Today I was visiting Emmerich am Rhein – a town on the border between Germany and the Netherlands.
Suspension bridge over the Rhine at Emmerich
While I was walking through the town centre, I came across a group of brass Stolpersteine – small plaques in the pavement reminding passers-by that holocaust victims had once lived in the house they are passing. Stolpern means to stumble – so these are literally stones that you stumble across.
This set remembers a family of three from Emmerich who fled the national socialist regime and escaped to America.
The Gompertz family fled to America in 1939 and survived the Holocaust.
This was the first time I’ve seen Stolpersteine remembering people who actually survived the war – most of them record death in one of the concentration camps. I hope the Gompertz family settled in America and had a long and happy life after the war.
This evening we went to a concert in the world’s most heavily fortified church.
The Bunkerkirche in Düsseldorf has to be one of the most unique churches in the world. The land was acquired in 1928 with the intention of building a church on the site. Lack of funds during the 1930s depression meant that although plans were drawn up, construction was delayed for over a decade and then in 1940 the land was confiscated by the Nazis.
In 1941 the site which had been intended for the church was used to build an overground air-raid bunker. The building was deliberately constructed to look like a church from the air, in the hope of deterring allied bombers from targeting it.
After the war, the land (complete with fortified bunker) was returned to the Church and the bunker was converted and consecrated in 1949, in a lovely symbol of turning swords into ploughshares.
Interestingly, for a building which was constructed for entirely different purpose, it actually has rather impressive acoustics.
The concert (works by Schütz, Mendelssohn-Bartholdy and Bach, sung by the excellent choir and the fabulous Stringendo orchestra from Meerbusch) was a real treat… and the experience of being in such a historically unique setting added to the experience.
Generally I avoid those Brits who keep on about the second world war as though it were only yesterday. But every now and then, a little piece of history pops up on the radar… and needs to be shared.
In this case, it is the final answer to all those rumours about Adolf Hitler. You know… the ones which formed the basis of scurrilous songs in the school playground.
*Clears throat and sings to the tune of “Good Luck, and the same to you…”*
Hitler has only got one ball
The other is in the Albert Hall
His mother, you’ve gotta love her
She cut it off when he was small…
Here, readers, is the truth of the matter….
One of the things that always annoys me about my fellow Brits is that they will keep banging on about the second world war. Any football international between England and Germany brings wartime references out in the tabloids. Several interviewers who talked to me recently about Planet Germany brought up questions about the second world war…. even though it’s barely even mentioned in the book.
So it wasn’t a surprise when someone reminded me today of one of those great ads from our youth. What did surprise me was that despite the fact that I’m the biggest critic of English people who constantly talk about the war…. it’s had me chuckling all afternoon.
Guess I’d better go and wash my mouth out with soap!