Friday, September 19, 2008

Köln 9.5.05: Stars of David and Kollwitz Pietà

As the cards tucked into the journal indicate, a visit to the Käthe Kollwitz museum at Neumarkt yesterday. A woman at a table near the entrance offered me a gift. Like the fool I am, I blushed and said no thanks—not listening or fully understanding. She persisted: a choice of balloons or cards, not both!

To cover my foolishness, I said (all this in my stumbling German): “But they’re for children.” “Ah, no, for all visitors,” she replied. I furtively palmed my cards, thanked her profusely, and walked off. They came with a nice little clip-style bookmark which is coming in handy for the book I’m reading—Colm Tóibín’s novel about Henry James’s life.

I had seen several of the Kollwitzes, and have a card of her engraving of the mother sheltering her children—“Let not the seed for sowing be milled.” Still, seeing these (again) brought tears to my eyes, and it does so to write about them.

It’s the need to shelter, so characteristic of women throughout history. And yet how ineffectual women often are at keeping their loved ones safe. If only Kollwitz had been heard! She could see; she could not prevent. And so her bronzes and engravings of women and children saying goodbye to their husbands and fathers as the men go to war, their faces hidden in grief behind all-encompassing hands, and her breathtaking Pietà, which I’d never seen.

History is full of Käthe Kollwitzes, deep-souled, deep-seeing, able only to stand by and grieve as tragedy unfolds. I identify in many ways with her, though I lack her purity of vision and intensity of commitment.

All this in a café in Pulheim (writing, that is), as happy hour unfolds. Yep, that’s what it says—Monday, happy hour. Surrounded by middle-aged women and their mothers eating enormous slices of cake, drinking coffee, and nattering happily away. It’s stiflingly hot in here, but admittedly cold and wet outside.

We’ve just come from the Stommeln cemetery, up on a hill behind the old part of town. Stommeln is built in a kind of little valley running out from the Rhine, surrounded by pretty rolling hills.

The Friedhof has the remains of the old medieval St. Martin’s church in it, which seem to have been rebuilt later into a usable church. It’s a beautiful cemetery, well-cared for and with old monuments, one erected by the Catholic Verein in 1874, with names of those who died or left, including “J.J. Schmitz, Amerika”—Steve’s ancestor Johannes Josef Schmitz.

For some reason, the area around Köln has some very old cemeteries—that is, older cemeteries seem to have survived here and not to have been replaced, as in other areas. On the way into Köln from Pulheim is what appears to be an old Jewish cemetery.

Speaking of which, it appears that two of Steve’s families from here may have Jewish roots—Canis (= Kahn) and Cöne (= Cohn/Kohn). His immigrant ancestor Johannes Schmitz had a grandmother Katherina Canis and John Schmitz’s wife Gertrude Ott had a grandmother Gertrude Cönen. The Friedhof has monuments from World War I to fallen villagers, including two with Stars of David.

Oh, the other large monument to which I alluded before—it’s commemorating the villagers’ service vs. or on behalf of Napoleon: I didn’t read carefully.

It, too, included Kahns, with that spelling. How badly Germany repaid these Jewish citizens for their contributions to the Fatherland, when Nazi times came.

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