Sweetheart and I wanted to venture out on one of my days off, to see some Berlin sights, I meant to visit since I moved here: Teufelsberg, the one “mountain” there is in Berlin, with a staggering height of 114 meters above sea level. Entirely made of war rubble, featuring a skiing slope and topped by a former US listening station. We should have checked the opening hours first – it was closed.
So we paused, had a drink and decided to have a look at another sight closeby, I meant to visit: the Commonwealth War Cemetary at Heerstraße.
It got to my heart on various levels.
First, it is always breathtaking to look at hundreds and hundreds of stones, each marking a live lost. Our generation can not even begin to fathom, what war really means.
Second, this particular cemetary is designed in a way I think to be remarkably chaste. And all the more beautiful for it (design by Philip Hepworth, principal architect for WWII Commonwealth Cementaries in Northern Europe).
Third, I read, who rests there: Mostly airmen of RAF Bomber Command. Which flew over 387.000 sorties in Germany during the course of World War II and lost over 55.000 men, representing a death rate of 44%. The average age of these crews was just 22. It is one thing to read these facts at the entrance. But quite another to walk past the rows of stones, each giving a unit, rank, name and the ages: 20, 21, 22. There were stones for young men from – of course – England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. But also from as far as Cyprus, India and New Zealand. Solomon’s seal and Hebrew lettering, right next to crosses and even some muslim half-moons with Arabic letters. There are also many stones marking the grave of unknown soldiers, whose families have hoped for their return in vain. All of these men giving their lives in the effort to end Hitler’s grip on Europe and the biggest crime against humanity known so far.
I personally hate the thought of waging wars, it seldom really ends any conflict or is a solution to anything. But when it comes to the effort of the Allied Nations against Nazi-Germany, I do make an exception. I think it was utterly, completely necessary.
Despite the simple line on the memorial stone in the center of the field, reading: “Their name liveth for evermore” I felt, someone ought to read out each of these names aloud. Lest we forget, what we owe to them: the peace and freedom, our generation is so privileged to enjoy.