Page last updated at 08:20 GMT, Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Germany plans 'cemetery pyramid'

By Tristana Moore
BBC News, Berlin

An artist's impression of the Great Pyramid. Photo: Friends of The Great Pyramid e.V.
An artist's impression of the Great Pyramid
It sounds like an absurd idea. The plan is to build a massive pyramid, filled with human remains, on a windswept field near the city of Dessau, eastern Germany.

But the organisers of the project are adamant that this is not a PR stunt. There were pyramids in ancient Egypt, so why not in modern-day Germany, they argue.

"We're doing this because the world wants it," said Jens Thiel, one of the initiators of the project.

"The new Great Pyramid would be a very efficient cemetery. It would have a huge capacity. A 150m-high pyramid could contain five million stones, it would be the size of six football fields and millions of people could be buried there."

Mr Thiel, an economist, has teamed up with a writer, Ingo Niermann, to develop the project and they have managed to secure a government grant.

It's the first cemetery for people of all nationalities and all religious beliefs
Jens Thiel
Friends of The Great Pyramid

They say more than 700 people from all over the world have already reserved a stone, keen to have their ashes kept in the giant structure.

In the future, these people will be able to buy a stone, which would cost up to 700 euros (535; $1,070) each.

"Lots of people don't like normal cemeteries. In Britain, 50% of people want their ashes to be scattered, in the US it is about 40%," said Mr Thiel.

"The new Great Pyramid is a global monument. It's the first cemetery for people of all nationalities and all religious beliefs. It is a very beautiful, peaceful idea."

Each concrete block would house an urn containing ashes, or memorabilia of the deceased.

Architectural competition

The organisers say the pyramid would grow gradually over the years.

It's a very graphic way of dealing with the topic of death
Rem Koolhaas
architectural competition chief

"I've reserved a stone in the new pyramid because I want to be part of the project. It's very simple, I want to be cremated and I want my ashes to be buried there," said Jonas Obleser, a neuroscientist from Leipzig.

"The new pyramid is not a monument built for one king, it will be there for people of all faiths, for atheists, for everyone. It will grow for thousands of years. I would like to be one of the first people to be buried there."

The organisers launched an architectural competition for the construction of the pyramid last September.

Architecture firms submitted their plans. and the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas headed the jury to select the final concept.

On Monday, several hundred people attended a gala evening in Berlin to hear the latest developments.

"We have seen four different interpretations of the pyramid - they are all interesting concepts," Rem Koolhaas said.

"In the West, we have been very phobic about death, but because of demographics, death will be imposed on all of us.

"There is a constant ageing process - it's important that this issue is addressed and it's a very graphic way of dealing with the topic of death. I'm curious to find out what happens in the end," Mr Koolhaas said.


Originally, the plan was to build the pyramid on a derelict site near Dessau.


The organisers say the pyramid would act as a catalyst for job creation and economic growth - but many local residents are not so enthusiastic about the project.

"Death is such a taboo," said Mr Thiel. "We're looking at different sites. We could build the Great Pyramid anywhere in the world. It would be a kind of theme park about life and death."

Supporters are hoping the pyramid will find its resting place in Dessau.

"It would be beautiful if the pyramid could be built here in Germany," said Mr Obleser.

Sceptics will argue that this is a far-fetched idea and opponents are bound to come up with a reactionary "not-in-my-backyard" response.

The odds seem to be stacked against them, but organisers are determined to prove that they can fulfil their dreams.


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