Sunday, 3 February 2008

Hamburg

I have just spent a weekend in Hamburg with my wife, and it was a bit of an eyeopener. I've never visited Germany before (stopovers in airports don't count; if they did I'd consider myself really well traveled indeed) and the surprises were many. For starters the stereotypical German was not to be found. Not a grumpy, angry, or rude person in sight. In fact, the Hamburgers (ha ha!) are as pleasant as they come. Londoners, you've got something to learn here. I also expected people to be very strict and correct - perhaps a little uptight. That wasn't the case, either. Perhaps I've just got a nasty set of preconceptions (and perhaps all of this is evident to all of you) but now all those have been thrown aside and I really cannot wait to come back again. Germany-by-car is now high on the list of priorities.

The thing that touched me the most about Hamburg, however, was the walk through the area around St. Nikolai Memorial - a former residential area that was bombed to smithereens by the RAF and USAF during a true campaign of terror (sorry for using such a watered down and inaccurate term, but just about any historical text deems Operation Gomorrah [yes - that's what they called it] an act of deliberate terror) during the end of July 1943. Over the course of just a few days 35000 civilians were killed. (The wikipedia article cites 50000 deaths, and this Air Force Magazine article cites 40000 deaths, yet the St. Nikolai Memorial quotes the number as roughly 35000.) German civilians were the target of this campaign which aimed to demoralise the enemy. I am not about to get political here, but I think we're quick to forget the sufferings of the German people during the war, and this was a good reminder for me, at least, that even the history of WW2 cannot be drawn in black and white.

The remarkable thing is that Europe, somehow, has managed to pick up the pieces and pull itself back into relative unity. We, the generations born after the war, have so much to be thankful for. When we get caught up in our everyday dramas, disasters or despair, perhaps we ought to stop and spare a moment of thought for what was given and was lost in the war fought to preserve our European liberty. Don't think that your lifestyle is a given, and certainly don't take it for granted. Instead, travel to Germany and experience the country and the people and find yourself among some of Europe's friendliest.

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