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Gedanken Am Schillerplatz

I. Twelve Years in the Land of Poets and Thinkers

Defiling the profundities in Faust
By Strength Through Joy and documenting souls,
And wallowing in Wagner while they oust
The irredentist French and vagrant Poles,
And reassigning Europe's shrouds, deloused,
To Übermenschen trapped in frozen holes,
Until at last their cities, fires doused,
Are stalked by apparitions scraping bowls;
Their thinkers either dead or in despair,
And Schiller just a statue in the square.

II. The Economic Miracle

The arrogant elite, the Volk they drilled,
Forget the world they tried to disembowel,
The fantasy indomitably willed
That cruelty is fair and mercy foul,
And scrape away the havoc and rebuild
And even as they labor with the trowel,
The fairyland where multitudes were killed
Is overrun by tourists on the prowl,
Whose tour guides inform them as they stare
That Schiller is a statue in the square.

III. The Old Women, 1987

The alte Frauen limping by with canes,
Their faces set, their sorrows well concealed;
Yet every heart undoubtedly contains
Some memory with love and blood congealed,
Some death that brought relief, some life that pains,
Some final kiss, some longing unrevealed,
That reaffirm when nothing else remains
To verify the fallen in the field:
No monuments or dramas to compare
With Schiller and his statue in the square.

©2001 Lewis Bruser

Notes:
Gedanken Am Schillerplatz means "Thoughts in Schiller Square." I used the German title so one would realize at the outset that the poem is about Germany. The Schillerplatz is in Stuttgart.

Germany has been called the Land of Poets and Thinkers, and the twelve years referred to are 1933-45. Schiller would probably not have lasted long in the Third Reich.

"Strength Through Joy" was a Nazi program of physical recreation, entertainment, and travel.

"Documenting souls" refers to the requirement that all Germans prove their Aryan ancestry. (One of our friends still has her family's document, going back three generations. One grandfather was named Goldschmidt, a name not uncommon among Jews. The church which held his birth/baptismal/wedding records had burned down, and the family was able to obtain the necessary affidavits only shortly before the deadline. After this large document—the size of a newspaper page—with all the endorsements was completed, each family member received an ID card.)

"Übermenschen (supermen) trapped in frozen holes" refers to the German army at Staligrad.

The Economic Miracle is what the Germans called their post-war reconstruction. I wrote "scrape away the havoc" rather than "scrape away the rubble," which actually makes more sense, because of a line spoken by Marc Anthony in Julius Caesar: "Cry 'Havoc,' and let slip the dogs of war."

I tried to condense one of the most tragic events in human history and understate it as much as I could, ending with an ironic comparison between memorials and real life. I should add that while I was much impressed by the large statue of Schiller looking down from a pedestal, these were not actually the thoughts I had at the time.

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