Home > Political Animal > Rebuilding from the rubble

Rebuilding from the rubble

By Jim Sack

Fort Wayne Reader

2012-11-01


I spent most of September and part of October in Germany, traveling from city to city, observing, trying to learn. Part of the trip was to observe a sister city ceremony in Gera, but mostly I was among Germans from morning till night.

In Berlin a friend who works for Chancellor Merkel took me on a tour of the Reichstag; in Dresden a gentleman and his wife talked with me about war guilt; in Meiningen Santa Claus appeared to help me find my way.

Germany is booming. There are cranes everywhere, even in small cities. Berlin is one oversized construction zone with new subway lines, new buildings going up and old landmarks getting a face lift. Scaffolding is everywhere.

Solar is also everywhere to be seen. In Allen Countyís mother village, Windheim am Weser, nearly every farmhouse, barn and chicken coup is covered with solar panels. In the countryside thousands of acres are covered with rolling waves of solar panels. The installations are massive. Windmills are the new German forest. Fifty huge mills cover hills outside Magdeburg. Hardly a kilometer passes on the Autobahn without seeing a cluster of power generator giant mills, white, with three blades and dynamos the size of a school bus.

Recycling is serious business in Germany. Many stores have pretty little recycling bins inside their front doors. At camp grounds dumpsters receive white glass, or green glass or brown glass. Paper is collected, wrappings and the smallest container is for everything else.

Germany works. The country is by far the greatest exporter in the world on a per capita basis. Only the US with four times the population, and China with its billion compare to the 85 million Germans. Consequently, the country has the income to provide a very high standard of living that includes free education and a comprehensive healthcare system.

The cities are clean. Public transit goes everywhere, runs frequently and is modern and tidy. The Frauenkirche in Dresden was recently reopened. It lay as a pile of ruble from an American fire bombing raid in 1945 until the early 1990s; then the government and people rebuilt the grand baroque church as a memorial to the ravages of war. In fact, war memorials are everywhere. South of Schwerin I found a small memorial off a country road that was moving in its simplicity and respect. Names were inscribed in brick that erupted from the ground, including names that I have seen here in Fort Wayne. You can also follow the path of the resistance leader, Diettrich Bonhoffer, visit where von Stauffenberg was executed, learn about the White Rose movement and walk the Terrain of Terror in the center of Berlin. The most moving memorial, a national memorial to the impact of war, is the Kathe Kollwitz sculpture of a woman cradling her dead child displayed in the Neue Wache just to the west of the German History Museum on Unter den Linden, one of Berlinís grand boulevards. Not a hundred yards away is a grand statue to Fredrich the Great and a hundred years in the other direction is a moving statue to the young Queen Luise who rejected Napoleanís advances and stood, instead, with her people in opposition to the brutal French occupation. She died young, in the cold and remains forever beloved, another reminder of the cost of war.

My friend in the German government said that the memorials, especially in the Reichstag whence Germany is governed, are there to remind legislators that decisions have consequences. He pointed to preserved Cyrillic scrawl on an old section of wall where Soviet soldiers had left angry, boastful graffiti in 1945. Decisions have consequences.

Luneburg, Quedlingburg and Wismar are all charming small towns with flower-filled window boxes, narrow, neat cobblestone lanes and grand market squares. Bad Frankenhausen is another charming small town that gave Fort Wayne its park and boulevard system through the work of her son, George Kessler. The preserved medieval center of Wittenburg is where Luther started the Reformation with his 95 Theses. Nearby Leipzig is where Bach did his best work. It, too, is a riot of new construction and restoration, and memorials to achievement. Much of what looks quaint and medieval was rebuilt from rubble after the war.

A friend I spent time with in Germany noted that Germany protects her past, but has a strong eye to the future. Another asked why Germany was so enthusiastic about new energy sources. Simple answer: oil and gas comes from Russia and no one trusts the Russians. Germany is also dismantling nuclear power.

Most people in Germany look as though they are enjoying the fruits of national policy: compared to the quiet, head-down Germans I first met in 1971, the country is chin-up, despite the turmoil around her. We have much to learn from our German cousins.

In fact, that was my point of starting the Gera relationship with Fort Wayne in 1990. I wanted to introduce Fort Wayne to German ways and means. The culmination of this trip was a ceremony renewing our ties with Gera first formalized in 1992. The mayor was once more there to learn from the Germans, as were business leaders, Councilman Tom Didier and city forester Chad Tinkel. Each brought home rave reviews and lessons that they can apply to the betterment of Fort Wayne. It is through such exchange and openness that we learn from each other, learn about each other and build for the future, rather than rebuilding from rubble.

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