German / Austrian Funeral Tradition

Grandchildren carrying the coffin

There’s also a German / Austrian tradition that when… at a funeral and a church ceremony where you often um…where, like, almost every time, the grandchildren carry out the coffin in which their grandfather or their grandmother is in. And uh… yeah and they carry it out into the hearse.


Not every German and Austrian family partakes in this tradition, but in the town of Karlsruhe, Germany it is very common. At the death of her grandfather, Sophia recalls that she and her two older brother and almost a dozen of her cousins carried their grandfather in his coffin from the church to the hearse to be transported to the burial site.


This tradition differs from that of Americans who have such a fear of death that they barely participate in the ceremony. Unlike in Mexico where there is a whole day dedicated to celebrating the dead, or in Ireland where there is a whole section of humor dedicated to death, America makes every attempt to avoid confronting it. We only do so when we must—when our loved ones pass away.


Death is so dreaded In America that people can’t even joke about it. Humor often arises from that which is repressed—hence the plethora of sex jokes in the US, a country that stigmatizes sex. Yet, people can’t even joke about death in the States. It is beyond repression, beyond denial.


The German / Austrian tradition reminds me of some Native American rituals in which the community was very hands at funerals. Whereas the Native Americans understood that death is simply part of life, Americans engage in this disavowal of reality and deny its existence until it meets them head on. I personally think that this tradition Sophia speaks of really imparts to the children at a young age that death is a path we all must take and that we must accept this as soon as possible. In addition, I feel that these children, looking back on the funeral, would be glad to have participated in the final ritual of their grandparents’ lives.