Part of the predominantly attractive City of Freiburg is a grey brutal sprawl of concrete. A walkway & 70’s footbridge straddles a busy dual-carriageway, it goes by the name of Schlossbergsteg, one side has it’s feet in the town, the other rests its foundations at the base of a forest covered hill, Castle Mountain. I have wondered why in this City that is in parts so attractive that there are likewise ugly streets & modern shops, all square uniformities & un-attractive boxes, I had assumed that perhaps town planners had got carried away with themselves and screwed it all up. I was in this part of town a month or so ago, a gay pride parade carnival in full swing. It was a riot of sound and of colour, a celebration of exuberance, now early on a friday morning it is a much quieter place, the cars underneath the bridge whizz past anonymously, a cloudy sky overhead threatens rain. Bas reliefs in brutalist 70’s grey concrete have animals & figures outlined, dates and historical events tell a story of the history of the city, curiously in one spot one single English word amongst all the German, Coventry, I wonder why. Later looking at the font of knowledge, the internet provides an explanation.
On a November late afternoon nineteen years before I was born a number of my countrymen set off from west of London to visit Freiburg, they came in 292 Lancasters & 59 De Haviland Mosquito Bombers, their gift for the city was 1450 tonnes of explosive bombs & a further 11,523 incendiary bombs. The resulting carnage reduced the population of the city by half and destroyed many ancient buildings and monuments that had stood for centuries, all in the space of fifteen minutes.
Walking today through this city which feels like such a comfortable & gentle place it is hard to imagine the turmoil of the past and the changes this place has seen. Hitler once came here only to find himself & his car pelted with stones, he is quoted as having said that the city of Freiburg was full of unpleasant people. That’s rather a compliment I’d say.
A few years later he returned and spoke to a crowd of 50,000, his reception was rapturous.
When I walk those same streets today the brass plaques set into the cobbles really get to me. Reading their names, the hundreds of German Jews who once lived here, each set into the pavements outside the homes they once lived in, it’s reading their names that turns a knowledge of the holocaust from an understood history into stark reality.
In the town museum there is an exhibition, subtitled the rise of National Socialism, the exhibits are in turn shocking & scarily understandable. One piece of cloth from it haunts me, a metre of fabric, not in itself the stuff of nightmares, but on the fabric are printed multiple Stars of David each with the word Jude. Several of them have been cut out and used, sewed to some poor souls lapel, their ticket to the gas chamber.
Yesterday in this same city of Freiburg I walked behind a gaggle of Israeli tourists out sight-seeing, perhaps thirty of them, the guttural echoes of Hebrew bouncing off the cobbled streets and reverberating off the medieval walls. It brought sunshine to a cloudy day, the final solution was not final, everything moves with time.
Later that same day I noticed two words daubed in large red letters in a back street, Free Palestine and those two words in turn took me back to another street and another city a few years ago, Jerusalem. Visiting Jerusalem I remember walking in the old city, the souk, young Israeli soldiers, no more than teenagers each holding an automatic rifle and manning a barricade. I was told I could not walk any further along the street, off limits, for your own protection. I remember a conversation with an Israeli guy, he seemed a decent enough chap, until that is that the conversation turned to Palestinians, they are not people like you and me, they are animals he said. Unconnected as I am to his world and his thoughts and experiences I would like to learn from the past, not create a present that is a reflection if it. Perhaps that is easier said than done.