Ohlsdorf Cemetery is bigger than Central Park in New York. It gets a lot of traffic, living and dead with about 7000 burials a year. It’s been around since the late 1800s and is still an active, non-denominational burial site.
I wrote earlier about the war memorials and perhaps it’s indicative of the state of the world right now that its such memorials I’m drawn to.
Inside Ohlsdorf, the Polish War Graves Cemetery is the final resting place of 1,256 Polish citizens.
Among them were prisoners of the Neuengamme concentration camp (417), prisoners of war (34), civilian forced labourers (563) as well as those who died after the war (24), those whose graves were crossed out of the cemetery registry book in 1962 (20), and unidentified Polish citizens – probably victims of air bombardments (12).
Called the Dutch Field of Honour, this part of the cemetery was consecrated in 1953 and is home to some 350 Dutch people who died in and around the city. The names of a further 99 are inscribed on three panels. The majority died in concentration or forced labour camps and there’s a special memorial to those who died at Neuengamme.
Ohlsdorf is home to not one, but three Commonwealth war grave plots: Hamburg Cemetery Ohlsdorf 1914-1918, Hamburg Cemetery Ohlsdorf 1939-1945, and Hamburg Cemetery Ohlsdorf Post War. As always, when I see a grave without a name, I wonder about the families they left behind who would never know where their husband, son or grandson, their brother, father, or friend were buried. And then I wonder if it’s important. So many graves these days are neglected, relatives too busy to visit, perhaps no one left at all. Does it matter? Would I care were I buried and no one knew I was there or no one cared enough to visit? Would those I leave behind see it as a chore?
A complete aside here, but somewhat related – if you’ve not seen Ricky Gervais’s After Life, you’re missing something.
There’s also a section for seamen, cleverly noted by the anchors or fish carved into the headstones. And on for poets and writers. And another for police officers. And another for firefighters. The most vibrant of all though, was from Iran.
It started in 1941, when Abbasali Pyrchad, a merchant, died in the city. His marked the first burial in what would become a Muslim burial ground in Hamburg. In December 1941, the Iranian-Moslem community bought 102 more burial plots, financed by four other merchants. In 1952, when the Iranian consulate opened in Hamburg, the rights were transferred over. More graves were added until the 150 allocated spaces near Chapel II were filled. Another plot was started near Chapel XIII. I’m not sure which one I was in, but it was full of colour and the remnants of life. Freshly planted flowers, large photographs, and garden chairs, all spoke of graves well tended and often visited.
There are literally thousands of sculptures and statues in this huge expanse of land. It would take days to visit each part of it. We had mere hours.
If you’re in the city and fancy a stroll in the park, you could do worse.