Reflections from Hamburg, Peace and the Portals of Prina

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In her last post, Sheila touched on the destruction of Hamburg during WW2.

During the last week of July 1943, the city was largely destroyed as a result of night raids by the RAF and daytime raids by the USAAF. ‘Operation Gomorrah’ as it was codenamed, claimed the lives of over 42,000 people, many of them killed on the night of July 27 when more than 700 RAF bombers took to the skies and as a result of concentrated bombing inadvertently created a firestorm over the city.

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Wikipedia has a detailed description of exactly what happened if anyone wants the full story.

I mention it because for the two days we were in Hamburg on our recent visit to northern Germany, it was difficult to avoid being reminded of what happened to Germany’s second city. As someone who is interested in history, I wanted to find out more about why this happened and whether it did anything to shorten the war.

The stated reason given at the time by the British authorities was retaliation for the Blitz and the bombing of Coventry but it seems clear that the switch from bombing industrial targets in the Ruhr was actually a change of policy – literally an attempt to shorten the war by breaking the spirit of the civilian population. There is some evidence that had it continued, it might have been successful but for reasons which are not entirely clear, this did not happen to any significant degree, at least not until February 1945 when Dresden was reduced to ruins and an unknown number of people perished.

Sheila and I spent some time while in Hamburg visiting a memorial in the crypt of the ruined church of St Nicholas. It commemorates not just those who died but also those air crews who took part, many of whom suffered severe psychological problems when the full horror became apparent afterwards. It also deals with other cities which suffered aerial destruction, particularly Warsaw. Interestingly, it does not seek to apportion blame but deals with the issues of aerial warfare and civilian population in a reasoned and open manner. However, underlying everything is a feeling that somehow this was divine retribution for Germany having started the war and for the awful treatment of Jews, gays and other minorities.

I was left feeling uneasy about this and decided to re-read ‘Love in the Ruins’ by Harry Leslie Smith which I had first read a couple of years ago. He tells his own story of life as an RAF wireless operator stationed at Hamburg at the end of 1945 and his love affair with a young German woman who would ultimately become his wife. I thoroughly recommend the book to anyone interested in the subject. It deals with some of the issues raised but in the immediate aftermath of the war, which is probably the best time to consider them. However, it’s also fundamentally a love story and a good read too!

I think it’s easy to moralise at a later date and to reach ‘fireside’ conclusions which are all very well when survival is not at stake but all the same, it is surely worth considering how war is now increasingly waged against civilian populations and how we British, from the time of the Boer War onwards, have had a hand in the development of this unfortunate aspect of modern warfare.

But of perhaps more immediate relevance to our world today, is the fact that the institutions put in place in Europe post WW2 have in the main prevented the scourge of previous generations, ie major European wars and allowed my generation, a virtually unprecedented period of peace. We can only hope that Brexit and the rise of neo-nationalism both in Europe and worldwide, will not endanger this precious legacy.

On a lighter note, we have of course, now returned to Crete after our stay in Germany and the weather since we returned to Kavousi, has been generally warm and sunny, at least by day.

So, the week before last, freed from Greek lessons by the upcoming carnival and greeted by a beautiful spring day, we decided to have a day out and started our tour by visiting Prina, a village in the hills above Istron, which had been recommended by our fellow Cretan blogger, Yvonne Payne.

The village itself is not particularly attractive but has a fine church situated high above,

with a view to die for and an access road, on which you might just do that!

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What struck me most about the village was the wonderful variety of doorways and alleys and being a fan of alliteration, I came up with the last part of my title, which in fact probably sounds better in Greek than in English – οι πόρτες της Πρίνας.

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We had a short stop in Istron for a beer and a pie and then headed for the beach where Sheila had her first swim of 2017. Although it was warm enough to get into my dookers, I decided against a dip having picked up a cold in Athens on the way home from Germany. Nice weather though!

img_20170305_1109361And finally, my flower bed! For quite a while I have been intending to do something about the courtyard/alley in front of our house, here in Kavousi. We don’t own it – no one does apparently but it is a bit of an eyesore. Two of the ‘sheds’ are owned by folk who are no longer with us (according to Maria and Nikos) and although our elderly neighbour, Ευτυχία, occasionally pulls up a few weeds, it is clear to me that she feels that it is really my responsibility! Last year, I did manage to clear an area for my banana plants and this year, when we got back from Hamburg, I set to work on the Bermuda Buttercups, keeping a keen eye out for snakes! I am not a gardener but am pretty pleased with my small flower bed – το μικρό παρτέρι μου – which finally got some bedding plants last week and returning to my main theme, I decided to dedicate it to a peaceful and united Europe.

John

 

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