A rather unknown cemetery lies on the eastern shore of Plötzensee. Rather by chance, I passed the Plötzensee cemetery in Wedding on a bicycle tour and decided to walk through the park-like grounds.
Origin of the cemetery
The cemetery opened in 1888 and grew over the years to the impressive size of 162,845 m² due to site expansions. The result was one of the largest state-owned cemeteries in the city. By the end of the Second World War, four closed cemeteries had been built for various communities and for the victims of war and tyranny.
From the 1960s onwards, the change in burial culture in Berlin became noticeable. Graves became smaller, urn burial increased more and more. So it was decided to close the cemetery. First the chapels were removed and on 31 December 1970 the cemetery was closed for burials. Since graves always have a certain period of use, they waited until 1995 until the last rights of use had expired. After that, the grounds began to be transformed.
Conversion of the cemetery grounds
Converting a cemetery is not quite as simple as it may sound. There is a provision that guarantees permanent resting rights according to the Graves Ordinance for certain types of graves. These include, among others, graves of military personnel of the First World War and the Second World War. The provision thus provides for some gravesites that must be maintained and cared for by the country.
In the closed areas of the four cemeteries there were now some graves that fell under this provision and a new resting place had to be found for the dead buried there.
The war gravesites concerned had to “move” and were placed with the existing graves in the New St Paul’s Cemetery. Even the war memorial to the First World War from 1920 moved with it. The Plötzensee cemetery was created.
After the move was completed, the rest of the site was turned into a park with a dog exercise area. This area still exists.
The new war gravesite is about 3600 m² in size. 40 victims from the First World War and about 4000 victims from the Second World War and the violent measures of National Socialism are buried here. Many of the victims’ names are unknown. A good 2000 people were buried in individual graves, many found their final resting place in one of the three collective graves.
During a tour of the cemetery, I notice the grave fields marked with letters. On a notice board at the entrance of the cemetery you can read exactly how many men and women, sometimes even children, are buried there. Missing gravestones are also pointed out. In area K, for example, war dead who had previously been buried in the cemeteries on Gerichtstraße and St. Johannis- und Heilandfriedhof were reburied.
One monument in the Plötzensee cemetery particularly catches my eye. In 1957, the sculptor Karl Wenke created a 5-metre high stele with crosses attached to the sides. It bears the inscription: To the dead of the World War 1939-1945 in memory, to the living as a reminder and obligation.
Visually, the cemetery is certainly not the “most beautiful” cemetery. There are no artistically valuable gravestones to be found. But for me, the Plötzensee cemetery is a place of remembrance and a reminder of a time that no one wants to experience again.