Not far from Aegidientorplatz stands the Garden Church with its impressive cemetery. At the Garden Cemetery Hannover you will not only find a multitude of classicist gravestones, here you will also learn a story or two that will amaze you.
Garden cemetery Hanvover
As the name suggests, the garden community with its church and cemetery once lay outside the city walls of Hannover. In front of the Aegidientor, the “garden people” had settled who used the land for agriculture and horticulture and also supplied the city of Hannover with their products.
By building a church, the city of Hannover wanted to improve pastoral care for the so-called garden people and at the same time enable an orderly community life for the settlers.
History of the cemetery
In 1741, the city bought a six-acre (15,000 m2) plot of land, enclosed it with a fence as well as a hedge and opened the “New Churchyard in front of the Aegidientor” in the same year. Hannover’s first municipal cemetery was mainly intended for the “garden people” and quickly developed into one of the most important cemeteries outside the city walls. Over the years, about 5,000 gravesites were created with a total of about 12,000 burials.
In 1741, there was still no particular emphasis on an “orderly” cemetery. The gravestones, just like the church, faced east. This resulted in a “wild” disorderly jumble of graves. Only later did a cemetery order develop. This led to an ordered system of paths with main paths and cross paths and grave fields laid out in between.
In the middle of the 18th century, the Aegidienneustadt came into being, where mainly middle-class families lived. At the beginning of the 19th century, the first burials from this population group took place in the garden cemetery in Hanover. The relatives had representative gravestones erected on the graves, often with great artistic effort. In doing so, the so-called “pretty families”, as the Hannoverians called the families of civil servants, military officers, ministers, professors and court councillors, also paid attention to the use of stylistic elements typical of the time, such as the urn, the tear jar, the snake biting its own tail (= infinity), the butterfly (= metamorphosis) and the extinguished torch.
After 123 years, the capacity of the grounds was reached and an extension was not possible. The last burial took place on 8.8.1864 for Carl Rader (this grave can no longer be found) and on 23 October 1864 the garden cemetery was closed – according to the entry in the church register.
Over the years, the size of the cemetery was reduced by a good 50%. A church was built on the site and more land was lost due to road construction.
After the Second World War, around the 1950s, the garden cemetery began to deteriorate. It was not only the increasing environmental pollution that took its toll on the sandstone of the gravestones. Unfortunately, Hannoverians increasingly used the grounds as a dog-walking area and vandalism led to further damage. Some associations tackled the problem and managed to make the cemetery attractive again. Today you can find an orientation board at the entrance showing the most important preserved graves and their location.
Those who take a short tour of the garden cemetery can find, for example, the graves of Charlotte Kestner, archetype of Goethe’s “Lotte” from “Werther”, the astronomer Caroline Herschel and the painter Johann Heinrich Ramberg.
But every cemetery has its own stories in addition to its historical story. These are often inexplicable, gruesome or simply an anecdote that happened in the cemetery at some point.
Of course, such stories are also told about the garden cemetery.
The opened grave
The story of the “open tomb” has been told since the 19th century. Numerous horror stories in countless variations made the tomb so quickly a “tourist attraction”.
Henriette Juliane Caroline von Rüling lived in Hannover from 1756 to 1782. The wife of the Hannoverian government secretary died of consumption. The gravestone bears the inscription “This burial purchased for eternity may never be opened.”
Now it happened that before the gravestone was laid, a birch seed must have lain on the grave. Over time, the seed grew into an ever larger and stronger birch, which eventually lifted the gravestone. Despite the commandment of the gravestone inscription, the grave was thus opened and led to the wildest horror stories.
The story of the tomb inspired Otto Warbeck to write his novel “The Open Tomb” in 1883. Around 1900, it was possible to buy postcards of the tomb and it was even shown in a picture book published in 1905.
In 2010, the birch tree had to be felled for safety reasons. After protests and in consultation with the heritage office, a young birch tree was planted next to the gravesite.
The “Man-Eater’s Grave” at the Garden Cemetery Hannover
Another grave that is the subject of a story is the “Man-Eater’s Grave”. It all revolves around the obelisk erected for the late Heinrich Andreas Jacob Lutz (1728-1794).
The carpenter’s family did not have much money and commissioned a “cheap” stonemason to create the gravestone. What he was thinking when he carved the inscription on the stone will probably remain his secret forever. The family was certainly not very pleased when they read it:
as (= eats)
Word quickly spread about the inscription and to this day the grave site in the Hanover Garden Cemetery is known as the “Man-Eater’s Grave”.
The visit to the Hanover Garden Cemetery took place as part of a research trip to Hanover.