult task for the treating professionals. Because a grieving process cannot only occur with a delay. Many people do not go through all phases of the grieving process and other people fall back into previous phases when coping with grief after some time. Therefore, I recommend everyone to turn to competent bodies and get advice from them. This applies in particular to grieving children, since the grief can show up differently there. You can find some of these facilities at the end of the article.

Emotional Grief Symptoms

The feelings of a grieving person can be very wide and intense. Many bereaved feel helpless, lonely and left behind. Anger is also a very common and powerful emotional symptom. Feelings of guilt and a guilty conscience can also arise. Usually, however, it is the fear of the bereaved that is the strongest. Because many are afraid of loneliness and are afraid of not being able to survive alone!

Emotional symptoms can include the following symptoms:

  • There are often severe mood swings
  • Aggression towards yourself, the deceased or third parties
  • Relief at the end of suffering
  • emotional emptiness

physical symptoms

The physical symptoms of a grieving person can be varied and sometimes pose problems for doctors and relatives. Because one wonders: Are these symptoms due to the current mental state or are there physical causes for them?

The physical symptoms are often expressed in well-known forms, such as:

  • Pain in different parts of the body
  • cardiovascular diseases
  • weight changes
  • Fixed facial expression
  • digestive problems
  • Lack of sexuality
  • stooped posture
  • Lack of appetite
  • sleep problems
  • breathing problems
  • dry mouth

The body is also more receptive to illnesses and complaints during grief due to an exceptional situation, which can lead to additional new illnesses and worsening of existing illnesses.

For these reasons, it can be said that grief can also have serious physical effects and that this should be taken into account in people with poor health.

cognitive symptoms

The cognitive symptoms are expressed in particular through perceptions, hallucinations and changes in thinking. It shows through:

  • Thinking about the circumstances of death or death in general
  • Questioning the “meaning of life”
  • concentration problems
  • “Feeling” of the presence of the deceased person
  • Dreams related to the deceased
  • Acoustic and optical perception of the deceased
  • emptiness

These cognitive symptoms are often noticeable at the beginning and usually subside after some time. The fears of many relatives that this condition can persist in the long term is mostly unfounded.

Behavior and pathological symptoms

Behavioral changes in grieving people are normal and should not be a cause for concern at first. Especially in the early days, outsiders cannot reach the bereaved and often have the feeling that they are “talking against a wall”.

It should also be noted that the environment often puts the bereaved under pressure by making statements. “It has to go on” or “He wouldn’t have wanted you to mourn like that” are mostly well-intentioned sentences from relatives. However, these can set off a spiral of mutual misunderstandings that are difficult to recapture.

The following behaviors can also occur:

  • Talking often or not at all about the deceased person
  • Hostile behavior and/or social withdrawal
  • Increased consumption of alcohol, nicotine, medication, stimulants
  • Search behavior (visiting significant places, taking on the person’s interests)
  • Overactive Behavior
  • crying and screaming

Pathological grief is characterized by particularly long-lasting or intense grief. Most of the time, the mourner is caught in a process of dealing with grief or he falls back into a previous one. Professional help can also make sense if the grief reaction is delayed or exaggerated.

The following situations can be indications of complicated grief processing:

  • Mummification of the environment of the deceased (everything should remain as it is)
  • Avoidance behavior of certain situations/activities (PBS)
  • Long-term retreat and isolation from the environment
  • Long-term increased consumption of alcohol, nicotine, stimulants
  • Drug addiction (e.g. sleeping pills)
  • Morbid anxiety and strong feelings of guilt
  • suicidal thoughts
  • comments for help

Points of contact for grief issues

Relatives and bereaved people can find information in many institutions in Germany. It always depends on the wishes of the person seeking help. Some need an anonymous environment and use telephone counseling, while others want professional therapy.

Contact with fellow human beings with similar strokes of fate also helps many. In the end, it doesn’t come down to “how”. It is more important that there is a suitable contact point for the person searching.

Find out which institutions you can get help from:

The pedagogical sepulchral culture

After the previous sections, a part of the sepulchral culture is now more tangible and it can be said with certainty that this complex of topics also plays a role in kindergarten. The Baden-Württemberg orientation plan for day-care centers even includes parts of the sepulchral culture. In the body education and development field, there is a goal that children acquire knowledge about their bodies . In the realm of thinking, on the other hand, there are the goals that children recognize rules, symbols and connections in order to grasp the world as well that children ask themselves and their environment questions, including philosophical and religious ones, and look for answers. The large complex of the section meaning, values and religion has a large connection with the sepulchral culture. Here children should:

  • recognize the effect of sacred spaces, rituals and symbols that enable the experience of security, community, silence and concentration
  • find understanding partners in their philosophizing and/or theologizing about life and the world…

Without a doubt, the orientation plan with these passages does not aim at the sepulchral culture, but rather at the philosophical and religious “everyday life”. But when we deal with these topics, we inevitably end up with the topics of grief, the end of life or other similar areas and the children also think about these in certain situations.

Sure, children deal with the topic differently compared to adults. But even from birth, children experience grief, not because of a death, but through the loss of a bond when a person is no longer there (e.g. grief at birth, grief when saying goodbye in daycare or when moving house).

For older children in daycare, death is usually something limited, a phase that also passes and the person wakes up again at the end. Most children perceive death from the age of four. However, children do not relate this to themselves, it is just something that can happen to others. It is not until the age of ten to twelve that children can begin to understand death. Therefore, when such questions arise, it is important to talk to the children about the reality and the facts in a child-friendly way, instead of unsettling the child with excessive explanations.

A trip to the garden is enough and there is a dead bird on the lawn. How are you dealing with the situation? What do you know and what questions are the children asking? What religious background do the children have and “what do the children bring with them from home”?

Basically, it can be stated that the sepulchral culture is incorporated into everyday pedagogical life and must be broken down into a form appropriate to children and their ages.

How should the topics of pedagogical sepulchral culture be treated?

We now know that we cannot avoid the sepulchral area. Therefore, the question arises as to how we should discuss this topic with the children. There is a fairly simple answer to this: There is no patent recipe and certainly no suitable elaborations on this! There are general pieces of advice that should definitely be followed, such as:

  • Take up suitable situations in everyday life (dead bird in the garden, for example)
  • react in an age-appropriate manner
  • Note the background of the child (religion, experiences of loss, etc.)
  • Avoid generalizations
  • Avoid sepulchral related jokes (you’re going to kill me, etc.)
  • enable hope
  • Introduce farewell rituals
  • Use relevant picture books
  • Projects on the subject of sepulchral culture
  • Use aids such as dolls or the like

As a pedagogical specialist, you know best about the children alongside the parents. Take up the topic at a parents’ evening and ask questions about it before you settle in. Has the child previously experienced losses, has it experienced or noticed grief. The topic is often very topical, especially for refugee children from crisis or war zones. Furthermore, of course, the child’s religious affiliation is also important in order to enable stringent action in private and in the day-care center.

In acute cases, interdisciplinary cooperation should always be sought. Of course, there are also suitable aids for the area of sepulchral culture for day-to-day work in the day-care center.

Educational Tools

In everyday pedagogical life there are countless tools and procedures to achieve a positive influence on the planned offers. Especially in the area of pedagogical sepulchral culture, aids such as excursions and picture books are essential. But discovering the (human) body can also build bridges to the themes of death and the end of life. Replacing a human with old bark or dead wood. Talk about body composition and connect to the ancient natural materials. Because even these are no longer alive and at the same time contain new life.

picture books

I think every educator knows that picture books are a good opportunity for support in many ways. What is less known is that there are many books and picture books on the subject of grief, death, loss and other areas. Here is a small selection:

Children up to 3 years

  • Fido and the bear
  • Grandma was the best!

Children from 3-6 years

  • The Tree of Remembrance
  • How can it be in heaven?
  • How so? For what reason? Why?, Volume 42
  • Grandpa lives somewhere else now
  • Grandma was the best!

Children from 6 years

  • The Rainbow Bridge: A little bunny in mourning
  • Does death pass again?
  • No more Grandma Lina day?


Trips to playgrounds or museums are certainly familiar to many kindergarten teachers. But what about a trip by the kindergarten group to the local cemetery? Discover the mourning chapel with the children and look at the tombstones to see how old the people there have become. The topics of nature and sepulchral culture can be wonderfully combined in the cemetery. Did you know that the cemetery has an impressive biodiversity and is home to many threatened and endangered species?

grief of children

There are different theories about mourning or about the respective mourning phases. All I know have in common that these are mostly tailored to adults and not to children. Verena Kast, for example, designed a four-phase mourning model that is tailored to adults:

  1. Phase: not wanting to believe
  2. Stage: Emerging Emotions
  3. Phase: searching and separating
  4. Phase: New self and world reference

Children usually do not have a constant grief, but rather it progresses in waves. The theologian Yorick Spiegel divided mourning into the following phases:

  1. stage: shock
  2. Phase: Controlled phase
  3. Phase: regression
  4. Phase: adaptation

Now back to my situation presented at the beginning of the article about the sudden loss of the governess. The day care center turned the loss into a project. The children had many different ways to talk about the grief, both verbally and non-verbally. Pictures were drawn, wishes were written down and songs were sung. At the end, the kids let all those balloon memories go up in the air.

This farewell ritual with balloons has now been introduced for every teacher or child leaving the day-care center. I think it’s a beautiful ritual.


citation suggestion

Götz, S. (2022). Pedagogical sepulchral culture. Dealing with sepulchral issues in daycare. ISSN: 2748-2979. Accessed on 03/22/2021. Available at:

Sebastian Götz
Sebastian Götz
"Ich lerne für den besten Job der Welt und möchte euch hier auf Krippenzeit daran teilhaben lassen."
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