Mandi started it by saying that she would be pretty terrified after living through the eighty-eight bombing campaigns during WWII that destroyed over ninety percent of Hannover. On the contrary, I figured that surviving such a terrible sequence of attacks might give someone an invincibility complex.
It’s one of the first questions I always ask when I explore one of these German cities: how much was this place damaged by the bombing raids? The Germans fought with strength throughout most of the war, but like the war in Japan, their defeat at the end was decisive.
Our bombing campaigns literally wiped out entire metropolises, demolishing not only factories and train stations, but houses, shops, churches, and everything else above ground. What the explosions left standing the following fires consumed. Over six thousand people died in Hannover alone because of it, many more across the country. Hannover was hit mostly toward the end of the war and the attacks were less strategic for disabling the German industry as they were intended to “cause maximum damage” and weaken the hearts of the victims.
So if you think the old looking buildings downtown are eight hundred years old, you are probably wrong. This is only true in the smaller and less important cities that weren’t lucrative enough to flatten.
So is the legacy here. Everything started fresh after the war. The country was in ruins. The political ideology was hanged in the international square as an example to the world of pure evil. The men had died in the fronts leaving the women to sort through the rubble. Crushed once by the Nazis and crushed twice by the Allies.
What does that mean for today? One often hears casual references about how likely Germans might be to return to their former ways (which occupied less than a decade of their more than a millennia long heritage). The shame from the Nazis and the devastation from the end of the war imprinted a strong case of PTSD on the nation. They have had to try to recreate their story: who they are and what values they want to embody all the while the dark years lurk as the elephant in the room.
It’s similar to the old-looking buildings. They look quaint and have been restored to mimic their heritage, but the insides are all new. This is an important filter through which to view contemporary German culture and policies, one of the unique results of total annihilation.
The reminders are everywhere despite the strict bans on symbols used by the former Reich. You cannot spend one day without seeing something that points out your entire moral, economic, political, and military defeat. True for the children just as much as for the adults.
This is more a reflection than a lesson, but there are several morals to learn. One is obviously the indiscriminate heinousness of war. However, another is perhaps just as important but less overt: tolerance and consideration. War Hawks aren’t popular here. People really don’t want to start the mess again. And despite sometimes having starkly different values and opinions, it’s pretty easy to discuss those differences out in the open.
No one comes away unspotted from a war, but maybe the worst long-term damage belongs to all of those who fight hard and forget their humanity, be they the victors or the losers.