Tea amidst tomb­stones?

A fresh – or fright­ful – take on hav­ing a cuppa has re­cently been mak­ing head­lines in Ger­many. our colum­nist, how­ever, isn’t clam­our­ing to em­brace this trend just yet.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIVING -

WANT to take a walk in a ceme­tery? Fancy a Pfannkuchen (pan­cake) there­after in a fu­neral par­lour? No, I’ve not lost my mar­bles with the on­set of win­ter. I’m re­fer­ring in­stead to an un­likely hang­out that is qui­etly gain­ing ground in my host coun­try. Ceme­tery cafés. Café Strauss in Ber­lin’s Kreuzberg district, for in­stance, opened in May this year and sur­pris­ingly, hasn’t met an early death. If any­thing, it’s ap­par­ently been thriv­ing with pa­trons non­cha­lantly tuck­ing into torten (cakes) with tomb­stones for a view. Named af­ter its own­ers, Martin and Olga Strauss, the café has also at­tracted much press, with its most re­cent men­tion in an ar­ti­cle by Der Spiegel. In an ear­lier in­ter­view with the Tagesspiegel (a na­tional daily), the pair re­vealed that their pop­u­lar café was orig­i­nally the ceme­tery’s fu­neral par­lour back in the 19th cen­tury.

They fur­ther elab­o­rated that in those days, bod­ies had to be laid out for three days so that the un­der­taker could avoid ac­ci­den­tally bury­ing some­one alive. Bells were also tied to the Schein­toten or “seem­ingly dead”, so that they would ring, in case any ac­tu­ally woke up. What is now the café’s toi­let was that very “wait-and-see” room in which watch­men sat and lis­tened for the sound of those bells.

Hon­estly, I my­self would be too chicken to visit such a loo alone, es­pe­cially af­ter know­ing of its lurid past. And tin­kling bells? Any In­dian would im­me­di­ately be re­minded of a Mo­hini. I can al­ready see the head­lines scream­ing “hys­te­ria” if such a place were to ex­ist in Malaysia!

Yet, Café Strauss is ap­par­ently not alone. Boss­mann’s café in the St Matthäus ceme­tery in Ber­lin’s Schöneberg district even fea­tures china, fur­ni­ture and knick-knacks, some do­nated by fam­i­lies of the dearly de­parted, among whom rest the renowned Grimm Broth­ers.

Other cafés men­tioned in news re­ports in­clude Café Fritz in the city of Ham­burg, which hosts mu­sic per­for­mances and art ex­hi­bi­tions as well as the Schloss Con­cor­dia café near Vi­enna’s main ceme­tery, which of­fers, among oth­ers, schnitzels (breaded pork chops) in its menu.

Closer – in fact, round the corner – from home, we have Frank­furt’s Main Ceme­tery. While no café has yet to be opened here, it re­mains a pop­u­lar spot for peo­ple want­ing to es­cape the hus­tle and bus­tle of one of the city’s main in­ter­sec­tions that runs just out­side the ceme­tery’s perime­ter.

Tran­quil­lity im­me­di­ately de­scends upon you as you pass through the turn­stiles of its mas­sive en­try­way into its vast green grounds, gen­er­ously dot­ted with an­cient fir, oak, birch and chest­nut trees.

Some of the more il­lus­tri­ous per­son­al­i­ties “sleep­ing” here in­clude physician Alois Alzheimer (yes, the one cred­ited with first hav­ing ob­served “pre-se­nile de­men­tia” amongst his el­derly pa­tients) and philoso­pher, Arthur Schopen­hauer.

My hus­band is a firm fan of the ceme­tery, reg­u­larly head­ing there for a quiet walk in

Tran­quil­ity: the evening to de-stress af­ter a par­tic­u­larly hard work­day. I of­ten po­litely turn down his in­vi­ta­tion to join him for a jaunt among the well-tended rows of graves.

To be fair, ceme­ter­ies here are a world apart from their creepy coun­ter­parts in Malaysia. While Malaysians are of­ten ac­cus­tomed to grim, badly-main­tained, lalang­in­fested grave­yards that tend to also at­tract un­savoury live char­ac­ters, ceme­ter­ies here are like man­i­cured parks that just hap­pen to have graves.

That is prob­a­bly why par­ents think noth­ing of com­ing here with their lit­tle ba­bies in pushchairs to get some fresh air and peace – some­thing that I gravely tut-tut­ted at on my maiden visit here.

City coun­cils or pri­vate bod­ies ad­min­is­ter most ceme­ter­ies and there are of­ten strin­gent rules with re­gards to types of head­stones and how fam­i­lies dec­o­rate their loved ones’ graves. The liv­ing are also ex­pected to ad­here to deco­rum as a sign of re­spect for the dead. There­fore, while you are al­lowed to take walks in the ceme­tery, you are for­bid­den from jog­ging or cy­cling or walk­ing your pets in there.

Sim­i­larly, these new cafés can­not ad­ver­tise their pres­ence out­side the ceme­tery and are to fol­low the ceme­tery’s open­ing hours. And nat­u­rally, rau­cous mu­sic or wild par­ties are strictly ver­boten. Plans are ap­par­ently afoot for two more ceme­tery cafés in Ber­lin and an­other in Mu­nich. Judg­ing from how well the cur­rent ones are do­ing, they ought not fear a pre­ma­ture death.

I guess it also helps that your pa­trons es­sen­tially come from a non-su­per­sti­tious cul­ture and view death as the in­dis­putable fi­nal des­ti­na­tion of a life (hope­fully) well lived. Where you have your cof­fee is moot.

Brenda Benedict is a Malaysian liv­ing in Frank­furt. She be­lieves she is still too Asian to con­sider a ceme­tery as a ca­sual hang­out spot.

Peace­ful and calm sur­round­ings of a ceme­tery in Ger­many. It is not un­com­mon for lo­cals to take a stroll on its grounds to de-stress.

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