Friday, December 23, 2011

In Memoriam

German Wikipedia (link).

We get a German-language weekly, the Wochenpost, passed on by friends. A recent brief feature told me something I should’ve known, having lived in Bavaria, but in our youth we just absorb the old and worn and don’t think much about it. Life draws us on. Seems that in old, poor days Bavarians buried their dead on a board or plank. They called it the plank of the dead (Totenbrett). They wrapped the body in a sheet and tied it to a narrow board. They lowered the board into the grave or, untying the strings, let the body slide into the grave. When they saved the plank, the carpenter shaped and decorated it to make a marker erected either by the grave itself or in some other public place. They often carved some motto on the board—as later, also, onto grave markers made of stone. Here is a sample:

This Plank here says to Thee:
“What You are now were we,
What We are now you’ll be,
For all Eternity.”

As a boy in Tirschenreuth I saw those Dead-Planks standing here and there awesomely weathered, indeed almost black, in the cemetery where we used to go sleigh-riding in the winter. It had a little building, too, and, sometimes a dead person was laid out in there on a stone table. For this reason we always went and looked through the glass door. It was a strange sort of moment, always, but at that age we took it all in stride. Other days, those. We lived with death casually. It was a part of life.

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