During my visit with the Transatlantic Outreach Program, we stumbled upon St. Nikolai Church Memorial during our first walk through Hamburg.
The spire towered above the other buildings in Hamburg as the fifth highest church in the world. At first I thought it was under renovation, but as we got closer our guide explained that although it was undergoing some renovations the majority of the church was meant to be left as it looked: destroyed, bombed out, and ruined. The church stands as a reminder to the atrocities of war, the damage and destruction it can cause.
Between 1933-1945 Hamburg fell victim to many attacks by Allied forces, especially during Project Gomorrha. About 35,000 people died in those attacks and hundreds of thousands of homes were destroyed. As our guide explained all of this, she was careful to point out that the average German knows their country was to blame for World War II and the carnage that resulted. She explained that this memorial was meant to serve as a reminder of what war can do to individuals, their culture, history, and their legacy.
Today visitors can explore the church, the tower is the only part that remains intact. Exhibitions focus on the history of the church and the atrocities of World War II. The church is mostly in ruins. All around the site are memorials and reminders to strive for peace and reconciliation.
I even found essential questions tied into this museum space.
What does war mean to the population today?
How do we deal with the memory of the victims of the Second World War?
During my two weeks in Germany I found constant reminders of the war and its affect on Germany. The way that Germany has come to terms with its history and made a place for historical memory is fascinating. I also found a focus on remembering the past while embracing the future. Germany is very tied to its history, not just 20th century history. That history is perfectly intermingled with the present. It is next to and beside and a part of modernity in the country.
As someone who keeps an eye on public spaces and historical memory I appreciated this commitment to remembrance and the attention given to learning from the past.
I will be writing more on this because it was a constant during my trip and I am intrigued by the methods Germany uses to interpret its public spaces.