Reflections on the everyday war memorials in Hannover, Germany. Today, on Remembrance Day in Canada and Veteran’s Day in the USA, it feels appropriate to show how Germany remembers its past.
Crunch. Crinkle. Crackle.
The leaves, ranging from butter yellow to blood red, groan under the pressure of my rain boots, fragile pieces sticking to the black rubber as we walk around the back of Hannover’s New Town Hall to one of the most Instagrammable spots in the city.
Heads down to look out for puddles, it’s not until we’re almost there that I look up and catch a glimpse of the 1913 New Town Hall, perfectly framed through the remaining green trees.
Shivering from the unseasonably cold weather but protected from the drizzle by raincoats and gumboots, we both stop and stare at the sheer impressiveness of the building and its reflection, wavering in front of us in the dark water of Masch Pond.
There! Hardy exclaims, pointing at the backside roof of the New Town Hall.
We’ve transitioned to a rickshaw tour of the city, and our driver, Hardy, is pointing out a ‘spot-the-difference’ style game you can play while looking at New Town Hall from the back.
Although central Hanover was more than 90% destroyed during WWII, the New Town Hall survived with little more than a few scratches – scratches you can still see today if you know where to look.
On the left, you can see a tower and small windows. On the right, there are none, he explains. They were lost during the war, and they weren’t rebuilt. They government preserved the damage to remind us what happened.
In just a few minutes and with Hardy’s help, we spot dozens of these tiny differences, but there are no doubt far more.
Micro reminders of the city’s past are hidden all over Hannover in plain sight. You just have to know where to look.
***Satisfied we’ve seen the main differences at New Town Hall, Hardy directs us back into the Rickshaw to take us to our next stop: the Aegidienkirche.
Nearly decimated by the Allies’ WWII bombing campaign, the Aegidienkirche went from a fully-functioning church to a ruinous shell overnight in October 1943.
Today, the exterior walls stand tall and straight such that, from the street outside, it’s hard to tell there’s anything that sets it apart from an ordinary church. When we walk ‘inside’ however, we see the exterior walls are just a shell, and the church is open and roofless to the sky above.
Hannover was one of the most heavily-bombed cities in WWII, and the post-war government has opted to leave reminders everywhere, lest any of us forget the heavy price that was paid.
It’s an understated approach that reminds me of the stumbling stones we’ve seen all over Europe…reminders of the every day costs of racism and extreme nationalism.
Reminders, it seems, we’d do well to heed today.
We move onward to Hannover’s Old Town, the Altstadt. As with many other spots in Europe, Hannover’s Altstadt isn’t really old – it, too, was bombed to smithereens. Those few half-timbered buildings that did survive — 40 of them in all — were relocated into one spot, creating a ‘fake’ old town from authentic buildings.
At the Market Church (Marktkirche), we stop for one more reminder of the city’s past, this time on the church’s doors.
Hardy points at the designs on the doors, noting how unusual it is to see a church with military tanks on the doors. Scenes from war adorn the door — a woman running from a bombed house, citizens doing the Nazi salute, the dead being buried, executions.
Far from the multimillion Euro monuments in Berlin, we appreciated the everyday efforts made in Hannover to remind both residents and visitors of the price that has been paid for racially decisive politics, nationalism and isolationism.
Let’s hope the world continues to listen.