Lonely Funeral: Burying Amsterdam’s anonymous dead

Unidentified baby’s grave 2016 (© NOS)

With the anonymity of urban life in a globalised world, we hear every day of people who have died alone and unidentified. In Amsterdam, there are about 20 such cases every year, and each person is given a funeral, albeit a very lonely one. They are rich and poor, Dutch and foreign, drug addicts, homeless men and women, old and young, even babies. They are found in the street, in the canals, in boats, in old buildings.

Michele Ernsting spoke with now retired municipal employee Ger Fritz, who took the initiative in 1990 after a similar initiative in Groningen in the northeast of the Netherlands, to see to it that each person was given a dignified burial with flowers and music. He was then joined by the late Frank Starik, a poet who wrote a few lines for each of these forgotten unknown, and together they created a municipal ritual that continues to this day. Producer Michele Ernsting speaks with both men at the grave sites in Amsterdam.

Produced by Michele Ernsting

Broadcast on February 13, 2008