German firm offers do-it-yourself gravestones

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The Independent Online

Not long to live and don't want give your relatives unnecessary stress? No problem: thanks to German innovation, you can now assemble your own gravestone in under an hour.

Not long to live and don't want give your relatives unnecessary stress? No problem: thanks to German innovation, you can now assemble your own gravestone in under an hour.

The "Ikea-principle" gravestone, Germany's newest piece of macabre Vorsprung durch Technik, is the response by southern German company Grabwerk (Graveworks) to the nation's extortionate funeral costs and "boring" burial culture. It is a low-cost self-assembly glass and stainless-steel memorial, which uses atomic nanotechnology to clean itself, can be personalised, and is light enough to be shipped around the world or simply self-driven to your chosen burial spot.

"It comes in two flat-pack 45kg packets, so it's very easy to transport," says Würzburg-based artist Wolfgang Hrapia, the founder of Grabwerk.

"With only six screws, it's easier to put up than Ikea furniture," he says.

The cost - €1,600 (£1,118) for the 2m x 80cm model to fit a coffin burial site, or €1,500 (£1,048) for a smaller, 80cm x 80cm memorial to mark your final resting place if you're cremated - is substantially more than the price of one of the Swedish furniture giant's iconic "Billy" bookcase.

However, it is a relative snip compared to the usual expense of getting buried in Germany. "Death is expensive here," says Mr Hrapia. "Normally, you're looking at €2,000 (£1,398) for a really basic, no-frills gravestone. Then you have to reckon on at least €300 (£209) to have the thing erected. If you want anything written on it, then you'll pay around €10 (£7) per letter."

A recent nationwide survey found the price-tag of your final journey in Germany ranges between €1,700 (£1,188) and €6,400 (£4,474). Over the longer term, those you leave behind will face additional costs.

Typically, you "rent" your final resting place in Germany. Mr Hrapia paid €2,500 (£1,747) for his parents' joint coffin lot in Würzburg, a 25-year lease which he can renew. Indeed, costs are so high, some Germans are even getting their relatives cremated in Polish border towns and cities, where the low cost of living means the cost of dying is cheap, too.

Germany's new flat-pack graves (www.grabwerk.com) join other developments in international burial chic: an Austrian firm now sells solar-powered graves with a changeable digital display. And in California, a designer has developed a gravestone with a video message pre-recorded video message by the deceased.

With his flat-pack gravestones, Mr Hrapia is clearly hoping to profit from Germany's passionate love affair with Ikea.

But strict cemetery regulations concerning memorial design and material are preventing business from booming.

Since the firm started trading in June, it has shipped just 10 gravestones to customers in Germany and Austria. Three had to be sent back after they were rejected by cemeteries.

Now Mr Hrapia plans to ship his flat-packs to Britain.

Although there are no national government guidelines for gravestone design in Britain, individual parishes favour traditional, local materials.

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