A German Ozymandias

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

We visited another fine museum on our trip.  Eschewing the sculpture, china, and old masters available in Dresden's partially-restored splendour, we went to the suburbs and visited the Bundeswehr's Museum of Military History.  This was not the eccentric choice it might appear.

There are two parts to the building: an arsenal built in 1877 and an wedge-shaped extension completed in 2011 that slices through it.  We were told that the light and shadow effects produced by the wedge "symbolise the eventful military history of Germany", and that the exhibitions confront "the visitor with his or her own potential for aggression and shows violence as a historical, cultural, and anthropological phenomenon".   Well, maybe – but it works – and we did not have enough time to explore it in full.

The extension focuses on issues such as War and Memory, War and Suffering, Language and the Military, Politics and the use of Force, Protection and Destruction, War and Play, and Fashion and the Military.  The older part is a more conventional chronological journey: the Late Middle Ages to 1914, the Age of World Wars, and 1945 to the Present.

Two artefacts stood out for me.  The first was a wrecked toy that had been found in the rubble of Dresden in 1945.  It was a toy tank that would spit out sparks when run along the ground.  The second was  an almost completely corroded typewriter that was found in the ruins of the Reich Chancellery in Berlin: one of many such machines used to issue orders and seal fates – a quotidian instrument of death and ruination in the 1000-year plan.  It seemed a fitting tribute, and Ozymandias came to mind:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: `Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear –
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.'

The Germans do this reflective, honest, soul-searching of their past rather well.  In addition to the museums we went to, there's also the Documentation Centre in Nuremberg or the Topography of Terror in Berlin, and that's not counting the many Holocaust memorials, concentration camp memorials, or smaller civic museums, such as the one in Cologne that I'm most familiar with.  There is, of course, much soul-searching that still needs doing, but that applies to most of us on way or another.  Monday's post will be about why Germany now needs 5 versions of its national flag.

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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