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Content here represents the voice of SIGNATURE SUNSETS, an informational initiative designed to broaden and brighten horizons in the funerary domain.

The material is an outgrowth of a pre-planning reference book, Pondering Leaves: Composing and Conveying Your Life Story's Epilogue, written by the author of this blog.

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Saturday, April 16, 2016

CEMETERY CAFES

Journey Journal... Berlin, Germany

BEAN STEAM UNDERTAKING
Photo Source: publicdomainpictures.net

Imagine having arrived at a cemetery to begin exploring the territory when a sign planted along its pastoral trail distracts you from your intended course.  Suddenly, your salivary glands shift into overdrive upon reading that there’s a popular name-brand source of coffee available for purchase in the funeral home back at the entrance to the property.  

Any discerning proprietor of such an establishment must realize the symbolism associated with this accustomed stimulant of human propulsion.  Coffee screams hospitality!  Pots of scintillating java have been reposing ubiquitously in funeral homes for many years, readily available to boost the spirits and strength of heavyhearted clients.

In one instance, at least, the lure of this familiar drink awakened a marketing strategy to whet the appetites of community members, arousing them to be introduced to a funeral home that otherwise could have remained foreign to their consciousness.  A few years ago a drip of hot news appeared on the My Wonderful Life website. The Bowman Funeral Home in Chatham, England had brewed up a secondary, full-bodied attraction at its drive-thru window, which seemed to be percolating quite robustly.  In hopes that people would come to a grinding halt and take advantage of their cordiality, they provided free coffee for two hours early on a Wednesday morning every week.  The idea was intended to jolt awareness and stimulate familiarity with their business so that community members would be left with a strong aftertaste of rich flavors that would linger with them until “time of need.”  More recently, under new ownership as the Dennings of Chatham Funeral Home, tidings of goodwill have been conveyed by offering free coffee for a month to draw attention to a local hospice.  

Though coffee is simmering in funeral establishments around the world, nowadays in Western society, at least, a simple cup of store-bought joe doesn’t necessarily measure up to standards that sophisticated palates have come to expect.  It’s not just a cup of coffee… it’s an experience. People crave the paper cupfuls of diversified liquid refreshment poured under the watchful eyes of the double-tailed mermaid bearing a star-topped crown… or the likes of one of her brand-name-logo cohorts.  Perhaps in an environment of companion loss, availability of a customary drink may be a comforting way of connecting a grieving individual to something familiar.

In 2012 a construction project at the Robinson Funeral Home in Easley, South Carolina marked the advent of a Starbucks “Coffee Corner” attached to the main building for guest use, but also open for public access via a separate entrance by the parking lot. 

Photo Source:  WYFF News 4

New employees on the Robinson staff were trained by Starbucks for their barista roles. The coffee chain’s official menu dictates a selection of beverage and food items. Their contract with the funeral home is one of many food service accounts the company has with wide-ranging institutions and businesses, such as hospitals, auto dealerships, health clubs, etc.

Photo Source:  easleycoffee.com  

Preceding Robinson’s project by about a year, a similar enterprise owned and operated by a funeral home, but licensed by Starbucks to sell its products and use its equipment, was launched in Texas. The Turrentine Jackson Morrow Funeral Home in McKinney may have the distinction of being the first in the nation to institute this type of undertaking.  Here, the speciality hub is adjacent to a floral and gift shop, within sight of stone monuments for sale and down the hall from a room housing an assortment of caskets.  

Photo Source:  Louis DeLuca, The Dallas Morning News

The need for new revenue streams in funerary establishments could possibly have inspired this trademark retail initiative that prompted widespread publicity. Though primarily serving beleaguered client families, these sites also have been open to the public as a convivial meeting place and a convenient spot to pop in for a diversional break and a stiff sip.  Maybe they help dilute the usual intimidation that typically weakens people’s resolve when confronted by the prospect of stepping into a funeral home.  

Perhaps American cemeteries will take a cue from certain European counterparts where their burial grounds are complemented by cafes, possibly suggestive of a finishing touch.    

Berlin's inaugural one, the Finovo Cafe that was established in 2006 by Bernd Bossman, is immediately beyond the entrance gates of the St Matthaus Cemetery in the district of Schoneberg.


Passage toward the decorative entrance of the cottage confers colorful stimulation.


The building’s homey interior exudes eclectic charm, featuring a mishmash of tables and chairs in varied styles.  



Window sills, hallways, and other spots are festooned with knickknacks and wall hangings of different sorts that bespeak an Old World aura effectuated by donations of personal possessions.  

Photo Source: Spiegel Online International 

Cups and saucers with a history from lifelong collections are likely to be used instead of garden variety versions (or paper cups more commonly employed in the United States). 

Surfaces are covered randomly by books and brochures, including an announcement of a forthcoming Death Cafe to be held there.  


Except for a refrigerated unit showcasing desserts, a visitor could easily need a moment to convince oneself that this is a retail shop rather than a private home. 


A small room across from the cafe serves as quarters for a rudimentary flower shop.


The flower shop’s inventory extends outdoors, cozily defining parameters for a terraced enclave with tables and chairs.


  
Following a pause for restorative sustenance and revitalization in the cafe, a wide pathway affords easy access for a jaunt through the cemetery.  


The experience of wandering through burial grounds can be enhanced, likewise, by stopping in at another cemetery hotspot in Berlin – in the Kreuzberg district.  This one, the Cafe Strauss, which opened in 2013, is a Viennese Kaffeehaus situated just past an entrance to the Friedrichswerderscher Kirchhof on Bergmannstrasse (the Friedrichwerderscher Friedhof cemetery).  The cafe represents a metamorphosis of a bygone funeral home.  Its  name derivation relates to the Viennese waltz composers, the German word for ostrich, and the name of the owners.  


Immediately beyond the gate upon stepping foot on cemetery property, a sheltered patio with tables and chairs beckons.  Here, one can drink in the sunshine of life while overlooking vestiges of the dead for whom the bells have tolled since the 19th and 20th centuries. 



Inside, the atmosphere oozes rejuvenation.  With its sizable arched windows inviting daylight and tall ceilings affording plenty of air to breathe in this storied former den of the dead, the ambience summons an urge to relax amid the neatly arranged tables punctuated by vases sprouting bright floral blossoms.


History compounds the intrigue of this endeavor, conceived by a husband and wife team and operating in a section of this 19th-century funeral home where bodies were stationed prior to burial.  During that era and based on a rampant myth, a waiting period of three days was required to assure that no one would be buried alive.  Bells were attached to the bodies, which were supervised by a watchman who, while listening for the sound of ringing, sat in the space that has been repurposed as the cafe’s toilet room.

Nowadays, within this restored (thankfully) room the aroma of freshly brewed coffee blends with the sounds of spirited conversations among a mixture of patrons who are there for different reasons.  For some, a quest to discover graves of the Brothers Grimm along with other notables buried here may include a coffee break.  Other folks seek refuge in the cafe, nestling in a quiet harbor of rest.  “ ‘We are here in the cemetery,’ cries a guest in his phone. Before him is a plate of sandwiches and an organic beer.  Although it's early evening and a little cold, several guests are sitting on the wooden cafĂ© terrace under the brick pillars of the former mortuary.  Two people have unpacked their tablet computers and work. ‘We enjoy the peace,’ said one visitor.”  

Mourners seek the solace of familiarity within the walls of this orderly shop so characteristic of German culture.  Casual locals appreciate availability that’s off the beaten track. Tourists are curious. The cemetery’s custodial workers probably can’t resist an urge to partake of the beverages, sandwiches, and cakes that are out of this world, yet so close at hand to their job site.  


Assorted teas and coffee varieties are specialties of the house.  


Purportedly, a guardian fox sometimes makes an appearance when in need of a change of scenery; typically, he observes funeral activities while perched on mausoleum roofs, but at other times he tends graves by terrorizing rabbits that would devour flowers on grave sites if he weren’t there to protect them.  

In a space that's visible from both the adjacent cafe and outdoors, an artistic creation serves as a backdrop for the appreciation of living bodies proceeding past it.  




A purposeful funeral director briskly emerges along a pathway after inspecting a grave site prepared for imminent interment.  Awaiting guests gather together en masse, some bearing bunches of flowers to deposit over the grave.  Soon the bells will ring, not inside the vestigial funeral home arena that is so alive with customers these days, but from the serene burial terrain rendering an aura of sorrowful quiescence. 


European cafe fare may be a far cry from the commercial precision of Starbucks-prepared concoctions, yet an aura of hospitality in an intimate setting affords a welcoming retreat.  Prospective plans were germinating for additional shops at two other cemetery sites in Berlin, as well as Munich.  Beyond their intrinsic reason for being, integrated activities render such havens all the more attractive. For instance, the Cafe Fritz in Hamburg and the Atrium Cafe in Bristol, England host musical performances and art exhibitions.  

Will cemetery cafe or coffee shop ventures become a trend?  It may not happen overnight, but as death is resolutely dragged out of the closet and increasingly tolerated as a fact of life, incubating entrepreneurs may think “outside the box” and recognize an opportunity to “roast in peace.”

Those who have already laid the groundwork for coffee shops in funeral milieus generated interest and publicity.  The concept was even reason enough to set creative minds in gear.  In 2012 when news of the forthcoming Robinson venture was stirred up by media, The Week introduced a contest via an online article, soliciting submissions of ideas for the cafe's name.  Entries included:  “Time to Meet Your Mocha” (Rabkin), “Latte for Your Own Funeral” (Wolf), “You Can Take It With You” (Frisch), “The Grim Roaster” (Fichtl), “De-Coffinated!” (O’Reilly), “Rigor Mochas” (Quilici), “The Last Cup” (Brandt), “Coffee to Go” (Horowitz), “Mourning Java” (Phillips), “Perkatory” (Lees), “Bean Nice Knowing You” (Weiner), and “A Better Place” (Blasko).

At least the unconventional marketing and service strategies such as these enterprises in the funeral industry bring the ordinarily freeze-dried topic of death to the surface, possibly filtering out unsavory perceptions.  Every little drip of inspiration that connects familiar and acceptable experiences with typically hard-to-swallow elements of mortality may help percolate positive altitudes and possibly even a strong aftertaste of pleasure. 

So what will it be?  Espresso, a latte, cappuccino, or mochaccino?   Sometime if you find yourself dying for a cup of coffee, you know where to go.  Enjoy it… to the last drop! 


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