HAMBURG, Germany (Reuters) - Gardener Lars Rehder stands next to a fresh grave in a cemetery and wonders which flowers best match the blue and white of Hamburg SV.
Rehder is working on a new “soccer graveyard,” where fans can find final rest a stone’s throw from their team’s stadium, buried underneath original grass from the Hamburg pitch and lying in blue coffins featuring the Bundesliga leaders’ logo.
“Classic rows of gravestones seemed boring,” said Rehder, recalling how he came up with the idea for the graveyard with a stone-cutter friend a few years ago.
”Thousands of fans take the shortcut through the cemetery to get to the stadium every time there’s a match on.
“It seemed like the obvious thing to do when this patch of cemetery became available,” the 36-year-old said about the site, which opened last month but so far contains only one grave.
Set up in a semi-circle, the site allowed graves to be arranged “like fans in a stadium” on terrace-style steps surrounding a patch of green -- “the pitch,” Rehder said.
Wealthy fans might be attracted by what he called the “VIP lounge” family grave for 10,500 euros, while the less well-off could opt for a smaller spot for an urn at 2,500 euros.
“It’s cheaper. I call it the supporters’ stand option,” Rehder said, looking around the site, which mourners enter through a black, stylized goal.
Pensioner Horst Petersen said he had come to almost every home match the German club had played over the past 40 years but the cemetery was not for him.
”It’s funny,“ the 63-year-old said, watching HSV players train for a match. ”I always used to tell my wife that once I pass away, she should make sure I‘m buried close to the pitch -- so that I’ll always know the score.
“But now that it’s actually feasible, I‘m not sure. I’d rather people remembered me in their thoughts than through a special grave.”
Fellow fan Thomas Riebesehl said he was tempted.
“A large part of my life happens here,” the 37-year-old said as he entered the HSV fan shop at the stadium.
“It would be attractive to stay nearby (after my death) and to only be surrounded by other HSV fans and be sure no St Pauli supporter is near,” he said with a grin, referring to the club’s local rivals in the northern port city.
Fans opting for a soccer burial can choose between a range of HSV coffins, urns and flower arrangements in the club’s colors.
Blue, white and black are the colors of the club’s logo, merchandise, stadium seats and away shirts, though the team play in red and white when at home.
Special funeral ceremonies are also available. “Clients can decide to have their favorite match sequences played at the ceremony,” said Thomas Amm from undertakers SCI Deutschland, sitting in his office next to a bright blue coffin decorated with an HSV scarf and cap.
“We can pull out the 1983 European Cup victory, for example, and play that in the chapel.”
Amm said he and the two other undertakers offering soccer burials had to pay a license fee for the use of the HSV logo, money the club used to maintain the cemetery.
“We expect the graves to sell very quickly,” said Christian Reichert, who saw the project through as an HSV board member.
Reichert said that before the cemetery opened the club had received many enquiries from fans wanting their ashes strewn across the pitch after their death or to be buried underneath the penalty spot, options not allowed under German burial rules.
“Ninety percent of my friends have an HSV background,” he said. “After my death, they will continue to do their pilgrimage to the stadium every two weeks. And they will have a chance to stop by my grave. That’s better than being buried some 200, 300 kms away from Hamburg, where no-one will visit.”
Not everyone is enthusiastic about the new site, where up to 500 fans can be buried.
“Lunacy!” said Harry Mueller, 76, visiting his parents’ grave near the new soccer cemetery. “It will turn into a funfair. Soccer has no place on a graveyard.”
“It’s not to my taste,” agreed pensioner Johanna Kubbe. “A cemetery is a cemetery. People should show some sensitivity.”
Gardener Rehder, meanwhile, has to deal with his own headache: finding the right flowers for the first grave.
“It’s autumn. There aren’t many blue flowers,” he said. “Gentian might work but the blossoms aren’t dense enough. It’s the same problem with asters.”
On two flowerbeds which Rehder has already prepared as showcase graves, he has simply spray-painted some heather blue.
Editing by Clare Fallon