I was early. No great surprise.
Last night was the “Long Night of the Museums” which is a night where all the major and some minor museums stay open in Munich until 2 am, and you buy one ticket and it includes the subway and entry and it made for a fun night. But what’s on my mind isn’t the night of museums; it’s the half hour before I met my friends to go museum hopping.
It was raining lightly, and it was cold. I had gotten a coffee, and I was standing outside the Deutsches Museum, which is more of a Museum of Technology. I was huddled under an awning looking north and I could see, peeking above the trees the Müller'schen Volksbad. This is a famous and gorgeous bath house that opened in 1901, and it’s notable for many reasons, but the one I think about the most is that it wasn’t really damaged much in World War 2.
So I’m sipping my coffee looking at this amazing building across the street. It’s getting dark, and the lights are coming on, and I’m thinking “OK, wasn’t damaged that much in the bombing, so I bet the GIs took to that pool right quick.” Munich was liberated in late April, and I’m sure it was soon time for a dip. I’ve thought a lot on train trips or cycling back into Munich about being in those fields, marching towards the center, on the way to liberating this city, but I’ve never really thought about what those weeks and months immediately following the end of the war must have been like.
The GIs primary concern would have been ensuring that wasn’t any war left anywhere in the city. Rounding up men and ammunition, knocking out schwastikas, and resetting the culture a bit, even though the city itself had been all but reset to rubble. I can barely imagine riding along in a jeep, looking down the streets at Germans, primarily women and children, pushing wheel barrows and wagons full of rubble, just trying to bring things back to some semblance of an inhabited city.
Of course it’s natural for me to imagine myself in the place of the American observer. And I stood on the Museum Island sipping my coffee in 2015, and thinking “OK, 70 years ago, this city is eviscerated.” My heart lurched, for a moment I could feel the sadness of what had happened. For most Germans, I’m sure, the war ended and everything was just utterly fucked. Truly and completely. For a thousand reasons, but looking at this building an imagining everything around it destroyed to the point of being little more than facades hit me in the heart. I really love this city, and I’ve never lived in a place with such a wound in it’s past. And I just won’t ever be able to see though their eyes.
As I floated back up out of the little dream I felt that same sink in my heart whenever I have a dream that takes place in a different time. I’ve dreamed myself into something that was sort of real, but is also completely unreachable.
So imagining myself posted as some GI in Munich, tasked with guarding something, or patrolling somewhere, or even marching scores of prisoners through the streets is something I can sort of get a grasp on, and it would have ended there, but. Today is cold and rainy as well, and I went and shot some video for something I’m working on, but the weather eventually got the better of me, and I came home. To the internet. I googled “Munich 1945” and full-color, high definition video comes up covering the exact period I was thinking about. It’s like time travel, and after a few videos here comes one with a nice opening shot of the Müller'schen Volksbad, right there, in the time I was imagining.
And this is a place that I pass every day on my way to German class. It’s a place that one day I will pass without thinking about. It's completely crazy watching these videos and recognizing intersections, buildings, and architecture, and seeing how bad it really was. Here's one of the better videos:
So following this google search it was time to go all the way down the rabbit hole and learn a little bit about the reconstruction of Munich. However, that’s a whole other weird story, one in which the Nazis play a semi-heroic role. Or at least, an interestingly self-aware one.