Last month I had the opportunity to visit Cologne in the west of Germany. Cologne is Germany’s fourth largest city. Amongst many other things it is home to what I consider to be one of the most impressive cathedrals in the world as well as many museums (one of which shows the excavation of a Praetorian palace) and beer halls. All of this is done in a friendly atmosphere which exudes a very relaxed and pleasant atmosphere. Cologne is definitely a jewel on the Rhine and is recommended.
However this is not a post about the beauty of Cologne. During my visit to the NS Dokumentationszentrum or the Gestapo museum, I certainly had moments to be unnerved and for profound pause. In many respects it is a terrifying reminder to the Nazi domination. For me it is a sorrowful reminder of the desperate reaches that humanity can occupy, something with which I am familiar.
The museum housed the Nazi Gestapo prison which was active before and during the war. Here people were held for no reason other than to advance the Nazi belief. It blissfully survived the bombings and obliteration of Cologne by the bombs of the Allies. The museum is made up of multiple floors (four I think). The basement was by far the most moving part and it is here that you get a sense of the depravity involved. The other floors depict the rise of the Nazi party and the effects of the war mostly in Cologne. It was in the basement where my memories were aroused.
About eleven years ago I took part in an aid working project in India that lasted a month. For the most part we worked in relatively good conditions teaching in a free school. However the first three days were an introduction to Kolkata. There things are seen that are not even fit for nightmares. Visiting slums reveals a world that seems impossible, implausible and incomprehensible to a person of the first world. The conditions are horrifying and I am reminded of these when I read Dante’s inferno. That experience is not something you can forget or abjure. To survive I had to make the experiences a part of my life and my character. That took a long time and is a project that will never be truly finished. I will always have a sense of discontent somewhere in the background.
In the Gestapo prison, people were tortured with over 30 people crammed into a room not fit for a dog. They had a bucket with which to relieve themselves and precious little opportunity to wash themselves. Writings were scrawled into the plaster on the walls of the prisoners and when this is coupled with their story (where available) of these people… .
The difference between my experiences in India and what must have occurred here, I can only guess upon. In India I have a small but solid shore of comfort. The problems here are ultimately caused by poor planning and people looking for an opportunity to earn money. The massive influx leads finally to squalor where the street is ankle high in excrement and where the water supply sprouts from a hill covered in (and I suspect made from) the same.
The feeling from the prison is that the Nazi’s not only carried out the depravity but reveled in its glory. Their deluded sense of madness brought about actions of tyrannical monsters and in that role, they sacrificed whatever dignity they or their victims had. The actions that would make one unnerved were carried out with rancor towards the prisoners and with revelment towards those very actions and what they represented. The prisoners became the embodiment of the Gestapo’s actions. Possibly in the minds of the Gestapo, a warped justification for carrying out those actions came from this embodiment.
I can only imagine what emotions those prisoners must have enduring to attain that tranquility that is found in the arms of sorrow.
“Sorrow is tranquility remembered in emotion.” Dorothy Parker
That is if any were to be found at all.