Why are Germans sending their loved ones’ ashes to Switzerland?

Swiss undertakers say a rising number of Germans are asking for their deceased loved ones' ashes to be sent to Switzerland. Here's why.

A cemetery in Zurich.
A cemetery in Zurich. Photo by Tomas Trajan on Unsplash

What’s happening?

Swiss funeral homes are increasingly carrying out jobs for bereaved families from Germany – particularly those in border regions, Swiss broadcaster SRF has reported. 

Berto Biaggi, who owns a funeral home in Gipf-Oberfrick, Aargau, a 10-minute drive from the German border, told how he is often commissioned by bereaved families in Germany to request the urns with the ashes of the deceased from his German colleagues. 

The urns can then be handed back to the family in Switzerland. 

“This has increased in the last 10 years,” he told the broadcaster. Biaggi said he takes on this task six times more often today than previously. And he even receives requests from northern Germany.

READ ALSO: What to do when a foreigner dies in Germany

Why are German families looking to Switzerland after death?

This phenomenon of Germans sending their deceased’s ashes to Switzerland is due to a German burial law known as the “Friedhofszwang” or cemetery obligation. 

The 200-year-old rule bans coffins and urns from being buried anywhere other than a cemetery. It was originally passed to prevent outbreaks of disease.

Relatives in Germany do not, for example, usually receive the urn after cremation – it is handed over directly to cemetery management.

Some German states have tweaked this law slightly, so it can differ depending on where you live. Generally though, keeping an urn at home is strictly forbidden.

Südfriedhof cemetery in Leipzig, Germany.

Südfriedhof cemetery in Leipzig, Germany. Photo by Abenteuer Albanien on Unsplash

However, there is a little more freedom in Switzerland.

“Legally, the funeral in Switzerland is completed with the cremation,” said Biaggi. “The state doesn’t care what happens to the ashes afterwards.”

That is why undertakers are allowed to hand the urns that they have requested from the German undertakers back to the bereaved families, who travel to Switzerland from Germany. 

“I hand them over with a little flower – and that’s it,” Biaggi said. This service, which makes burial outside a cemetery possible, costs 200 Swiss francs.

So what happens to the urns?

Theoretically, if Germans wanted to bury their loved ones outside a cemetery, this would have to take place in Switzerland (or somewhere else outside Germany) because of the ‘graveyard obligation’ in Germany.

But Biaggi said: “What the relatives do with the urn is largely beyond my knowledge. I’m not there when they bury it in Switzerland.”

Many of those affected are likely to take the urn back to Germany after it has been handed over.

READ ALSO: ‘Grabesruhe’: What are Switzerland’s strict rules around burials?

It is unclear how often bereaved families in Germany use the services of undertakers in Switzerland. Neither the Association of Swiss Funeral Services nor the Swiss Post Office has figures.

The German General Customs Directorate said that, unlike ashes, urns have to be “customs cleared” – i.e. declared – when they are re-imported into Germany. Thanks to a tax exemption, there are no costs involved.

However, the German customs authorities say they will not stop people with their cremated loved ones whose last journey has taken them across the Swiss border, and this also applies to people who transport the urn privately.

The enforcement of the cemetery obligation is a matter for the federal states, they said. 

READ ALSO: How Germans are rethinking their way of death

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How Germany wants to make it easier for families to own a home

Germany is launching a new loan programme to help families get on the property ladder. Here's what you need to know.

How Germany wants to make it easier for families to own a home

Although Germany is known as a country of renters – in 2021 more than half the population (50.5 percent) lived in rented accommodation, the highest share in the EU – many people are choosing to buy their own property. 

And the German government wants to make this move easier for families with children. 

In June, a new subsidy programme called Home Ownership for Families (Wohneigentum für Familien or WEF) is set to launch. It replaces the Baukindergeld system which saw families being able obtain a building permit or buy a property. Through that programme, families could receive a subsidy of €1,200 per child per year over 10 years.

The government said that in 2020 alone, 175,000 families took advantage of the Baukindergeld programme.

READ ALSO: Everything that changes in June 2023

What is the WEF?

At the beginning of the year, Housing and Urban Development and Building Minister Klara Geywitz (SPD) announced that a new property subsidy for families would launch in 2023. However, unlike Baukindergeld, the WEF subsidy is not a grant. Instead, families will receive a low-interest loan.

What will be subsidised?

The ‘Home Ownership for Families’ programme provides funding for the construction or initial purchase of a climate-friendly residential building. People can apply for a loan for the following costs to be subsidised in a residential unit:

  • Construction costs,
  • Costs for specialist planning, construction supervision, sustainability certification
  • Material costs for personal contributions

Families with an annual income of up to €60,000 can apply for a loan from the KfW bank. For each additional child under the age of 18 living in the household, the annual income can be €10,000 higher (so €70,000 with two children, for example).

The government is ploughing in €350 million per year into the project. Applicants can receive a maximum loan of up to €240,000.

The loan applies to new buildings or first-time purchases that meet at least the Efficiency House 40 standard, but not to existing properties. Germany does offer some grants for renovation measures in these cases. 

Reader question: How do I install a heat pump in Germany property?

Applicants must live in the properties themselves, they must be the owner and they cannot have claimed a previous Baukindergeld subsidy.

Anyone interested in the programme should wait until it has launched and all the details are on the table before going ahead with any projects. The subsidy has to be applied for before a delivery, service or purchase contract is underway. 

READ ALSO: What to know about mortgages and fees when buying property in Germany

According to the government, the home ownership subsidy is intended to provide an incentive for the “creation of energy-efficient, high-quality residential property in new buildings”.

What are the interest rate conditions for the WEF subsidy?

The exact interest rate conditions for the programme have not been announced. However, it is known that the subsidy will be granted exclusively in the form of a low-interest subsidy loan and that there will be no direct grants or repayment subsidies. The Housing Ministry is aiming for an interest rate reduction of 2 to 4 percentage points.

The initial interest rate is expected to be announced shortly before the start of the programme.

When will the WEF subsidy start?

The programme is scheduled to start on June 1st, 2023.

How many people own a home in Germany?

According to Statista figures, in 2022 just under 29 million people lived in a house they owned in Germany, 36.9 million rented, while 4.62 million lived in shared accommodation.

READ ALSO: Ask an expert: Is now a good time to buy property in Germany?