Benkel thumbs through images of his various finds on his cell phone. There’s Super Mario, hip-high and in full color, or a statue of a deceased boy in his jersey, holding a soccer ball. There are headstones with the departed’s toothbrush and hard drive built in, and graves that declare their occupants to be fans of Star Trek, Kiss or Metallica. And there are the many portraits. For example, Johanna (1936-2010) is shown together with her husband, who is kissing her on the cheek. Other pictures were clearly taken at the store or the bowling alley. One in Frankfurt shows a woman reclining in a negligee.
Today’s cemeteries, it seems, contain a bit of the Facebook concept, with the gravestone as a last personal profile, carved in stone for decades to come. It represents a last chance for a person to establish, once and for all, who they were — or who they wanted to be — even if the person’s survivors do get the final say.
Some use their gravestones to take a final accounting, publicly and without shame. “I wanted so much, but I didn’t achieve it all,” reads one stone. In the city of Mannheim, one person chose a clearer message: “It’s all shit.” Some even issue a final threat from beyond the grave: “Vengeance is mine.”