Fighting over dead people

Tried to take a leisurely stroll today around the St. Georgen and St. Petri cemeteries a few blocks away from our apartment.

The stroll became a brisk walk with lots of rubbing and blowing of hands and stomping of feet.

It’s savagely, painfully cold in Berlin today (zero Fahrenheit, a light wind and a humidity that slaps and scratches at any exposed skin.)

The dirt crunched beneath my shoes as I walked off the noisy street and through the gate into the quiet cemetery. A trace of  two-day-old snow hid about in the leftover leaves of autumn lining the path, outlining the green vines and the bushes seperating plots. The cold had frozen solid the cement troughs for catching water from the grave-flower-watering faucets.


As I rambled down a path among the gravestones, a trumpet began, slowly at first, with emotion…a soulful version of taps. A funeral procession was walking slowly down another path off to the side of the grounds. I thought for a moment I might make an interesting picture of the people…if I was a jerk (or had a super telescope lens) I might have.

Anyway…I was quickly distracted by a nearby colorful trashcan full of discarded flowers and candles, seemingly recently thrown away. I’ve always thought it was weird that every day mourners bring candles and flowers and set them on graves and every day grounds keepers clean it all up and dump it in the trash.

Cold hard realities. But then…that’s cemetaries, I guess.

Prompt a person think and are quiet enough so you actually can.

Speaking of cold and hard realities: this joint parish cemetery is several hundred years old (I should find out how old) and contains men and women who died in many wars, social upheavals and even in peaceful times. Perhaps most momentous, the cemeteries were not spared the street to street fighting that took place in Berlin during the finals days of World War II.

Exploring around a few of the far corners of the grounds, I found larger graves, mausoleums and tombs almost all damaged in some way. Some had survived the war only with a few nicks and scratches, others were riddled with bullet holes. Still others had simply collapsed.

Friedrichshain not only found itself one of the main focal points of the massive allied bombing of Berlin, which not unlike Dresden turned into a firestorm here, but to top it off, months later, it was to be host of the last few miles the Russians had to fight their way through to finally reach Unter die Linden and the Reichstag and finally defeat Germany. The Soviets suffered for every inch. The often very young snipers lay on the roof tops, ducking in upper windows, hiding even behind gravestones apparently. By the end of the war, an estimated two-thirds of the neighborhood was damaged beyond use.

The signs of such noise and violence…the echo of sniper shots cracking into granite, machine-gun fire ricochetting off marble, cannon shock waves shaking the leaves from the trees, walls collapsing and men torn to pieces among the heavy lines of stones…but here and now an oasis of quiet. The air of cemeteries always hold hints of violence…as violence tends to kill people, but this was almost tangible. I found myself wondering what the burried thought when the war came rolling through their cemetary…what did they whisper to the boys, fighting for their lives, hiding behind the headstones, laying on the ground and bleeding to death, faces pressed in the dirt only inches above them? And what did the boys think fighting over dead people?

Creepy fucking questions. Graveyards.

Anyway…that’s enough philosophical silliness for one blog. Today in the St. Georgen and St. Petri cemeteries I tinkered around a lot less time than I wanted to because my fingers started to scream and whine every time I took my gloves off to shoot a picture, and eventually didn’t stop screaming even when I had my gloves on, and I could barely hold the camera strait so I friggin’ headed home.

Not much one for the cold. Hope I never find myself in a war. Talking to you, Koreas.

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About Andrew Flohr-Spence

Something about the sound and the word. Was a singer/bassist for five years, a German major for five, an English teacher in Germany for another five, then a journalism major in Denver for 5 more, and now I'm back in Berlin (for a while, I intend).
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