Last Monday, a Munich construction worker’s shovel uncovered a bomb left over from WWII.
This happens a lot in Europe. Sixty some years after the last bomb fell, people all over are still finding the duds, the aging, rusting yet still explosively loaded duds that fell and were buried. Perhaps buried by the debris of other bombs, perhaps burying themselves in the impact.
And so they wait, aging in their hiddeness till someone scraps off the dirt and then the site is cleared. The newspapers report this is nearly a daily occurrence, this finding of potential explosive killing force. Still daily now these sixty years later.
That’s a lot of bombs to keep finding.
The experts are called in. Or expert as the number of people with the skill, experience and will to keep defusing these aging monsters are dwindling. Most of the time its a matter of pulling a simple mechanism that didn’t work and then loading the now fully inert bomb into a truck for explosion elsewhere.
But some caps were built for a delayed reaction. They are tricker, more fragile. The one the found on Monday in Schwabing, a dense urban neighborhood boarding the English Garden, was one of those. The expert came and looked at it, posed next to it with a finger just touching the innocent looking tip, and then said “No.” He said that this bomb can not be moved. It has to be exploded here, in place, where it lies.
So, piles of sand bags were loaded atop the iron shell and layers of straw bails on top of that. Neighborhoods were cleared. A child snatched up from her nap, dinner left to cool on the table, office workers left to stand at the police tape lines and watch the now empty streets leading to their empty homes.
At first its easy to walk around Munich and not see that there had been a war here but the marks are still visible if we know where to look. Perhaps it’s when we start to see how few buildings are older then say, 1950. Or its when we stand atop one of the green, tree planted hills in Olympic Park and learn they are unnatural on this flat plain just north of the Alps. These green hills are in fact the rubble of a city cleared by the hands of the widows, the children, and the old. The war is still here. Its there in the mysterious holes left in the wall of one of the University buildings. It’s the topic one never brings up when meeting people who grew up in Munich. It’s the room set off from the rest of Munich’s History Museum where the artifacts from that time are displayed.
The city is beautiful and successful. At first glance and perhaps third and fourth, Munich has moved on, beer mass firmly in hand. But the second glance catches the marks not yet paved over. The marks once seen that remain seen, mutely testifying.
The war is still there. Under everyone’s feet and homes and shops and streets. A few months ago, train traffic was halted on the east side of town while another bomb was pulled out from alongside the tracks. “They are aging, these bombs,” the experts warn everyone. “They are all becoming more and more unstable and one day, they may stop waiting for us to find them,” they say.
In the Pacific Northwest, we worry about flooding and sort of about the big earthquake and about the random tsunami. In California, we worry about fire and earthquake. In the Midwest we worry about tornados and in the Southeast we worry about hurricanes while the Northeast fears the blizzard. Munich, Germany, and all of Europe worries about the hidden bombs of World War II. Or the fully loaded bazooka a child attending a birthday party finds in the woods behind the house. Or the grenade turned up by a farmer’s plow.
“We can not move this,” the experts said on Tuesday night. “We must allow this bomb to complete its mission,” and so they reburied it with sandbags and hay bales. They moved everyone out of the way and parked the fire engines close but not too close by and everyone waited, eyes searching the night sky. In the newspapers people said there was a true shock wave a real physical force that shocked their building and waved their windows – and that was outside the evacuation zone. Videos show a giant glowing mass arching high over the roofs of Schwabing. Flying flaming hay bales fell onto roof tops and city streets and firemen rushed in to end the destruction sent out sixty years ago. Photos the next morning showed apartments with shattered glass strewn over the table set for dinner.
Energy, coiled up tightly and buried will not wait forever but it can wait a very long time. We may dance in the streets and kiss strangers while bells ring out good news of peace restored but these hidden reservoirs of our hate and fear can’t hear the good news of community restored. We planted these seeds of death against each other and they will have their time of harvest.
This is one of the things I have learned from Munich: War does not end.
It just waits.