Bodies Are No Longer Decaying in German Cemetaries

The surprising part of this article to me is that graves in Germany are reused.

Strange as it may seem, the dead have quit rotting in German cemeteries — they are turning into wax-like corpses. Will the use of burial chambers solve the problem? Or is extensive soil reconditioning the only viable alternative?

Cemeteries are supposed to be the quietest places on earth. But that notion may soon have to be laid to rest: Exhumation experts are currently conducting large-scale digging operations in German graveyards, belying the very concept of eternal peace.

Corpses are no longer decaying in many German cemeteries. Instead, the deceased become waxen, an uncanny process that has become so rampant it can no longer be ignored.

A high moisture content in the subsoil combined with low temperatures and a lack of oxygen are the main culprits. These conditions transform the soft tissue of many bodies not into humus, but rather “a gray-white, paste-like, soft mass,” says soil expert Rainer Horn from the Christian Albrecht University in Kiel, Germany.

As time passes, the remains of the departed coagulate to form “a hard, durable substance.” When knocked with a spade, the wax-like bodies sound hollow.

This “grave wax” buildup has disturbed the natural cycle of decay — and created a horror scenario for burial authorities. When bodies don’t decompose, their graves can’t be reused — a common practice in Germany. Contrary to many other countries, where final resting places are traditionally maintained in perpetuity, Germany recycles cemetery plots after a period of 15 to 25 years. Experience has shown that the earthly remains of the deceased rot away almost entirely in this amount of time, but only under favorable soil conditions.