A crematorium is a sobering place to visit during a pandemic. Especially the one in the town of Meissen, eastern Germany, where coffins are stacked on top of each other in every available space.
Attached to each simple wooden casket is a small piece of paper giving the basic details about the body inside. The name of the deceased, date of birth and death.
And chalked on to the side of so many is the word COVID. We are standing amongst the victims of a virus which has hit Meissen hard.
In the basement, vast furnaces and workers are operating around the clock. They need to, such is the demand for cremations in a town which has experienced one of the highest COVID-19 rates in Germany.
Image: Chalked onto the side of so many is the word COVID
We watch coffin after coffin disappearing into the flames knowing that family members, unable to be with their loved ones as they passed away, will be desperate to collect the urn of ashes to mourn.
Crematorium director Jörg Schaldach speaks of sadness for the families.
“For us, the problem isn’t storage. The problem is actually for the bereaved,” he says.
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“The ambulance leaves the yard and they never see their relatives again. There are no hospital visits. People understand that this is a crisis and they accept that. But the psychological aspect of parting is very, very difficult.”
It is made all the more difficult by the fact that COVID restrictions mean normal funeral services aren’t possible.
Even the chapel at the crematorium is now a storage facility for the dead. The chairs, which before COVID would have accommodated mourners, have been moved out to make way for coffins.
At this, Meissen’s sole crematorium, they dealt with more than 1,400 bodies last month, double the number a year ago.
And Mr Schaldach worries that figure could be higher by the end of January.
The high COVID infection and death rate in Meissen has created nervousness amongst many residents, who ask why the town has been so hard hit.
Image: Meissen’s crematorium dealt with more than 1,400 bodies last month – double the number a year ago
One elderly man said: “It’s because the old live here in eastern Germany. The young are in the west. And COVID affects the old much more badly.”
Another says: “We are near to the Czech border. There is high incidence there and traffic.” He struggles to speak as he says it is so sad, so upsetting to see what is happening.
There is genuine fear and worry here. The crematorium sits in the middle of a residential area and it must be unnerving for people seeing the constant stream of hearses and vans arriving.
Mr Schaldach is hoping that tough lockdown restrictions the German government has decided to keep in place will make a difference.
He lives in the community where he works and feels the loss shared by so many here.
COVID rates are now falling in Germany, but he agrees with the government that there is no room for complacency.
Source : Sky News