Projecting Urbanity: In/Exclusion of the Dead in Erfurt (City Walk 8)
— Martin Christ
The dead were always closely tied to religion and urbanity. Members and fellows belonging to the KFG have undertaken a range of projects discussing death in cities, ranging from antiquity to the present and including cities, such as Rome, London, Munich and Córdoba. Core group member Martin Christ and associate member Carmen González Gutiérrez published a special issue of the journal Mortality in 2021 bringing together some of this research. The contributions, including an introduction by the editors, cover placemaking of the dead in ancient Rome, a discussion of the goddess Libitina and her role for undertakers (open access), martyrdom in ancient Smyrna, an overview and future avenues of research of funerary archaeology in medieval Cordoba, regulations of burials in early modern Germany and the issue includes an afterword by the sociologist Anna Sun.
Picking up some of the themes discussed over the past years in the context of such academic joint ventures, seminar rooms and colloquia, the 8th edition of the KFG’s city walks was on the theme of Erfurt’s dead. In this way, discussions on topics related to religion and urbanity were brought into the streets of Erfurt. The focus was not only on Erfurt’s dead in general, but especially on the inclusion and exclusions expressed, strengthened or undermined in the treatment and especially placement of the dead.
The first station was the main cemetery. Erfurt’s Hauptfriedhof , which was established in 1916. The construction was planned from 1906 and the cemetery constitutes the largest one in Thuringia. It is built in the style of a park, as a Parkfriedhof. It is a comparatively late move of the town’s major cemetery and indicates a move of the dead from the city centre and around the churches to a dedicated space further sway from the city centre. However, speaking of a strict exclusion of the dead or separation of the living and the dead does not do justice to the complex ways in which the dead stayed involved in the urban community. So it is not surprising that a tram line was established to service the cemetery, and therefore connect the cemetery with the city, in 1934.
The second station was the Brühler Garten. Today this is a park and there is little to remind anyone that this used to be an important urban burial space. Few monuments from the time it was used as a cemetery survive, for example the large stone cross (Großes Steinkreuz) from 1920. In 1818, the cemetery became the first public cemetery for both confessions in Erfurt, partly as a result of the increased number of inhabitants and mortality in Erfurt. Burials decreased from 1871 and in 1924 most tombs were removed. Throughout its history, the Brühler Garten had many different uses, including as an exhibition space, part of the city fortifications and, as is the case now, a park. The multiple uses of the space also connect to the ways in which dead bodies were excluded or included in the town and how the dead were made (in)visible during Erfurt’s long history. Yet even if only few markers of death remain in the Brühler Garten, the dead will always be a crucial part of urbanity.
Martin Christ is a post-doctoral researcher in the KFG “Religion and Urbanity: Reciprocal Formations”. He specialises in early modern death and burial cultures in Europe and currently works on his second monograph.