Oskar Hafen - Monument Specialist

Monument Specialist
Oskar Hafen
HEPHAISTOS 5/6, 1995, pp. 8-9
Tr: Karen Brockmann


For several years now, this art metalworker and stonecutter has been leaving his mark on Swabian cemeteries. The combination of the two occupations makes for a new, trend-setting more human cemetery culture.
The artisan from Mechenbeuren has been delivering some of his creations to the cemeteries in neighboring communities. Defending oneself against tons of soulless stone with a cultural message is often a difficult venture.
However, after years the seed has germinated, as tour of God's pastures in Oskar Hafen's homeland shows.

Eckle Tombstone

Once in one's lifetime, or shortly thereafter, a monument will be erected by one's descendants. For a lot of people, this personal monument consists of an expensive chunk of granite, polished to a shine. The date of birth and death is then engraved into the stone and highlighted in gold. Placed alongside the other polished blocks of stone in Germany's cemeteries, this stone reflects living society: at no cost should we stand out in a crowd. This rule even applies to cemeteries: anything but be noticed, anything but look different from the rest. Oskar Hafen, the metal artisan from Mechenbeuren has been fighting this trend for years. The cemeteries in Upper Swabia and its environs are proof of the fact that little strokes fell big oaks: Forging has been given a chance to appear between granite and marble, and not only iron, even wood is once again in for perpetual tombs. Oskar Hafen admits that it's tough introducing people to a new cemetery culture. Tombs that represent the people buried below. Tombs that create a link between the living and the deceased. "Why not use the shape of a honeycomb on a person's cross as the central theme, if this person's lifelong pastime was beekeeping? Why not use elements of a name as a symbol? Does the name "Eckle" [literally: little corner] not conjure up angular shapes?"

This can even be applied in a broader sense, in that even tremendous blows to one's destiny are part of the course of a person's life. They form and change a person's life, so it should be possible to incorporate these cracks and breaks into this person's monument.

Caption: (Above Left) This tombstone belongs to the "Eckle" [literally "little corner'] family.

Photo of Jester

Oskar Hafen cites the example of a fellow-citizen who ran his own wood company. He did so with all the consequences that were a part of it: understanding and sometimes firmness, happiness and anger. Differences of opinion with close relatives and sometimes careful compromise. A man who had both feet firmly on the ground - and who was also a member of the village carnival club. Obviously, the first choice for a tombstone was wood. Even if can't beat stone with respect to durability. Two angular columns split from top to bottom now mark the spot where the businessman lies. Wood brackets at the base symbolize the deceased's willingness for compromise. Roughly forged name plates match the brackets. The wood, like a lifeline, has suffered a good many cracks. Because laughter was also not forgotten, the symbol of the jester (the laughing mask and the crying mask) figures on the same side as the block of wood. The fact that delicate handwriting does not suit a successful Swabian company owner goes without saying. Oskar Hafen attaches a great deal of importance to the shape of the tombstone and its inscription. It creates the first link between the person viewing the tombstone and the deceased. A mere detail, but an important one. To the artisan from Mechenbeuren, detail is very important.

When making his rounds of the cemetery, he often allows himself to take a wire brush out of a holy-water font and replace it with a branch from the tree of life. And he does not hide his anger when tombstone clients don't understand the message the monument conveys. He is offended when tasteless lights lacking in style are placed before carefully crafted tombstones, regardless as to who is responsible.

Photo of stone fountainPhoto of running water

Caption: Even a fountain is a part of cemetery culture. This stone fountain is both functional and artistic. In the photo above, the running water can be seen under the dynamited stone.

honeycomb shape of tombstone

Rarely are there people who are unbending in their conformity. All people live among extremes - light and dark, soft and hard, serious and fun-loving. These differences can be reflected in the final monument to that person.

Various materials are suitable. Stone, metal and wood are perfect materials to show the different tensions.

Planting vegetation is another way of giving the deceased a symbol. Not everyone likes flowers. The smith from Mechenbeuren is happy to see how the branch of a beech tree has wrapped itself around one of his crosses several times. The cross is barely visible through the tree's leaves. "There you can see that the bereaved carry on the ideas of the artisan. A well-tended tombstone does not suit this person. He was a friend of nature who spent most of his time outside!"

Colors also support the statement. Oskar Hafen sees it as a stroke of luck that when he took over a relative's stonecutting business, he was able to add a second material to his forging.

One point that is worth noting in Oskar Hafen's ability to convince people: He never has any problems with cemetery rules and regulations, even if he does not always follow them.

And someday, when a few graves in the cemetery look a bit different than others, his fellow artisans will also try their hand at the new cemetery culture - it doesn't always work right away, but it's better than depressing uniformity.

Caption: (Above) The deceased was a beekeeper - the honeycomb shape was perfect.

Nature & tombstone complementingCross and stone tombstone

Caption: (Left) Nature can be the most beautiful decorative element for a tombstone - if you let it. (Right) The sleek beauty of a cross is supported by the weighty stone.

Copyright 1994, 1995 ArtMetal / Hephaistos

Author: Peter Elgass

Translator: Karen Brockmann

ArtMetal Editor/Curator: Enrique Vega

Last Updated: Tue, Sep 26, 1995