Dixie Peach: City Bells

Cooler than the other side of the pillow.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

City Bells

It started with the deep, bass tones of the cathedral bells and then slowly the other bells chimed in. At 9:28pm all the church bells in the city were rung to commemorate the destruction of Magdeburg in the bombing of January 16, 1945.

I normally love to hear the church bells ring. I live near a lot of churches and I hear them throughout the day striking the hour and calling worshipers to morning mass and when 6:00pm rolls around I hear them ring the Angelus. Most people ignore them but I like to pay attention when I hear them.

Tonight, though, they made me sad. As I stood on my balcony I could only think of each peal of each bell being a bomb that fell on the city that killed thousands, destroyed about 60% of the entire city and 90% of the old town area where I now live. I felt sad for the people who lost their lives and those who lost loved ones and those who were left homeless. I felt sad for the millions elsewhere who had lost everything because of one man and his war.

I can't imagine what it must have felt like to be in your home or in a movie theater or in a pub and suddenly have everything around you explode. I can't imagine the fright and confusion - the sheer terror of it all. B's father was a little boy of 8 when Magdeburg was bombed. There had been other bombings that he survived but this was the worst. Until he died he never got over it. He still had nightmares and a sudden, loud noise startled him no end.

My MIL grew up in a village about 15 miles from Magdeburg so she was spared the bombing but she vividly remembers hearing the planes fly over and she could see the sky glow with the flames of the city burning. She had relatives living in Magdeburg and she remembers riding her bicycle with her father to Magdeburg the day after the bombing to help him locate them and she said she saw things that were burned into her brain but she doesn't like to talk about. Luckily none of the relatives died that night although their homes were damaged but the bombs did eventually claim one. My MIL's uncle was a type of postman - he delivered telegrams and he was also responsible for delivering to homes the pay envelopes of workers. After the bombing of January 16th he simply had no more customers - they were all killed. He couldn't bear the sadness of losing every single person he delivered to each week so he went home and hanged himself.

The bells tonight rang for the same amount of time that the bombs fell - about ten minutes. The weather tonight is warmer than what is usual here for January but still I grew cold standing on my balcony in my shirt sleeves. If I thought it was a long time to stand there, how much longer did the time seem when instead of hearing bells one only heard airplanes flying over, explosions, screams, alarms - pure chaos. If I was cold how cold were the ones who managed to escape death but only had to their name the clothes on their backs?

I don't know if I believe in ghosts but if such things exist, I would imagine that where I live now would be filled with them. Hundreds and hundreds died in just the area where I can see simply standing on my balcony. And if they could talk to us now, what would they say? Do they now know more than they did back then? Do they know more than we do now? I think perhaps if they could talk to us then maybe they'd warn us all to end the hate everywhere before we end up suffering their same fate. As safe as I feel now in my home is maybe just as safe as they once felt in their own homes until they had to pay the price for hate.



Blogger Carol said...

Wow... this is so powerful! Thanks for reminding about the need for peace!


2:09 AM  
Blogger Snooker said...

Thanks for taking the time to put your feelings into words.

I understand exactly what you mean. Very often I find myself walking the streets of Berlin thinking of the people who lived and died here through those horrible wars.

The area in which I work was mostly bombed to the ground, thus many of the buildings were rebuilt by the 60's. Once in a while I will pass an old building which was left standing by some miracle or at least there was enough of it to rebuild. With just a quick at the facade one can see the scars and pock marks put there by bombs, bullets, or shrapnel.

When I see this, I just get so sad at the pointlessness of it all.

12:32 PM  
Blogger Molly said...

Beautifully written and straight from your heart. The ghosts of war would all tell us to stop.

2:24 PM  
Blogger Maria said...

Wow, Dix. Just... Wow. I'm all choked up here at my desk at work.

2:36 PM  
Blogger purplepassion said...

WOW...very powerful...thanks for sharing...

7:16 PM  
Blogger jane said...

great post. amazing how we forget about the collateral damage of war. by the way, i hate that phrase - it's so cold sounding - yet i am not sure how else to put it.

my husband is from coventry, england and many times we have walked through the beautiful bombed out (by the luftwaffe in 1940) cathedral - attached to the new cathedral which is dedicated to peace and reconciliation. if you ever find yourself in that part of the world, take a walk through it. you simply cannot fail to be moved by the spirit of reconciliation and forgiveness. it sort of renews your faith in humanity.

to me, the world is full of ghosts trying to tell us stories, but germany even more so. south africa was similar for me - and so are parts of america.

nice writing.


7:22 PM  
Anonymous Juanita said...

Great post, Dixie. My family is from Wilhelmshaven on the North Sea, which has the dubious distinction of being the first German city to be bombed during the war. My Mother never could talk about it, but I remember my older brother having screaming nightmares for years. He was born in 1939, so went through the worst of it. There wasn't much left of Wilhelmshaven when the war ended. Terrible, terrible what human beings will do to each other.

7:33 PM  
Blogger Hilda said...

Wonderful post Dixie, thank you.

Magdeburg happened in 1945 - 62 years ago. And 62 years later people are *still* being bombed out of their homes, sadly sometimes by *us*.

We, as human beings, need to get to a point where no one gets bombed out of their homes. We need to get to a point where conflicts - and let's not kid ourselves, there will always be conflicts - can be resolved without innocents being scared, hurt, killed.

Ideally bells should peal for joyous occasions, but sadly they must also peal in rememberance so that we never forget the depths to which hatred can lead.

10:21 PM  
Blogger sari said...


11:35 PM  
Anonymous pkb said...

I got chills reading this, Dix. You have such compassion for your new home.

10:01 PM  

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