“GARDEN OF THE STARS”— An Enchanting Final Resting Place


An Enchanting Final Resting Place

Amos Lassen

Bernd Bossmann swings himself up on a tree every Sunday morning to meditate. This tree is his “antenna for the universe” and is in a public cemetery, the old St. Matthäus churchyard in Berlin-Schöneberg. Children sit on the benches below and learn from their educators about dying. Not far away are the Brothers Grimm, from whose stories Pasquale Plastino and Stéphane Riethauser borrowed the narrative thread of their documentary.

Bossmann was a lot in his life. In 1984, the trained nurse and psychiatric nurse came to Berlin and mixed the scene under the pseudonyms Ichgola Androgyn, Theodor van den Boom and Kläre Grube solo or in various groups as an actor, cabaret artist, drag queen and gay activist. In the meantime he also works as an undertaker, who accompanies the relatives of the “star children” in their mourning. He has also been operating the first German cemetery café since 2006. He left gay life in the 1990s when realizing that all of his friends were dead and all under the age of 40. His friend and colleague Christoph Josten aka Ovo Maltine is one of them and lies in the community grave that he and his artist colleagues bought.

Directors Plastino and Riethauser deliberately built the Garden of Stars around Bossmann and his workplace. Apart from him, nobody has a say, archive material reminds us of old days. Then Bossmann & Co included Rosa von Praunheim and Michael Brynntrup. Now Bossmann pleads for a new sepulchral culture that sees cemeteries as living places where children’s laughter replaces silence. He considers death itself to be something really great, the “New Year’s Eve of our life”, as Bossmann calls it.

Cemeteries are very serious places. Places where you only sneak with your head down, as if you don’t want to see anyone, not seen. Bossmann takes a completely different view. He was always used to others looking at him when he appeared as one of his characters or as an activist for the gay scene. When he dies, he doesn’t think much of looking ashamedly away. Death is part of life and should be treated as such. Grief is necessary as are cakes, dance and laugher. Because everyone is equal before death.

Singer and actress Zazie de Paris reads Grimm’s fairy tale “Gevatter Tod”, which gives “Garden of the Stars” its frame. The Grimm Brothers are also buried in the Berlin cemetery, the setting for this documentary. “The Godfather Death” is the name of this fairy tale and it is read aloud at the beginning and is taken up again and again during the following sixty minutes. It is something like the constant in a film that is not going to unravel. Instead, every topic is touched on here, which somehow has to do with the cemetery, said garden or Bossmann himself.

No one in Germany had ever thought of opening a café in a cemetery as Bossmann did. Everyone thought he was crazy when he talked about this plan. But he had to do it and he did.

Of course, many people are buried in the cemetery. Bossmann also looks after funerals of a different kind here. He takes the view that people have to deal with death and funerals openly. Little children should have a name so that the parents can say goodbye and siblings should also be here, precisely because they are often not taken seriously during mourning. Death is too serious for that. Children grieve too, but in their own way. His rules on how and when to mourn, would not make many people happy.

There are many topics to take  from “The Garden of Stars.” The topic of death is bigger than the others. We learn about those who died from the LGBT community, many of whom have found their final resting place in the cemetery. Despite the actually morbid surroundings, we are relaxed as we watch this, feel-good documentary that is as colorful and varied as life. Bossmann does not serve the cemetery in any official capacity— it’s simply that he has found where he belongs.  As well as running the Cafe and being the Custodian of the Garden, he is happy to give tours to groups of school children. 

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