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The Urn: Material, Burial Forms, and Costs

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If the deceased wishes to be cremated after their death, the bereaved have the option to store the ashes of the deceased in an urn. Various containers are available for this purpose, which can usually be chosen directly from the responsible funeral director. The urn will then be buried in the chosen burial form in a usual manner.

What is an urn?

An urn, also known as an 'outer urn,' is a container in which the ashes of the deceased are stored and later buried. The urn is always used in the case of a cremation.

The deceased is first cremated in a crematorium, the ashes are secured in an ash capsule, and then buried in the urn. Since the ashes are stored in an ash capsule, an urn is theoretically not absolutely necessary. However, it has become an integral part of the cremation process and is generally used today for aesthetic reasons, such as for the memorial service or burial.

The urn can be made of various materials and can be individually designed by the bereaved.

What materials can the urn be made of?

The urn, or burial container, can be made of various materials. Generally, the urn is made of materials such as wood, metal, ceramic, or even marble. Additionally, urns are available in a variety of shapes and colors. According to the wishes of the bereaved, urns can also be individually decorated with motifs or inscriptions.

For tree and sea burials, specifically biodegradable materials that decompose quickly must be used. These containers must disintegrate after a certain time and must not pose a burden on nature.

It is advisable to get detailed advice from your funeral director on this matter. They usually know best which urn is suitable for which type of burial.

Types of urn burials

Just like with a coffin burial, there are various urn burial types that the deceased may have chosen during their lifetime or that the bereaved may wish for.

Earth burial

Earth burial is the most commonly chosen type of burial in our cemeteries. In this type of burial, the urn is traditionally buried in the ground. Depending on cemetery regulations, the so-called urn grave must usually be about 80 cm wide and 80 cm deep. The resting times for an urn grave are between 20 and 25 years.

Of course, different grave plots can be chosen for the urn grave. Thus, there is the option to bury the urn in a single grave or a family grave. Moreover, a tombstone can also be placed at an urn grave.

An additional option for earth burial is to bury the urn anonymously or semi-anonymously. In an anonymous burial, you are not allowed to be present, and the grave site is not labeled in any way. In semi-anonymous burial, you can accompany the urn to the resting place, but the urn grave is ultimately not marked.

Natural burial

In natural burials, there are two types of interment that can be chosen for the urn. One is sea burial, carried out on the high seas (e.g., the North Sea or Baltic Sea), where the urn is sunk in the sea. The other is tree burial, which takes place in designated burial forests.

The advantage of tree burial is twofold: one, it provides a permanent place of mourning for the bereaved, and two, the grave site is marked with a tree plaque.


A columbarium is a so-called urn wall that consists of many different chambers in which the urn or the ashes of the deceased are enclosed. These can also be found in almost every cemetery.

The individual urn chambers are closed with stone or glass plates. Just like any other type of burial, a memorial service or burial in the presence of the bereaved can also occur here.

Keeping the urn at home

It should be noted in advance that keeping an urn at home is not permitted in Germany. Every deceased person must be buried in an appropriate cemetery, regardless of the form. This is mandatory.

However, in some countries like Switzerland or the Netherlands, keeping the urn at home is allowed.

Reinterring the urn

When 'reinterment' is mentioned, it means that the resting place where the urn lies is exhumed, and the remains of the deceased are removed from the original grave. According to cemetery regulations, reinterment is considered a disturbance of the peace of the dead, which is why reinterring an urn is only permitted in urgent and exceptional cases.

If an urn is to be reinterred, an application must be submitted to the responsible cemetery administration. The applicant bears the costs of the reinterment. Of course, they also need the approval of the relatives and those entitled to use the grave.

Urn grave marker and urn decoration

Just like with a coffin burial, you also have the option of placing a gravestone (single or double gravestone) at the urn grave. This can vary depending on the cemetery regulations, so it is essential to inform yourself about the requirements beforehand.

If you want to decorate the urn beautifully for the memorial service, you are free to embellish it with decorations. The classics for urn decoration include a wreath and arrangements, typically made of roses, carnations, callas, and lilies.

Cost of an urn

The costs for an urn can vary greatly. Unfortunately, a general price cannot be specified. A standard urn generally starts at around 50 Euros. If you want an urn that you can customize, the costs can quickly rise to up to 200 Euros. For an urn made of biodegradable material, you should expect costs of up to 300 Euros.


An urn is a popular alternative to the traditional coffin burial today. However, all burial types, such as earth burial or natural burial, can also be used for the urn.

A significant advantage of an urn grave is, of course, the lower costs for maintaining the grave site, as an urn grave is considerably smaller.

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