A 200-year-old cemetery in Berlin is getting a Sapphic makeover. As of Sunday, a 4,300-square-foot area of the Lutheran Georgen Parochial cemetery is now reserved as a burial place for lesbians only.
The Safia association, a German group of mostly older lesbians, came up with the idea four years ago.
“We are the first real generation of emancipated, feminist, open lesbians, and we need somewhere to be buried,” Astrid Osterland, a Safia member, told the German news site The Local. “There is no reason to be buried anonymously anymore and like everyone else, I want to lie with the people I’ve fought with.”
Safia’s members wanted a place to share with their loved ones after death, as well as a place for family members to come and visit — which is, of course, the general idea behind cemeteries.
The Berlin Lutheran church, which owns the land, explained to the Associated Press that the agreement with Safia is part of an attempt by the church to “revitalize its cemetery grounds by cooperating with other groups.”
The cemetery is located in Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg district, and will accommodate 80 bodies. Land for burial plots in Germany is typically leased. Safia has been granted a 30-year lease for the land rent free, with an option to renew.
Because the plot is located on a portion of the cemetery that was unused by the Lutheran Church, Safia hired landscapers to clear and manicure the space into a proper burial ground, complete with winding sand paths. A women's housing group called Sappho provided funds. As part of Safia’s deal with Georgen Parochial, the association will be responsible for maintaining and cleaning the space, which will host cultural events as well as funerals.
Although it was designed with lesbians in mind, the cemetery will be open to anyone who wants to come pay their respects, whether they are gay or not.
Much of the surrounding community has welcomed plans for the cemetery. Berlin has frequently been lauded as one of the most gay-friendly cities in the world. Klaus Wowereit, Berlin’s mayor, is one of the most famous openly gay politicians in Germany and has been an active campaigner for increased rights for lesbian and gay couples. Earlier this year, Germany’s newly-appointed environment minister, Barbara Hendricks, publicly revealed that she was gay, making her the country’s first openly lesbian cabinet minister.
Although gay marriage is not yet legal in Germany, a civil union law called the “Life Partnership Law” was passed in 2001 that allows for many of the same rights afforded to straight couples in various areas, including health insurance, immigration, alimony, and inheritance.
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