Now dying is getting more expensive

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    Dying is becoming more expensive in Germany. The suppliers of the funeral industry announce significant price increases. The coffin manufacturers, for example, are planning surcharges of 20 percent and more in the current year. This is shown by a survey by the Federal Association of Funeral Needs. And the crematoria will also demand more money for cremations in the future.

    The companies cite the high energy prices and the increase in the price of raw materials and intermediate products as a result of the Ukraine war as the main reasons. “It is inevitable that the increased prices will be passed on to undertakers. But of course we don’t know what they make of it,” says Jürgen Stahl, who is the managing director of Stahl Sargfabrikation from Kleinheubach in Lower Franconia and at the same time chairman of the supplier association.

    The undertaker’s reply came promptly. “The costs will be passed on,” announced Stephan Neuser, Secretary General of the Federal Association of German Undertakers, to WELT. And that’s not all. “We also have significantly increased costs for the cold stores and for the transfer of the corpses to the hearse,” describes Neuser. This must also be passed on to the relatives.

    What a funeral then costs in the end, be it a classic coffin or urn burial or a burial at sea, depends on the wishes and ideas of the bereaved. In any case, it is a few thousand euros. For orientation, hundreds of undertakers are now offering a calculator on the Internet in order to create the greatest possible cost transparency, as reported by association representative Neuser.

    A safe block of costs is the coffin. It is buried with the burial and burned with the cremation in the crematorium. The wooden boxes are manufactured partly in Germany, but mainly in Eastern Europe. Industry representative Stahl reports that 60 percent of the approximately one million coffins used in Germany each year are now imported goods.

    And even of the remaining 40 percent, around half comes to Germany as a so-called raw coffin, where it is then only refined and lined. The in-house production of the domestic manufacturers is around 200,000 pieces, calculates Stahl.

    This number is currently distributed among around 15 manufacturers. Most of them are small joineries with less than 20 employees. Like the Peter Braun coffin factory in Cologne. In a backyard in a mixed-use area in the Nippes district, owner Erich Allescher has his workshop, in which around 1,000 coffins are made every year, which are given to undertakers within a radius of around 50 kilometers.

    Allescher receives four to six meter long boards made of pine, oak, poplar or beech, for example. They are cut to size in a number of work steps and then glued and stapled to form boxes, lids, sub-floors and the like.

    “Everything is still the same here as it was in 1928, when my grandfather founded the company,” says the craftsman, who wants to score with regional products and good service. The 60-year-old, who played hide-and-seek between the coffins in the company as a child, cannot remember that in all these years there has been an explosion in costs like the one we are currently experiencing. “The undertakers have to swallow when I talk to them about the new prices,” says Allescher with a Cologne accent. “And their customers will probably soon do the same.”

    Association chief Stahl justifies the necessary surcharges with the consequences of the Ukraine war. “Actually, the supply chains had returned to normal to some extent after the corona shock – but then the war came.”

    And the share of material costs for a coffin is around 40 percent. But the competition in Eastern Europe also has the problem. “But the wage costs are completely different there,” says Stahl, explaining the existing price differential between German and foreign goods.

    According to the Bundesverband Bestattungsbedarf, a coffin in Germany cost on average between 300 and 600 euros if it was intended for a burial and between 250 and 400 euros in the case of cheap goods without carrying handles, which end up in the crematorium. But there is another way. “We do everything that is requested,” says Stahl. Depending on the material, equipment and effort, a coffin can cost many thousands of euros.

    However, there are rarely any extra requests. Instead, the proportion of cremations has been increasing by leaps and bounds for many years to around 70 percent, as reported by Stahl. “As a result, the coffin level has changed in the direction of simple products,” describes the expert.

    And most of them would come from Eastern Europe, above all from Poland and the Czech Republic or from Bulgaria and Romania. In the best case, they are also made of solid wood. Because that is important for the ovens in the crematorium. “A coffin has to last 15 minutes there, because that’s how long it takes for the water to evaporate from the body,” explains Stahl.

    He expects this trend to continue in the coming years. Just like Stephan Neuser from the Undertakers Association. “Many people no longer want to tend a grave for 20 or 30 years,” explains the industry representative. He also expects significantly more work for the around 160 crematoria nationwide in the coming years. The largest in Germany is the Rhein-Taunus crematorium in Braubach-Dachsenhausen in Rhineland-Palatinate.

    Between 30,000 and 35,000 cremations take place in the family company’s eight ovens every year. And from October, customers will have to pay a significant surcharge for this. That is when the new energy supply contract, which managing director Karl-Heinz Könsgen recently had to conclude, begins. “Our purchase price will then be five times as high as it is now,” reports the entrepreneur in the WELT talk. “We cannot compensate for that.”

    And shutting down the gas-fired furnaces isn’t an option, given the full order books. At least not voluntarily. “If we are no longer supplied, it will soon be over,” says Könsgen and looks with concern at a possible gas embargo from Russia. He sees his company as privileged if emergency plans for gas distribution in Germany actually have to be activated, if only for reasons of disease control.

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