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The coffins are stacked in three Meissen gloomy crematorium memorial hall, crammed into empty offices and stored in hallways.

Many are sealed with plastic wrap, others are labeled “risk of infection,” “urgent,” or simply “COVID.”

A wave of deaths from coronavirus In this corner of eastern Germany he has boosted the business of crematorium director Joerg Schaldach and his staff, but no one is celebrating.
Coffins labeled with the word ‘Covid’. (AP)

“The situation is a bit tense for us right now,” Schaldach said when another undertaker’s truck pulled up outside.

The crematorium would normally have between 70 and 100 coffins in place at this time of year, when the flu season takes its toll on the elderly.

“It is normal for more people to die in winter than in summer,” Schaldach said.

“That has always been the case.”

He now has 300 bodies waiting to be cremated, and each day dozens more are delivered to the modernist building on a hill overlooking Meissen, an ancient city best known for its delicate porcelain and impressive Gothic castle.

Joerg Schaldach, director of the Meissen crematorium. The crematorium would normally have 70-100 coffins in place at this time of year, now it has 300 bodies waiting to be cremated, and more are brought to the crematorium every day. (AP)

On Monday, Meissen County again took the unwanted lead in Germany’s COVID-19 charts, with an infection rate three times the national average.

The state of Saxony, where Meissen is located, includes six of the 10 worst-affected counties in Germany.

Schaldach said the crematorium is doing its best to meet demand, firing the twin ovens every 45 minutes and managing 60 cremations a day.

“The ashes still end up in the correct urn,” he said.

Staff would normally try to make sure the deceased look good for family members to say goodbye to their latest goodbyes, infection rules now mean that the coffins of COVID-19 victims must remain closed throughout the process, which makes the whole process even more difficult for those involved.

“It is our business, we have seen death many, many times,” Schaldach said.

“The problem that we see is that grieving family members need our help, and right now, there is a greater need for words of comfort because they have taken their deceased loved one to the ambulance and then they are not seen again.”

A coffin is cremated at the crematorium in Meissen, Germany, on Monday, January 11, 2021. (AP)
The coffins are stored in the corridors of the crematorium in Meissen, Germany. (AP)

Infection rates linked to anti-government sentiment

Some have linked Saxony’s high infection rate to broader anti-government sentiment in a state where more than a quarter voted for the far-right Alternative for Germany party in the last national election.

Its lawmakers have opposed the need to wear masks, limits on gathering people and closing stores.

Some have even flatly denied the existence of a pandemic.

Other commentators have noted the state’s large number of seniors and its reliance on nursing home workers in the neighboring Czech Republic, where COVID-19 infections are even higher.

Meissen officials, including the head of the county administration, the local medical association and the legislator representing the region in parliament, an ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel, declined to be interviewed about the situation.

Coffins containing deceased persons await in the worship room of the crematorium in Meissen, Germany, before cremation. (AP)

The Governor of Saxony, Michael Kretschmer, acknowledged in a recent interview with the local newspaper Freie Presse that he had underestimated the impact of the pandemic on his state and had paid too much attention to those who asked that businesses and schools remain open.

A video showing gov. Kretschmer speaking to anti-blockade protesters outside his home Sunday ends with him walking away after a person dons a mask made to look like the Imperial German War Flag, a symbol favored by far-right extremists.

Schaldach, the manager of the crematorium, says that most people in Saxony accept the rules.

But he has also read comments in brand reports on social media about bodies piled up at his crematorium as fake news.

“Those who believe in conspiracy theories cannot be helped. We don’t want to argue with them,” he told The Associated Press.

“They have their beliefs and we have our knowledge.”

In Meissen, the the streets are empty, devoid of the usual tourists or even the hustle and bustle of the locals.

Franziska Schlieter has a gourmet food store in the historic city center that is one of the few that can stay open in the middle of closing.

His store, which has been run by five generations of his family, is being sustained by a trickle of regulars buying lottery cards and gift baskets.

A man walks down a street near the market square in the nearly deserted old town of Meissen, Germany, on Monday, January 11, 2021. Meissen County leads Germany’s COVID leaderboards, with an infection rate current three times higher than the national average. The state of Saxony, where Meissen is located, includes some of the worst-affected counties in Germany. (AP)
Franziska Schlieter in her gourmet food shop in the old town of Meissen, Germany. (AP)

“In the Bible, God sent plagues on people when they did not behave,” said Schlieter.

“Sometimes I have to think about that.”

In the cobbled square, Matthias Huth tends to a lonely food truck in front of his closed restaurant.

He stands up for those who have questioned the government’s COVID-19 restrictions, but says skepticism should not justify denial.

“The talks are beginning to change,” Huth said.

“Everyone wants it to end.”


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