Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Ein Mädchen im Krieg

The title of this post (“A Girl in War”) is the title of a poem I wrote in my high school German class. It seems like an odd topic, but I can't remember if it was something assigned or inspired by what we were studying at the time. 

Right now that poem is sitting in a box in storage because, if there’s one thing that every advice blog/column/article I read before we moved here agreed on, it was: don’t talk about the war.

Missile sculpture outside a
former ammunition factory
in a trendy shopping district
Not that my earnest imagined scribblings from nearly 30 years ago have any bearing on real-life discussions today, but the advice (and the poem) seemed unnecessary, as I could not imagine a scenario when the topic of war might arise.

But then it happened. Many weeks ago, at a dinner consisting mostly of Germans, someone told a few French (war) jokes. Then they reflected that since Germany had lost every time it entered a global war, perhaps the French should be telling jokes about them.

It was an honest and awkward moment, and the conversation quietly shifted to other things. But I couldn’t help thinking about our different experiences surrounding war.

This obelisk in the main plaza
downtown reminds visitors
that "40,000 sons of the city
gave their lives for you" in WWI
In America, with some exceptions, war memorials are a destination: a site, or an aggregate of monuments honoring the nation’s soldiers. For global conflicts, our troops left the country to fight.

In Hamburg, you’ll find memorials and remembrances downtown as well as around the corner in a neighborhood park or shopping center. Here, “global” war was fought on the home front.

A WWI memorial in a pocket park,
courtesy of the Lutheran church across the street
These last days of April mark the time when, 71 years ago, Germany began the slow road to surrender in the second world war. 

So for my next couple of posts, I’m going to write a bit about the war experience in Hamburg. It'll be a mix of history and my impressions as an outsider looking in on something that so profoundly impacted this city and changed this country and its people.

"Germany must live even if we must die" -
WWII monument in Hamburg's botanical park.

War memorial section in a local cemetery. The large center cross is surrounded by 
nearly 2,000 graves, marked either by the smaller cross-shaped gravestones you see in the 
foreground or flat stones within each strip of flowers.

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