Meissen | On some coffins is affixed the words “risk of infection”, on others one inscribed in chalk “corona”, many also carry the warning “no mortuary service”.
• Read also: All developments in the COVID-19 pandemic
At the Meissen crematorium, in the former GDR (east of Germany), up to three coffins are stacked on top of each other in the room usually reserved for the meditation of relatives, some are even stored in the corridors while awaiting cremation.
The city is facing a dramatic rise in the death toll from COVID-19.
Saxony, where Meissen is located, is one of the regions worst hit by the pandemic after being relatively untouched by the first wave last spring.
In three decades, Jörg Schaldach, director of this crematorium, had never seen so many deaths over such a long period.
“It started in mid-November. The numbers keep increasing, ”he told AFP. “The problem is that the funeral cold rooms are full. We are in a state of disaster, ”he continues. The management therefore had no other choice but to use the ceremony and meditation room to deposit coffins.
The benches and chairs that relatives usually sit on have been pushed to the back of the room to make way for rows of wooden coffins. Many are surrounded by a strip of transparent film used to seal a second time those of victims of the novel coronavirus.
“Right now we get 400 (coffins) in a week to be cremated,” twice the usual number in winter, according to Schaldach.
A funeral director Matthias Möbius has been waiting for an hour in the parking lot to be given the green light to unload a coffin.
“Normally it only takes 15 minutes, we arrive, we unload, we go to the office to settle the papers, and it’s over,” he explains. “These days, we’re closer to the hour and a half.”
Behind him, three other funeral directors’ vehicles await their turn.
Mr Möbius says that in his twenty-year career this winter is the one where he has “by far” the most work.
To cope, the Meissen crematorium now works 24 hours a day, seven days a week with two ovens and 60 daily cremations.
The staff work overtime and give up their weekends. Retirees have been called back to help.
Ingo Thöring, 76, former employee, is one of them despite his age which places him in the population at risk.
He accompanies forensic pathologists to verify the identity of the dead and determine whether any of them turn out to be suspicious cases.
No question for him to give in to the fear of contamination. It “is useless at work”. Anyway, “at my age, I don’t fear anything anymore,” he emphasizes.
Despite the closure of all non-essential shops, schools, sports and cultural venues, the second epidemic wave hit Germany much harder.
The 24-hour death toll even broke a new record Thursday at 1,244.
In the most severely affected areas, other crematoriums are also facing difficulties.
The city of Dresden announced on Wednesday that a building usually used to store flood protection equipment will be temporarily converted into a death chamber.
In Nuremberg, Bavaria, containers for keeping the coffins in the cold were put into service.
And in the Czech Republic, neighboring Saxony, the government has decided that it will no longer accept “imported” bodies for cremation.
For the manager of the Meissen crematorium, the German authorities should have taken severe restrictions earlier.
He also points to the opponents of the lockdown who gathered in droves in a parade in November in the nearby city of Leipzig.
“What I would like to say to the skeptics is come and help us transport the coffins (…) We have moved 750 tons of dead”, he pleaded. “Some people think that all this is the scene of a film shot during the summer. Those who deny the coronavirus (…) can come and touch all this for themselves ”.