November 1st, Allerheiligen, or All Saints Day, is often a very important day for Christian cemeteries because families place candles on the graves in the evening as a sign in remembrance of relatives. This candle tradition is very famous in Poland and at Skogskyrkogården (in Sweden where I spent August/ September). I have known about this tradition and was looking forward to experiencing it myself, but as I tried to research where to visit I could not get a direct answer or find any information about this happening in Berlin. Finally I just decided to go and visit a few randomly chosen cemeteries and trust the tradition would be evident. Every single cemetery I visited this was dark, locked, and there was not a candle in sight.
In my anthropology classes we would often talk about what happens when you are trying to examine a cultural phenomenon or topic and you get “no data.” This could happen when there are no answers to your questions in interviews or you find there is very little written / archival information on a specific topic. Instead of giving up, you ask “why” you have no data and here this can lead to even more significant or interesting conclusions.
My conclusion is that this tradition does not happen in Berlin for a few reasons. The first is that this All Saints Day tradition is very Catholic tradition, and East Germany/ Berlin is predominantly protestant, if even religious at all. The second is Berlin does not have a central cemetery (there are 200) and it is filled with people who do not have a family grave here. It would be impossible for every cemetery to be filled with lights because the families are often gone or have moved away. In the countryside the cemeteries are smaller and many generations have been buried in the same place, so a short trip to visit the grave and a very simple thing to do. In Berlin there is greater risk for suspicious activity at night in the cemetery and therefore they are all locked after dark and have tall brick walls protecting them. The cemeteries are just simply not accessible in the evening.
Although I am sad I was not able to witness this very important and beautiful tradition, I saw it from the other side- a cemetery filled with darkness. These spaces take on a different atmosphere at night and become more sinister and dangerous…
Also there were no more tickets left, but I still was able to live streamed this conversation with Ai Weiwei at the Die Akademie der Künste in Berlin. Main take away from Ai Weiwei, “What is art?” “… Art is the freedom of communication.”
Wie man wird, was man ist — How One Becomes What One Is