Germany's quest for a bargain... to the grave
"If you find it cheaper anywhere else, we'll pay you back the difference, plus 30 euros," reads the advert -- not for the latest electrical device on special offer on the high street but for a funeral.Germany, which bore discount supermarket giants Aldi and Lidl to the delight of bargain hunters, has seen a growing demand since 2009 for discount funerals, defined by the industry as costing under EUR 1,200 (USD 1,700).
Just over a quarter of all German funerals are expected to be of the cut-price variety this year, according to burials' specialist website, Bestattungen.de, up from 16 percent two years ago and 20 percent in 2010.
"Some people find themselves obliged by law to bury their father with whom they have not had any contact for 20 years," Hartmut Woite, head of the Berlin-based company Sargdiscount, or Coffindiscount, told AFP.
"They do not want to pay thousands of euros, that's understandable. Everything is done by phone, by fax, by mail," he said.
Most people opt for a cut-price funeral because they are burying a distant relative; others choose it because of geographical distance and about 41 percent cite financial reasons, Bestattungen.de said.
A classic funeral in Germany costs on average EUR 2,800 to 3,500, or twice that if the plot and upkeep of the grave are included, according to the German undertakers' federation.
But at Sargdiscount, they cost from EUR 479, although that is only for orders placed by phone and entails a cremation in the Czech Republic with no ceremony and the ashes buried in a common grave.
"The only thing that bothers my customers is the name of my company," Woite said, adding that he believed he had introduced transparency into a sector that was "too secretive".
'Struggle of the classes'
Naturally, the trend for discount funerals has its critics.
"It's not a question of transparency," Rolf Lichtner, spokesman for the German undertakers' federation, said.
"Less than EUR 500, that doesn't even cover the costs. Either there are hidden costs, or the body is treated without dignity," he added.
But Patrick Schneider, whose firm Aarau operates across the country and offers funerals in Berlin for EUR 499, hit back, saying: "Dignity has nothing to do with money."
His low prices are down to ordering coffins in the hundreds rather than by the dozen, as well as getting special prices at the crematorium for being a good customer, he said.
Dressed all in black and with a carefully groomed white beard, Schneider organises funerals-to-order for his wealthier customers at a plush, antique-furnished countryside building.
By contrast, business for his 499-euro funerals is conducted at Aarau's spartan premises in Berlin where the only splash of colour can be found in a catalogue of urns laid on the table.
"The quest for the cheap, the easy, what can be thrown away, now doesn't exclude burials," Dagmar Haenel, an anthropologist at the University of Bonn, commented.
"At the same time we also have a rise in very individualised burials; sometimes very costly" by rich and educated people, she said.
"When it comes to funerals, the struggle of the classes is gaining ground."
AFP/ Aurelia End/ Expatica