Fall, Slowly / by Mark Ziegler

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It's been a lovely time to be back in Europe. We're a few weeks into November in Paris, and some of the trees over here have just turned: hanging onto their leaves as long as possible. As I try to make sense of the ever expanding Paris photo library, here's a little teaser from Essen in October. I made a photo outing to Villa Hugel, an estate of the Krupp family on the outskirts of Essen. I didn't get a photo of the theater to do it justice, but it is a converted Krupp factory that had once evolved into big supplier to the German war efforts. It's amazing to me just how intertwined these countries are, and how close I am to so much of that history.

(Here are some photos for those of you who want to skip the rest of the rant that follows ...)

(slideshow for mobile) http://www.flickr.com/photos/sharkvan/sets/72157631988995150/show/

As Americans, we talk a lot about the impact of the wars - especially WWII - on our parents and grandparents. We do so not without justification; it was a tragedy beyond my comprehension and the impact was and still is huge. But can we even imagine what it was like to have the war (or any modern war) fought on our own soil? The direct and immediate impact that would stem from every win, or every loss, is hard for me to consider.

This is all fresh in my mind after a visit to the sobering Musee L'Armee and I'm not going to be able to say anything new about war that hasn't been said before. But it's strange to go from one city - playing in a building that used to make tanks and "Big Bertha" artillery (named after Krupp's daughter) - to a palatial theater in the French city that was the target of such weapons. And now: decades later? I'm not sure Germany and France really think about it (beyond typical nationalist posturing), and compared to other parts of the globe they could pass as good friends. After all, these wars weren't my wars or the wars of my ancestors. These were wars of aggression and as such can only "belong" to the aggressors themselves (in a unique situation of possessing unparalleled power). Those aggressors are long gone. The memory of the last century, even as it fades from first-hand to second and further along, has paved the way for some real dialogue. Some real perspective. Maybe, even, some real peace.

Two historical tidbits:

1. As a war museum, the Musee L'Armee is essentially a museum warning of and highlighting the horrors of war. So, it was an ironic moment when the Nazis raided the museum in the 1940.

2. When the German army was leaving Paris in 1944, Otto von Stülpnagel was ordered to burn the city down. He refused. Maybe he saw the writing on the wall. Maybe he just loved the food. (Comparing German and French cuisine is hardly fair. Don't get me wrong; German food is good. It's just not quite French.) One thing is certain; he had gained some perspective.