Monday, March 25, 2013

Visiting Dead People in Berlin

Cemetary Berlin

Before I called Europe home, I had only visited cemeteries for funerals. Impersonal, manicured parks... they didn't necessarily inspire return visits, even if thoughts of its residents did. Once we arrived in Berlin, I saw the ancient and modern beauty of family plots, trails of ivy and the essential peacefulness a cemetery offers. Our apartment in Neukölln picturesquely overlooked a nice one.

cemetary Neukölln Berlin
cemetary Neukölln Berlin snow
The beauty and fascinating history was never more apparent than in the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. Forever home of celebrity dead people like Edith Piaf, Chopin, Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison and (my favorite story) Molière. From the Rick Steves Père Lachaise Cemetery Tour (highly recommended)

In 1804, the great comic playwright was the first to be reburied in Père Lachaise, a publicity stunt that gave instant prestige to the new cemetery.
Born in Paris, Molièrewas not of noble blood, but as the son of the king's furniture supervisor, he had connections. The 21-year-old Molière joined a troupe of strolling players, who ranked very low on the social scale, touring the provinces. Twelve long years later, they returned to Paris to perform before Louis XIV. Molière, by now an accomplished comic actor, cracked the king up. He was instantly famous — writing, directing, and often starring in his own works. He satirized rich nobles, hypocritical priests, and quack doctors, creating enemies in high places.
On February 17, 1675, an aging Molière went on stage in the title role of his latest comedy, The Imaginary Invalid. Though ill, he insisted he had to go on, concerned for all the little people. His role was of a hypochondriac who coughs to get sympathy. The deathly ill Molière effectively faked coughing fits...which soon turned to real convulsions. The unaware crowd roared with laughter while his fellow players fretted in the wings.
In the final scene, Molière's character becomes a doctor himself in a mock swearing-in ceremony. The ultimate trouper, Molière finished his final line — "Juro" ("I accept") — and collapsed while coughing blood. The audience laughed hysterically. He died shortly after.
Irony upon irony for the master of satire: Molière — a sick man whose doctors thought he was a hypochondriac — dies playing a well man who is a hypochondriac, succumbing onstage while the audience cheers.
Molière lies next to his friend and fellow writer, La Fontaine (1621–1695), who wrote a popular version of Aesop's Fables.
"We die only once, and for such a long time." — Molière
(Scads more famous deads there.)

Since that fateful visit,  I have taken any chance to visit a graveyard. Luckily, Berlin is full of them. (Lonely Planet has a list of Berlin cemeteries I want to visit)

Fall Berlin trees fog
This one needs filling up. Any takers?
When I heard the Brothers Grimm (or Brüder Grimm) had surprisingly found their final resting place in Berlin I was intrigued. The authors of stories like "Cinderella" (Aschenputtel), "The Frog Prince" (Der Froschkönig), "Hansel and Gretel" (Hänsel und Gretel), "Rapunzel", "Rumpelstiltskin" (Rumpelstilzchen), and "Snow White" (Schneewittchen) - these are the architects of our childhood dreams.

Wikipedia reports on the bros
In 1840, through the efforts of friends such as Bettina von Arnim and von Savigny, who appealed to Frederick William IV of Prussia on behalf of the brothers, they were offered posts at the University of Berlin...
...Wilhelm died of an infection in Berlin in 1859, and Jacob, deeply upset at his brother's death, became increasingly reclusive. He continued work on the dictionary until his own death in 1863.
We headed out to Alter St.-Matthäus-Kirchhof in search of their resting place.

WWII War deaths are always strange in Berlin.

Life goes on...

The child section in the upper left corner is colorful and devastating. You've been warned.

Brothers Grimm Plot

And finally - we found it! Tucked away deep in the middle of the park, if you walk up the main path there is a wall of grave sites that make a wall to follow on your right. Walk along it and just before the wall ends there are 4 graves facing the entrance. Consisting of the brothers and just two of Wilhelm's sons, I was completely underwhelmed by their modest grave site after the more glamorous plots in the cemetery.

Jakob Grimm

Born: January 4, 1785
Hanau, Germany
Died: September 20, 1863

Wilhelm Grimm

Born: February 24, 1786
Hanau, Germany
Died: December 16, 1859


  • Three of their siblings died in infancy.
  • Their father, Philipp Grimm's, unexpected death of pneumonia in 1796 created severe and sudden financial hardship for the family and deeply affected the brother's lives. 
  • Wilhelm survived scarlet fever after missing a year of school 
  • Each brother graduated at the head of his class 
  • After graduation from the Friedrichsgymnasium the brothers attended the University of Marburg.
  • In 1825, Wilhelm married Henriette Dorothea Wild. Jacob never married and lived with the pair. 
  • Wilhelm & Henriette's children: Jakob Grimm (3 April 1826–15 December 1826), Herman Friedrich Grimm (6 January 1828–16 June 1901), Rudolf Georg Grimm (31 march 1830–13 November 1889), and Auguste Luise Pauline Marie (21 August 1832–9 February 1919). I wonder why only Herman & Rudolf scored adjoining lots?
  • Jacob and Wilhelm worked at University of Göttingen as a professor and head librarian (Jacob) & as professor (Wilhelm)
  • The 1830s were a period of political upheaval and peasant revolt and in 1837 the brothers lost their university posts after joining in protest with the Göttingen Seven. 
  • One of the first German dictionaries was complete by the brothers in 1854, but gets only as far as the word Biermolke (the closet translation we can figure out is literal - beer whey)

Fascinating stuff. Now I'm ready to dig into a copy of Grimm's Complete Fairy Tales. Thanks mom!


Alter St.-Matthäus-Kirchhof Details 

  • Map & location of graves available for dowload:
  • History & Famous deads: Wikipedia
  • Address: Großgörschenstraße 12, 10829 Schöneberg Berlin
  • Phone: 030 7811850 
  • Transit: Berlin Yorckstr.(S1)
  • Hours: 8am-dusk
  • Other sites besides Grimm: Rudolf Virchow. A memorial tombstone honors Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg and fellow conspirators in the July 1944 plot against Hitler. Their bodies were initially buried here, but SS members had them exhumed, cremated and their ashes scattered. The aforementioned child's section.


Side Note

For a little bit of lovely, check out the Gleisdreieck Park just a short distance from the cemetery. Approximately 26 acres of park on the former railway sites of Potsdamer freight station, the place has modern touches sprinkled in with its industrial history... like so many beautiful Berlin sites.


Kyla said...

Another fun factoid: both Grimm brothers were on staff here in Berlin at Humboldt University.

Unknown said...

Good call Kyla! Somehow I thought I had included that, but missed it. Thanks for adding that important bit.

We're Back in Berlin Ja!

We're Back in Berlin Ja!
ebe & ian at Yak-toberfest 2008