All those deaths stacked up

tomb stones broken down and stacked up
All those deaths stacked up (2014)
Olympus E-M10 + M.Zuiko 17mm/F2.8@2.8 1/160s ISO 200

All those deaths stacked up (2014)

I just discovered the Tuesday Photo Challenge and this weeks topic and the general situation with the pandemic got me to remember this photo. Now it would be easy to make a post about the deaths from COVID but I think we all have enough of this particular topic. So I am going to tell how these stacks of tomb stones came to be. This was not the only one around.

At the time many cemeteries in Berlin were consolidated mostly because the land became quite valuable and needed for new residential construction. People here usually “rent” a cemetery plot for a fixed number of years. It is assumed that by then the generation tending the graves will be gone too. Their children will continue to tend to their graves. When the allotted time was up the cemetery usually kept the grave sites. They fell into disrepair and grew over with vegetation. It was actually quite interesting to wander around the cemetery and wonder about the old and overgrown graves and stones.

But with burial space becoming rarer and more and more people opting for simple urn graves or even communal plots the cemeteries began digging out the old grave sites to make room for those new forms of burial and to reclaim needed space. At the end of the cemetery where no one except curios people like me ever wander around, were huge mounds of broken up tomb stones.

It seems pretty sad to see the last remembrances of people long gone just thrown together. But that is how life works even in death. Nothing is permanent and we can’t honor most dead forever. We can assume that most of the razed graves were no longer visited by anyone who would care. Even we saw the grave of old family members dug out and flattened. The people who tended that grave were gone as well so there was no point in keeping it.

But these dead would stay connected to their burial ground. A few years later I saw the stones broken up in pieces and used neatly stacked up for small walls to separate different areas of the cemetery. Nice to know that here the stones were used in a respectful manner. Most of the time they end up as filler for road works or shore reinforcements.

Photographic notes:

I always felt a bit uncomfortable taking photos at a cemetery until I discovered that documenting historical graves is indeed a thing with urban explorers and other curious types. And besides what kind of documentary photographer would I be if I omitted these places? Thankfully the E-M10 and the small pancake lens were inconspicuous enough.

There was no way I could take this photo in color. I did not even try. My eye switched to black and white as soon as I saw the scene. I overexposed the background to a flat white to keep an air of mystery or a bit of an enchanted forest vibe so to speak.