Monday, September 22, 2008

Köln 10.5.05: Decentering Touches and Dangerous Memories

As we left Stommeln last evening, having met Herr Wisskirchen, who has written numerous books and articles about the history of Stommeln, he spoke about the importance of remembering. He was headed off to give a lecture about the end of the war, which was officially announced on 8 May 1945, I believe.

He said his students ask why they should be compelled to remember. The guilt is their grandparents’ and great-grandparents’, after all—not theirs. And don’t other countries have their bloody pasts? Genocide in Armenia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Cambodia . . . ?

His reply: this is our guilt. This happened on German soil, and not so long ago—barbarous acts perpetrated by a “civilized” people. To forget is to court a repetition of barbarism . . . .

This is precisely why I cannot accept Ratzinger’s pretense that the church is the sole bastion of salvation and light in a dark and wicked world. To pretend so is to forget how the church closed its eyes in the Nazi times, or how it actively assisted the Nazis.

This is why Metz speaks of holding onto dangerous memories, even when they sting us. The memory of Jesus is such a memory, for Metz. Whereas Ratzinger remembers a church that pulled against Nazism, Metz remembers—in the same region, Bavaria—going to church, the whole village, singing and praying, and pretending that right outside the village, Jews were not being murdered and incinerated.

+ + + + +

Yesterday at the café in Pulheim, Steve pointed out to me that after the alte Damen and their daughters had had coffee and cake, one of the old women said, “Why don’t we have champagne now?” And so they did—a happy hour, indeed. They were a very pleasant bunch.

+ + + + +

I think of how I can recall the specific moment I learned some inconsequential German word. E.g., wahrscheinlich. That was in Jöhlingen, as we read the church books and electricity went off. Steve asked the secretary if this had happened throughout the village, and she replied, Wahrscheinlich nicht.

I had never heard the word before, but I worked it out in my head: wahr = true, schein = appear, and lich is, of course, the –ly suffix: trueappearingly = probably.

+ + + + +

Looking out a café window near Neumarkt. We’ve just had Milchkaffe with Apfelkuchen (Steve) and Monschnecken (me). The apple was especially wonderful, in a crust of buttery short pastry overlaid with almond slices, all flavored with a tiny bit of lemon zest and nutmeg. Nice to sit after a morning of walking and shopping.

We’ve bought lavender bags with hand-worked rose crowns on them—but not German work. I suspect they’re done in Asia. Also got an assortment of chocolates in the Schnäppchen basement of Karstadt.

Such typical Cologne people and scenes as we sit here: a chunky middle-aged lady in a tight brown jacket sauntering by, a cigarette held in the corner of her mouth; an apartment building across the street, that functional post-war architecture that’s all over Köln. It’s graceless, lacks any sense of style, and is usually dirty and with cracks in it.

Yet the Kölners have given it their own little stamp of style. I saw on the street today a cover of a power box on the side of a building, whimsically painted with two smiling, colorful cats holding hands.

And out of the corner of my eye, I see the woman in the corner across from us studiously downing her salad. She’s every bit the proper matron, stylish in a pink plaid linen jacket. Yet in her well-coiffed blond hair, cut no-nonsense short, is one streak of bright red, swirling up in a semicircle above her left eyebrow.

That’s Köln: the outrageous, unexpected little touch that nicely decenters everything. Perhaps it’s a way of saying they don’t entirely belong to anyone, these Roman-French-Jewish Germans on the Rhine whose mayor stoutly repudiated Hitler.

No comments: