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LIVING IN GERMANY

Reader question: How do I dispose of unwanted furniture in Germany?

If your cellar is full of tattered sofas and decaying desks, you may be wondering how you can get rid of it while staying on top of German waste disposal laws. Here's what you need to know.

Public waste disposal service
A public waste disposal worker drives a massive cuddly gorilla to the recycling station. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Karl-Josef Hildenbrand

If you’re moving house or hoping to have a spring clear-out, you may want to say goodbye to a few of your old belongings. When it comes to small items like clothes, electronics and books, it’s not too hard to take them to a donation point like a Kleiderspende (clothes donation point), a second-hand shop or your local tip.

But what do you do with what’s known as Sperrmüll – big household items like furniture, carpets and mattresses? Is it okay to drop on the street with a ‘zu verschenken’ (to give away) label and hope that one of your neighbours will claim it as their own, or are there specific rules governing how you get rid of it in a legal and environmentally-friendly way? 

Here’s what you need to know. 

Leaving it on the street?

Though it may be fairly common to see old furniture on the streets in Germany – supposedly meant as a gift to the neighbourhood – this technically counts as fly-tipping and should be avoided. 

Funnily enough, people don’t often want a soggy, mud-stained mattress or weather-damaged table, so it may just end up staying there for months as clutter. 

There are three alternative things you can do instead: 

1. Sell your items 

One easy way to get rid of your items is to list them on an online marketplace such as Facebook Marketplace or Ebay Kleinanzeigen. If you specify “collection only” (Nur abholung), you’ll be saved the hassle of carrying your luggage all the way to the tip and you may even earn a few euros in the process.

The one risk of doing this is that it can be hard to find a buyer in your area who’s willing to pick it up quickly. For this exact reason, people often offer second-hand furniture at a huge discount or even for free. 

To maximise your changes of selling it, take a number of photos and include as much helpful info about your furniture as possible – and consider offering a bargain price.

If it doesn’t sell within a week, you may want to lower the price once more. Post information about your item on as many “buying and selling” groups on Facebook as you can, as well as places like Ebay and Craigslist. 

Ebay Kleinanzeigen mobile app

The Ebay Kleinanzeigen app. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Dernbach

When deciding on a price, try and factor in the difficulty of picking it up. If it’s a massive corner sofa, listing it for free may be your best bet, but if it’s a table or chairs or IKEA furniture that can be dismantled, you may be able to ask a bit more for it. 

Even if it ends up being given away, this still saves you the time and money you may have otherwise spent getting rid of it (see below) and gives you the satisfaction of knowing your furniture is starting a new life in another person’s home. 

READ ALSO: How to master second-hand shopping like a German

2. Have them collected

When it comes to having your old furniture collected, you’ll generally have two options: the waste collection service organised by your city or municipality, or private waste disposal services. 

Not too long ago, cities used to organise waste disposal days once or twice a year where residents could leave old furniture outside to be collected. This is sadly a thing of the past, though some local governments do still offer one or two free collections per year that you can book in advance.

To take advantage of these, you’ll generally have to fill in an online form with your home address, desired pick-up date and details of the items you want collected. The pavement in front of your house will then serve as the collection point. If you’re moving house and have a hard deadline for getting rid of the old furniture, try to do your research at least four weeks in advance to make sure you can get an appointment. 

Different cities have different regulations about which items are taken away for collection. So before lugging that sofa downstairs to leave it on the street, it’s best to find out in advance what applies to you.

In general, the definition of Sperrmüll (bulky waste) includes most of your large household items, from garden or balcony furniture to old beds, tables, sofas and chairs. It should be possible to carry and dispose of the items, so the individual parts usually shouldn’t way more than 70kg or or be more than 2.5 metres long.

In some cases, you may also have to pay a subsidised rate for the service. This is the case in Berlin, where prices start at €50 if booked more than 16 days in advance. Check with your Stadtverwaltung (city administrators) for specific guidance.

The other option – booking a private waste disposal service – is likely to offer more flexibility but may cost slightly more. To find providers, google “Sperrmüll entsorgen” and the name of your city or town. A number of options are likely to pop up for you to chose from.

According to Deutsche Post, you should budget at least €35 per square metre of waste when booking a private service. 

3. Recycle them

This is definitely the most time-consuming option, but it may be your only choice if you can’t find a taker for your furniture and don’t want to spend the money having it picked up. 

Every reasonably sized town should have at least one Wertstoffhof or Recyclinghof that will accept large items such as old household furniture, bicycles, prams and so on. There will also be places to dispose of large appliances like fridges and ovens.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The complete guide to recycling in Germany

Recycling point in Hamburg

A recycling station in Hamburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Marcus Brandt

You can often find the location of your nearest recycling station on Google Maps or by looking on the website of your local government. If it’s walkable or easy to reach on public transport, maybe you could enlist the help of friends or family to help you transport some of the heavier items there. 

Otherwise, you can get there in a car or even hire a van to help you ditch a lot of old furniture in one go.

If you’re moving house, you could also arrange to dispose of the furniture at the same time as the move. Check with your removal service to see if this is possible, or book a man/woman with a van by the hour and ask them to stop off at the recycling point on the way to your new address. 

Useful vocabulary

Bulky waste – (der) Sperrmüll 

Collection only- Nur abholung 

To give away – zu verschenken 

Furniture – (das) Möbel 

Bulky household items – sperrige Haushaltsgegenstände

to dispose (of something)- (etwas) entsorgen

Recycling station – (der) Wertstoffhof / Recyclinghof 

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For members

FAMILY

What to do when a foreigner dies in Germany

It is not something anyone wants to spend too much time dwelling on, but as we all know bereavements are the only certainty in life other than taxes. This list aims to take you through the paperwork that comes with a death in Germany.

What to do when a foreigner dies in Germany

Death is a tragic and disorientating part of family life whenever it hits. But living in a foreign country can make things more complicated.

In the event that the deceased lived to a good old age, they have hopefully made arrangement for what to do next. In the event of a more unexpected bereavement though, this panning might not be in place. Should the deceased be buried in Germany or repatriated to their homeland? If they are to be buried in Germany, what type of funeral would they have wanted?

The following article gives some information on what everyone needs to do in the event of a death on the family in Germany, as well as some tips on the special circumstances of dealing with a death abroad.

READ ALSO: ‘Behind all the numbers there are human fates’: Germany mourns 80,000 pandemic victims at memorial

Immediately after the death

The bureacratic side of dealing with a bereavement can differ from state to state in Germany. Like many things in this federal republic, the laws on death are written in state parliaments.

But there are some things you’ll have to do wherever you are.

If the person dies at home, the next of kin will have to immediately notify a doctor. You can call your local GP or a Notarzt (emergency doctor). They will come and evaluate the cause of death and the time of death. They’ll then fill out what is called a Todesschein or Leichenschauschein (death notice), which is important for later stages of the bureaucratic process.

Emergency doctor

An emergency doctor’s van arrives at a house in Heidelberg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa//Pr-Video | R.Priebe

You actually have a legal duty to notify a doctor and to see to other things such as employing a funeral home.

If the death takes place at a hospital or care home, the administrators there will take care of the initial formalities.

In the hours after the death you will also need to bring together all the important documents that you will need over the coming days. You will need the deceased’s identity card or passport, their birth certificate, marriage certificate (and divorce papers if relevant), and will.

Contacting an undertaker

The next important thing to do is to find a funeral home. Employing of funeral home is part of your obligations and next of kin. Generally you have to do that within 36 hours of the death, although some states might even require this to happen sooner.

The good news is that the funeral home can basically help you with all of the subsequent arrangements including the bureaucratic stuff. 

It is not rare in Germany for the deceased to have already made contact with a funeral home before their death.

The costs of German funeral homes can be high, meaning that many people have already made arrangements before they die so as not to burden their families with the costs.

Even a simple funeral can cost between €3,000 and €5,000, according to the Verraucherzentral consumer watchdog. Many Germans are therefore prepare for their own death by taking out a Sterbegeldversicherung.

According to the Verbraucherzentrale though, one often ends up paying more into a Sterbegeldversicherung than the actual costs associated with dying. And, as opposed to other types of insurance, one is insuring oneself against something that will definitely happen. This means that it can make more sense to put money aside or to set up a contract with a funeral home before one’s death.

As next of kin, it’s important to know what financial planning the deceased put in place so that you can then access these funds to pay for the costs of burial, a gravestone if necessary, and the rental of a burial plot among other things.

If they have already found a funeral home then your job is made easier. If not, it is best to get a Kostenvoranschlag (cost estimate) from a few undertakers.

The US embassy lists English-speaking funeral homes in Berlin, Frankfurt and Munich. The British embassy has also published a list of English-speaking funeral directors. If you don’t live in one of those cities you can look online for a Bestattungsinstitut (funeral home) or you can ask around among friends and colleagues for a recommendation.

Notifying the authorities

Another thing that needs to happen quickly is that you need to notify the local registrar, or Standesamt (registrar’s office) in German. You general have to notify them within three working days, but the funeral home can do this for you (at an extra cost).

The Standesmant will issue the deceased with a Sterbesurkunde (death certificate), which is an important document for dealing with life insurance and the will, for example.

The cross of the Mariensäule in Rheinland-Palatinate in the morning fog.

The cross of the Mariensäule in Rheinland-Palatinate in the morning fog. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Harald Tittel

To obtain the death certificate, you will need to provide several important documents. These include the Todesschein, the deceased’s birth certificate and marriage certificate. If these are in another language, you need to present the Standesamt with the original as well as a German version that has been translated by a certified translator.

For a small additional sum, the Standesamt can provide an international death certificate that is written in English and should be valid for legal issues related to the death abroad.

READ ALSO: Ehegattensplitting: How did Germany’s marriage tax law become so controversial?

Graveyard obligation

If it was the wish of the deceased to be buried in Germany, then there is an important element of German law that you should be aware of.

The deceased’s remains have to be placed in a graveyard, regardless of whether they have been cremated or are buried in a coffin. This law, known as the Friedhofszwang dates back to Prussian times. Some states have tweaked it around its edges, so you will have to inform yourself about the specifics where you live. Generally though, keeping an urn at home is streng verboten (strictly forbidden).

There are two exceptions to this rule, however: the person can be buried in a forest in a specially designated Waldfriedhof, or their cremated remains can be scattered at sea in a Seebestattung.

People can be laid to rest in a designated forest in Germany. Photo: dpa-Zentralbild | Robert Michael

Informing embassies

There is no need for you to inform an embassy of the death of a citizen of that country. But, if the person has a next of kin at home whom you do not want to inform personally or cannot inform personally, the embassy can usually take over this work. Meanwhile, you can register the death in the home country through the consulate, a step that means there will be a record in their native country of their death.

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about German inheritance law

Repatriation

One issue that makes a death abroad that much more complicated than dying at home is the question of whether to repatriate the remains or not.

Repatriation can be pretty expensive and it is also made more complicated by various legal requirements that vary from state to state. The British embassy advises you to discuss repatriation with your funeral home, which will generally be able to make the arrangements for you.

In some circumstances it could be possible to take an urn by hand luggage, but in other parts of the country you need to fulfill stricter criteria.

Repatriating a corpse for burial back home is much tricker and more expensive than repatriating cremated remains. That is especially the case during the pandemic.

The US embassy warns that people who have died after suffering from Covid-19 cannot be repatriated unless they are cremated first. That is because Germany does not allow for the embalming of people who died from a communicable disease. The US meanwhile does not allow corpses to enter the country which have not been embalmed.

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