The Weight of History

Notes from a visit to Germany:

Friday evening, May 20, 2011, I visited my friend Toelli’s art studio, only a few kilometers from our farm. We stood outside in his sculpture garden, wine glasses in our hands, enjoying a calm evening. I admired his newest creations, lanky sculptures with cubistic abstractions, painted with gentle pastel colors, which naturally blended into the lush green meadows, so typical of the flat Lower Rhine Valley landscape. Suddenly we heard a deafening blast and saw a dark cloud mushrooming to the sky in the far distance.

“Wow.” Toelli exclaimed.

I trembled and spilled wine.

“What is that?” I asked.

“Gas explosion, maybe? Toelli shrugged his shoulders.

“I hope nobody got hurt,” I said.

We waited quietly, expecting to hear sirens, but nothing followed as the dark cloud slowly moved towards the direction of the Rhine and eventually disintegrated.


The next morning my mom and I went to the local farmers market. We ran into a family friend and he immediately asked, “Did you hear the detonation last evening, it was so close to your farm.”

“Yes,” my mom said, “Dishes in the cupboards were rattling, what was it?”

“Oh, you didn’t know? During the excavations for the new cow stables on your neighbor’s farm they found a 250 kilogram aircraft bomb from World War II, buried in a depth of four and a half meters. The excavator moved it a bit, and they had to act quickly because of the dangerous acid detonator. There was no time and the police only blocked of the immediate environment when they detonated the bomb. But imagine; shrapnel was found in gardens and on rooftops 500 meters away.”

“Oh, no,” my mom went pale. “You remember when Jörg, caught a bomb like that in the plough. That was the spring after my husband had died. Jörg was working on the field and thought a piece of wood got caught, he used the controls of the tractor to lift and shake the plough, as he always did, without looking back to see what got caught. But when he couldn’t release it, he turned his head and saw the bomb. He jumped off the tractor, engine still running, and raced home to call the police. The bomb team from Düsseldorf was able to diffuse the detonator.”

“Of course I remember, and the police said how lucky Jörg was to survive. That bomb was still sharp, it could have gone off,” our friend said and then continued. “In the fifties, one of the brother’s on the neighbor’s farm blew up with his tractor while ploughing a field.”

My mom’s face was still pale and I took her hand.

(A bomb from World War II got stuck in the plow behind my brother’s tractor in the fall of 1998, while he plowed a field in German’s Lower Rhine Valley)


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