Winter time in Alter Südfriedhof in Munich

Munich’s Cemeteries

Magnificent to prominent

Munich’s cemeteries exude a special peace – and hold many surprises. The city is home to the first ever forest cemetery in Germany that inspired the rest of Europe. A beautiful dome structure even cast its spell over Thomas Mann. And if you pay a visit to the smallest cemetery, you’ll see personalities like Erich Kästner and Oskar Maria Graf. The graves and tombstones even act as obstacles for nimble joggers.

Bogenhausen cemetery – tiny but brimming with celebrities

Munich’s smallest cemetery can be found on a hill by the late baroque St. George’s Church along the high banks of the River Isar. Around 200 graves have been resting behind the ivy-covered cemetery walls for quite some time … The cemetery in Bogenhausen has been there since the ninth century.

It was originally used as a place of rest for long-established families in the district of Bogenhausen. The cemetery was then completely redesigned in the mid-20th century and quickly became the burial place of choice for artists, scientists, politicians and other personalities.

You have to meet certain criteria to be buried here.

Erich Kästner, Liesl Karlstadt, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Oskar Maria Graf are all buried here. The names of Walter Sedlmayr, Annette Kolb and Bernd Eichinger can also be found amongst the gravestones. Helmut Dietl, Josef Schörghuber and Helmut Fischer were also laid to rest here, as well as the Nazi press officer Ernst Hanfstaengl. The cemetery in Bogenhausen is therefore seen as a reflection of cultural and spiritual history in Munich and Germany – despite its minute size.

You have to meet certain criteria to be buried here. For example, you must have lived in certain districts of Munch for at least 30 years, and great services to the city are obviously a bonus.

The graves have a simple design, and the floral decorations are discreet and stylish. Low gravestones are lined up alongside ornate wrought-iron crosses – you won’t find any large sculptures or mausoleums here. They wouldn’t fit in with the enchanted, peaceful atmosphere.

Ostfriedhof – easy-going to extravagant with Moshammer’s mausoleum

The Ostfriedhof (east cemetery) is a world full of contrasts: This is where visitors can see a mausoleum dedicated to the fashion guru Rudolph Moshammer in the district of Obergiesing, where he’s buried next to his mother Else. A stone angel looks sadly at both gravestones with a shawl of grey roses.

The Ostfriedhof in Obergiesing is one of Munich’s great cemeteries created by the city architect Hans Grässel at the turn of the 20th century. Around 35,000 graves can be found across 30 hectares of land. The most characteristic building is the noble white domed structure with high pillars and a green roof by St.-Martins-Platz. This is where funeral services are held. Behind this building, winding paths take visitors past fountains, benches and representative graves. The nicest aspect of the Ostfriedhof is the amount of densely planted trees that give the place a very green and relaxed feel.

 

Nordfriedhof – “Death in Venice” and strict symmetry

The distinguishing feature of the Nordfriedhof (north cemetery) is a striking octagonal domed structure with several turrets. Even from a distance, walkers can make out the warm yellow tones of the funeral parlour on Ungererstrasse in Schwabing. Thomas Mann immortalised the magnificent building in his novella “Death in Venice”.

The cemetery itself is strictly symmetrical. Beautiful fountains and specially designed urn walls lend additional structure to the vast grounds with just under 33,000 graves.

Two sphinxes – hybrid creatures formed from a rooster and a lion – have been missing from the entrance area since 1958. Nobody knows where they went or why they disappeared… This is the biggest mystery in the history of Munich’s cemeteries. Stonemasons are now creating faithful reproductions of the original sphinxes.

The cemetery itself is strictly symmetrical. Beautiful fountains and specially designed urn walls lend additional structure to the vast grounds with just under 33,000 graves. Visitors can explore an intriguing mix of tombs, crypts and mausoleums with colourful flowers. This is where Munich locals are laid to rest alongside celebrities like Johannes Heesters, Annette von Aretin and Eduard Zimmermann.

Another special feature is the mass grave for 2,099 people who were killed in air raids during the war. The “Honorary Grove for Air Raid Victims” can be found in the northern section of the cemetery.

 

Alter Südfriedhof – a history lesson in a willd and romantic garden

The Alter Südfriedhof (old south cemetery) was the only cemetery in Munich for 80 years (from 1788 to 1868). And it’s been around for even longer than that … Duke Albert V ordered its construction in 1563 as an “external cemetery” for victims of the plague, as there was no more space for the many bodies at the consecrated burial sites. It’s just a few hundred metres south of the Sendlinger Tor in the Glockenbachviertel between Stephansplatz and Kapuzinerstrasse.

The Alter Südfriedhof offers walkers a glimpse of the city’s history. As the Swedes drew nearer in 1632, the little Salvatorkirchlein chapel and cemetery walls were demolished to stop them entrenching themselves there. The Stephanskirche church was then consecrated as a replacement for the chapel. The victims of Sendling’s Christmas Night of Murder were buried in several mass graves in the years 1705/1706. A fountain was erected in their memory by sculptor Franz Xaver Schwanthaler and architect Friedrich von Gärtner. This is seen as Munich’s first ever neo-Gothic work of art.

The place is bustling with fern and ivy like a wild and romantic garden. The thick vegetation is interspersed with striking works of carved stone, including sculptures of individual ears, contemplative people, suits of armour and crowned serpents. Greenish gravestones display the names of infinite famous people from the city: Johann Conrad Develey (purveyor to the court and inventor of sweet mustard), Carl von Effner (landscape architect for Herrenchiemsee and Linderhof castles), Karl von Fischer (architect of the Nationaltheater), Josef von Fraunhofer (physicist and inventor), Franz Xaver Gabelsberger (inventor of shorthand), August Hauner (founder of the August Hauner children’s hospital), Maximus Imhof (co-founder of Oktoberfest), Ferdinand von Miller and Ludwig Schwanthaler (iron casters and sculptors of the Bavaria Statue), Joseph Pschorr (brewery founder), Georg Friedrich von Reichenbach (pioneer of the steam engine in Bavaria), Friedrich Ludwig von Sckell (designer of the Englischer Garten and Nymphenburg Palace Park), and Gabriel von Seidl (architect of the Deutsches Museum and Bayerisches Nationalmuseum). This is also the burial place of architects and eternal rivals Leo von Klenze and Friedrich von Gärtner, who helped shape Munich’s cityscape.

 

Alter Nordfriedhof – a haven for joggers and picnickers

The Alter Südfriedhof remained the central cemetery until 1868, when the Alter Nordfriedhof (old north cemetery) was opened in the Maxvorstadt district. Funerals haven’t been held here since 1944. Instead, the cemetery is used as a park where the people of Munich can go for a stroll, picnic or jog in the surroundings of the enchanted gravestones.

Instead, the cemetery is used as a park where the people of Munich can go for a stroll, picnic or jog in the surroundings of the enchanted gravestones.

A large cross stands in the middle of the square area, encircled by around 700 graves, several benches and shady deciduous trees. It’s a little haven in the middle of the city.

The Alter Nordfriedhof almost disappeared in the 1930s when the Nazis threatened to demolish the entire cemetery – because it was in the way… Hitler wanted to rebuild Munich as the capital of the Nazi movement. This meant connecting Luisenstrasse with Isabellastrasse to create a magnificent boulevard. The end of the Second World War luckily stopped these plans from being implemented.

Haidhausen Cemetery – Under a Canopy of Green Leaves

Especially on hot summer days, it’s a real pleasure to walk through the little cemetery in Haidhausen by the picturesque Kirchenstrasse. There’s a very special atmosphere here: You can sit down on a bench and enjoy some peace and quiet in the shade of the old ivy-covered trees. The high walls will make you forget the cemetery is located right next to a busy street and two schools.

Unlike the Alter Südfriedhof or Bogenhausen Cemetery, you won’t find the graves of any Munich celebrities here. This isn’t the burial place of any world-famous architects, scientists, writers, actors or artists – perhaps because Haidhausen used to be a quarter for more ordinary people. The former suburb was mainly the home of handymen, day labourers and people who’d moved from the countryside.

The cemetery is one of the oldest in the modern-day metropolitan area of Munich. It’s located by the Alte Haidhauser Kirche, a listed church with its roots in the 9th century. The substructure of the tower even dates back to Roman times. Documents from the 14th century prove the little church already had its own cemetery back then.

 

Forest cemetery – woodland funerals and European trendsetting

The first ever forest cemetery in Germany can be found in the south of the city. Visitors can enjoy a real sense of freedom here, just as they would on a countryside walk. The silence, vastness and fresh air at Munich’s largest cemetery create a unique atmosphere. The new cemetery model was developed by city architect Hans Grässel, who liked to use low structures with a focus on nature, such as narrow and winding paths, high trees, broad meadows and lots of bushy greenery. Grässel avoided rigid geometric shapes. His concept paved the way for other cemetery designs throughout Europe.

At the beginning of the 20th century, graves were embedded in the former woodland at Fürstenried Palace. You can even be buried beneath the trees here. The 170-hectare park with just under 65,000 graves is a conservation area with an old and new section. Unlike other large cemeteries, the funeral parlour isn’t located right by the entrance; it’s somewhat hidden in the countryside like a forest chapel. If you walk a little further, you’ll discover the rather unimposing St. Anastasia Chapel.

The forest cemetery is home to lots of religions and beliefs. The first Islamic burial ground in Germany was created here in 1955. This was followed by another burial ground, the “New Jewish Cemetery of Munich”. A military cemetery is located on Tischlerstrasse, where over 3,500 victims of both world wars are buried. The Italian flag flutters in the wind at the “Cimitero Militare Italiano” in the new section. Around 3,200 fallen Italian soldiers are buried here. A memorial has also been erected in memory of the numerous victims of the “euthanasia” campaign, whose brains were studied by scientists at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institutes in Berlin and Munich. The brain specimens are also buried here.

The gravestones in the forest cemetery also feature the names of several famous people, including the former Bavarian Minister Presidents Alfons Goppel and Hans Ehard, writers Lena Christ, Michael Ende, Paul Heyse and Frank Wedekind, Nobel Prize Laureate in Physics Werner Heisenberg, artists like Franz von Stuck, circus founder Carl Krone, and engineer Carl von Linde. The founder of the forest cemetery, Hans Grässel, was even given an honorary grave here.

 

 

Text: Veronika Beer; Photos: Frank Stolle, Eva Hohmann, Dominik Morbitzer

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