Giant coffins burning issue for German crematoriums

Wed Feb 15, 2012 12:52pm EST
 
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By Alice Baghdjian

BERLIN (Reuters) - Crematoriums in Germany are struggling to adapt to an increasingly obese population and a boom in extra-large coffins that has led at least one to widen its oven doors.

The Schweinfurt crematorium in Bavaria had to widen the doors by 30 cm to handle larger bodies, which burn longer and hotter and now arrive around once a week, its manager said.

"We burn particularly large coffins Monday mornings when the ovens are cold," Helmuth Schlereth said by telephone from the southern region. "There is more body fat that spreads out and has to be burned."

Other crematoriums in the country also report an increase in the number of XXL-coffins, as Germany grapples with the growing obesity affecting many developed and emerging economies.

The trend has been fuelled in part by a high-fat national cuisine known for its sausages, pork and beer, as well as a decrease in exercise among the population, which over the years has translated into bigger corpses.

"The problem is that the deceased are getting heavier, and so the burning takes longer," said Silke Meboldt at the Albstadt-Ebingen crematorium in the neighboring state of Baden-Wuerttemberg. It's becoming a bigger problem."

Crematorium ovens normally operate at 800-1000 degrees Celsius but the burning process for obese bodies is hotter and takes longer than normal.

Older crematoriums in particular have been adversely affected by the trend, as the incinerators are simply not designed to deal with large bodies.

"If the crematorium is older, or the design hasn't been thought out properly then they'll find that the coffins don't fit in," said Bastian Schenk, at the Aalen crematorium in southern Germany.

(Reporting by Alice Baghdjian, editing by Paul Casciato)