Gray tombstones, inconspicuous obituaries: Death is rarely a laughing matter. Or? "My favorite sack, now you're gone. You did well" - that's how an obituary can sound. Christian Sprang and Matthias Nöllke have collected such curious advertisements - here you can also smile about death. They summarized the most beautiful finds in their book "A brave liver has stopped working". It is already the fourth volume by the authors.
"Over the years we have seen the tendency not to take everything so seriously. Basically, to almost trivialize death," says Noellke. "It's an inability to give this grief space." There are, for example, the invitations to funeral services, which say not to wear mourning clothes and that everyone should come to celebrate.
At the same time, there is the opposite tendency to speak unpleasant truths: sadness and laughter are very close together. "In an obituary notice, the summary is "It's all shit". "That wouldn't have worked before," says Nöllke. "Some things are mentioned that move you. There are reports of bullying and illnesses." The corona pandemic is also noticeable in the advertisements. "We have an obituary from a woman who died of Corona and it's really very moving," says Nöllke. "Corona is seriously" and "Protect all of you" are there.
What does the cemetery reveal about social change? "There used to be the family grave, which gathered the whole dynasty, so to speak. They were large graves, they were expensive and they were laid out for a long time," says Benkel. "If you go through a cemetery today, in Berlin for example, you'll find small lawn graves for a single person that have only been there for a short time, maybe ten years." From this you can see that people live differently, no longer see themselves as part of a collective, but rather as individuals.
Animal companions are now also part of the process of dying. "In a society in which more and more people remain childless, pets are often used as children's substitutes. When they die, they are mourned and sometimes have their own graves, which are then set up very emotionally," says Benkel. Nöllke also reports an increase in animal obituaries: "Even when animals supposedly give up the ad. So it says that the dog mourns the loss of its master," says Nöllke.
A particularly strange advertisement shows that people can not only mourn for animals, but also for plants: In the Baden-Württemberg town of Kehl, a woman placed an obituary notice for a fir tree named Alexandra. "This fir tree accompanied her in her parents' garden throughout her childhood. And this fir tree was felled. So there was a death notice with a photo," says Noellke. What should your own obituary look like? "I have a clear stance that my survivors should shape it," says Noellke. "They should come up with something."