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Colourful coffins to brighten death!

In Germany, coffins are no longer dull caskets, as Modern variations in coffins attempt to bring more colour into the mix

india Updated: Oct 27, 2006 14:53 IST

There is no denying that black is the colour of death. People wear black at funerals, hearses are nearly always black and many find themselves in black or at least darkly coloured coffins when it is time to go to their final resting place.

Modern variations in coffins attempt to bring more colour into the mix alongside traditional classic oak and pine caskets in black and grey, but there is a lot of inhibition over entering the afterlife in such a vessel.

That narrow outlook can change when a colourful or beautifully painted coffin best reflects the personality of the deceased. Even so, coffins in living colour remain the exception.

"Change in that area is very slow," said Winfried Koebe, chairman of a German association of independent funeral directors based in Espelkamp.

Although some modern models have been on the market for 15 to 20 years, demand is limited.

"Of 150 to 180 caskets that I sell per year, about five are modern," Koebe said. He noted that his customers recently have preferred lighter-coloured wooden coffins and lighter-framed coffins.

Few people want a colourful or especially fancy coffin, said Koebe. People often rely on the judgment of the funeral director, who can recommend coffins in various colours to arouse interest.

It is always important that the casket matches the personality of the deceased. As a rule, it makes little sense to suggest burying a 90-year-old woman in a colourful coffin.

And it helps everyone involved when people plan their funerals in advance, including letting loved ones know what kind of coffin they would like to be buried in. But few people do that, Koebe said.

Siegfried von Lauvenberg, director of the association for German funeral home suppliers, said his experience has been similar.

Many people make it clear to their relatives whether they want to be buried or cremated, but more detailed requests such as the preferred style of coffin are rarely expressed.

A clearly stated desire to be buried in a fancy coffin could make it easier for a loved one to select one of the modern-styled coffins when the time comes.

New models are available in many different styles: lacquered with the motifs of famous artists and in finishes that look like the weave of a basket.

While almost everything is imaginable, clients have to dig deep into their pockets for modern designs, which can cost 200 to 300 euros ($252 to $377) extra per coffin. Ordinary ones cost around 600 euros, including the funeral.

Ultimately, relatives of the deceased will have the option of choosing a colourful coffin only, if the funeral director offers it.

"He decides which coffin to suggest," said Lauvenberg. Normally the funeral director and the coffin maker work on various product lines together. Younger funerals director are often more open to new things, however, not all aspects of a coffin can be changed as easily as colour and form.

"A coffin must be made of wood," said Kerstin Gernig of the Federal Association of German Funeral Directors, naming just one of the parameters unlikely to change in the future.

Coffins have to be biodegradable and must allow air to reach the body thus ruling out metal or artificial materials in coffins across Germany.

First Published: Oct 27, 2006 14:53 IST