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German Funeral Traditions, Customs, and Beliefs

The traditional German funeral is steeped in age-old customs and beliefs that have been passed down from generation to generation. Knowing what to expect can help those attending or participating in a German funeral service to better understand and appreciate the solemn event.

German death traditions and beliefs

The belief that death is an inescapable part of life is deeply rooted in German culture. It is not uncommon to hear the phrase, “death comes to us all” at a funeral. Death holds significant meaning in Germany; it is seen as a transformation from one state of being to another rather than as an end or a termination. This is why the traditions of the funeral ceremony are intended to bridge the gap between life and death, not only for those who have passed on, but also for family members and friends still living.

German beliefs around burial vs. cremation

Though burial is the most common practice for German funerals, cremation is becoming increasingly popular in Germany. German Catholics generally prefer burial, while Protestants are more likely to choose cremation.

German funeral traditions

Traditionally, Germans do not opt for wakes or viewings that have open caskets. The actual service is usually held at a church or other religious building; however, it can also take place in a cemetery chapel or another suitable location.

The order of a German service typically starts with readings, prayers, and singing led by the clergy member officiating the ceremony. Then there may be an opportunity for family members and friends to give speeches or share memories of their loved one. Following this is a final German funeral blessing from the clergy member and then a procession out of the building.

When the service is held in a cemetery, there may be an additional ritual known as the burial blessing, or Grabessegen, at which time family members and friends take turns placing earth on the coffin before it is lowered into the ground. This ritual symbolizes acceptance of death and emphasizes the finality of life.

It is common for a reception to be held after the funeral, where guests are invited to share food, share stories, and remember the life of their loved one.

What do I wear to a German funeral service?

When attending a German funeral, it is customary to wear dark clothing. Men usually wear suits and ties, while women typically dress in dark-colored dresses or skirts and blouses.

What kind of food is served at a German funeral reception?

At the reception following a German funeral service, a variety of foods are typically served. Traditional dishes such as sausages, potatoes, and cabbage are common. Other popular foods include pretzels, breads, fruits, vegetables, pastries, and Zuckerkuchen funeral cakes.

What do Germans believe in or practice after the funeral?

In Germany, it is a common practice to visit the grave of a loved one on special occasions such as birthdays and anniversaries. This serves as an important reminder that though someone has passed, their memory and their life is not forgotten. Additionally, it is customary to light candles in memory of those who have passed away.

German funeral traditions and beliefs are steeped in history and symbolism that can be both meaningful and comforting to those who have lost a loved one. By understanding the customs, rituals, and foods associated with German funerals, it is possible to gain insight into their deep-rooted meaning and appreciate them for all that they represent. Additionally, having an understanding of what to expect can help those attending or participating in a German funeral service to better understand and appreciate the solemn event.

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Last updated November 30, 2022
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