Bodies buried in German graveyards are not rotting properly:
A high moisture content in the subsoil combined with low temperatures and a lack of oxygen are the main culprits. These conditions transform the soft tissue of many bodies not into humus, but rather "a gray-white, paste-like, soft mass," says soil expert Rainer Horn from the Christian Albrecht University in Kiel, Germany.
As time passes, the remains of the departed coagulate to form "a hard, durable substance." When knocked with a spade, the wax-like bodies sound hollow.
This "grave wax" buildup has disturbed the natural cycle of decay -- and created a horror scenario for burial authorities. When bodies don't decompose, their graves can't be reused -- a common practice in Germany. Contrary to many other countries, where final resting places are traditionally maintained in perpetuity, Germany recycles cemetery plots after a period of 15 to 25 years. Experience has shown that the earthly remains of the deceased rot away almost entirely in this amount of time, but only under favorable soil conditions.
Many German cemeteries today have far from ideal conditions. To make matters worse, the problem appears to be a homemade one: "Huge blunders committed over the past few decades" are to blame, says engineer Heinrich Kettler, who specializes in reconditioning soils that have become unsuitable for decomposition.