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After damage to gravestones: The current state of the old cemetery in Bonn

After damage to gravestones : The current state of the old cemetery in Bonn

The chairwoman of the association for the promotion of the old cemetery in Bonn shows the state of the cemetery, including decay, uncontrolled growth and restoration. Last year, graves were damaged by workers.

The twittering of birds can be heard from the huge plane trees at the entrance of the old cemetery. A few meters behind the main gate, the traffic of Bornheimer Straße is only a muffled rumble. “We are standing in the second largest green area of the city and in the midst of a unique cultural ensemble”, says Eva Hüttenhain. The chairwoman of the Society of Friends and Sponsors of the Old Cemetery knows the graveyard, which was laid out around 300 years ago and is under a preservation order, inside out.

But the cemetery is on the alert: for example, when in 2018 municipal employees caused massive damage to eight gravestones during a stability test. The Planning Committee for the Preservation of Historical Monuments then demanded speedy repairs. All the stones that had fallen over at the time were made secure, the Office for Urban Green Spaces informed the GA when asked.

Hüttenhain sets out to search for the graves. At the aus'm Weerths family grave, she touches traces of repair. The sandstone had broken out of the wall during the routine test. “It has been rejoined well”, Hüttenhain says, visibly satisfied. The group of graves for the district director Philipp Joseph Rehfues, restored by the association for 10,000 euros, is not far away.

A little further on, Hüttenhain’s hand moves over along the damage to the cross of the Bredow family damaged in 2018. “We cried over that; it was so tragic that the rare marble was broken into three pieces”, says the retired social scientist. Here, too, she gives the green light.

“Let’s look for Stephanus”. Hüttenhain is already on her way to the next row of graves. Wherever you look, famous nineteenth century Bonners have found their last rest here. Artistic female statues bend over the graves in mourning. Broken columns, stone urns and violin-playing angels dominate the view. Busts, reliefs and escutcheons remind us of the celebrities who were buried here.

Monument protection will be better integrated

Arriving at the gravestone of the Stephanus family, Hüttenhain says: “it had toppled over during the stability testing. Now it is standing again”. By the way, it has been agreed with the city that the representatives from historical monument protection must always be present during stability testing. A lush fern spreads over the Stephanus grave. “We already have over 200 godparents who look after graves. Hopefully there will be someone for this one as well”, says Hüttenhain. And then she points to a neighbouring grave overgrown with beautiful roses, on which a care sign of the Prälate Schleich Haus charity is stuck. A total of five graves are looked after by homeless people. In the morning light, a new grave is visible between graves that are mostly only covered by unkempt wild growth. You can be only be buried in the cemetery, which was closed in 1884, if you have previously taken care of a gravestone or grave.

“We can only deal with deterioration with godparents”, says Hüttenhain, scraping the stone for the Swedish military Carl Pontus Lilljehorn, on which traces had been left by ivy. The Protestant Church has sponsored care of the grave of the theologian Karl Heinrich Sack. The grave in honour of Mildred Scheel, the founder of the German Cancer Aid, is now also taken care of. The university is also involved. “Unfortunately, money there is tight. But I must absolutely ask again”, mumbles the chairwoman, shocked as she views the neglected corner around the little temple of the mathematician Julius Plücker. A little further on, gravestones are badly damaged or sunk.

Work will continue rapidly

On the wall facing Bornheimer Straße, Hüttenhain again shows with satisfaction how skilfully the city has restored half of the cemetery. The politicians in the Bonn district council have approved the association’s proposal to continue the work as quickly as possible. At the beautifully maintained wall grave of Beethoven’s mother Maria Magdalena there are tourists. They watch in horror as a drug addict injects himself in plain view.

“We are currently making a citizen’s application to extend the gardener’s part-time position. Only a permanent presence can prevent such scenes”, Hüttenhain says angrily. This will also prevent the uncontrolled growth of vegetation. She points out areas of the cemetery that are being reconquered by nature. The tourists have gone after their short visit. They pass areas next to the Beethoven grave that have just been restored by the city. The SPD in Bonn had recently criticised the long-standing terrible condition of this exposed rows of graves – and the city reacted promptly.

(Original text: Ebba Hagenberg-Miliu, translation John Chandler)