Laterne… laterne

It’s that time of the year when strange items start appearing in the German shops. Not the Lebkuchen and Stollen … they’ve been on the supermarket shelves since August, thank you very much. No, I mean these things….

Paper lanterns and lightbulbs-on-sticks

We are into the period where children parade through the streets of every town and village singing songs about St. Martin and carrying (mostly home-made) paper lanterns. It’s not as exciting as in the old days, when the paper lanterns had candles inside (what could possibly go wrong?). In my experience wind and rain were always the biggest menace. For the record, a paper lantern lasts about seven-and-a-half minutes in steady drizzle.

A four hour journey from Pempelfort to Krefeld

One of the sources I used while writing The Devil’s Missal was the journal of Steven Jan de Geuns, a Dutch academic who travelled extensively through Germany in the company of Alexander von Humboldt, passing through Meerbusch on 26th October 1789.

De Geuns waxed lyrical about Krefeld, calling it a beautiful city, clean and the closest to a Dutch city that he had seen (being a Dutchman himself, presumably this was high praise). His sightseeing tour of the city appears to have consisted of a tour of several factories. Meerbusch is mentioned only as consisting of fertile agricultural land. Which sounds about right for the period.

A quadrupal wedding in Lank-Latum 1935

Close family ties took on another meaning back in 1935 when the three Radmacher sisters, Franziska, Leni and Adele and the three Hermkes siblings all married at the same time. For both families it must have been a highly memorable occasion. Nowadays it seems odd that the brides are all wearing black, but white wedding gowns were not well established in the Rhineland until the 1940s. Before that a formal black Sunday dress would typically be teamed with a wedding veil and flowers as we see here.

Images from Landleben und Brauch – Heimatkreis Lank e. V. 1998

The last victims of world war two in Meerbusch-Büderich

While collecting stories about Meerbusch, sometimes you stumble upon one which is unbelievably poignant.

In the cemetery in Meerbusch-Büderich is a memorial to the local civilian victims of two world wars as well as one unknown soldier. The monument was designed as a warning to the population, never to let such terrible wars recur. The sculpture by Adolf Westergerling is a conical column topped by a raised warning finger. It was erected in 1959.

Memorial and warning to the populace, Adolf Westergerling 1959

Around it, in the form of stone crosses are twenty memorials to the thirty-seven civilians who died in Meerbusch-Büderich during the conflicts. Perhaps the most bitter of all of these are the headstones for three children, all of whom lived at the end of the Nordstrasse and all of whom died on May 20th 1945.

These children’s deaths are particularly tragic, not only because of their young age. At the time they died in May 1945, the fighting in Meerbusch was already over. A month earlier as the US army had passed through, the local German population had been evacuated from Meerbusch to villages to the south and west (mainly Heerdt and Willich) while the battle to cross the Rhine continued. By May the advancing army had passed through and the Meerbuschers had been allowed to return to their homes.
They came back to a scene of some devastation. The army of occupation had made free with provisions and possessions in the private homes they had occupied for a month. Bombardment from the opposite side of the Rhine had caused considerable destruction, as had explosions from booby traps and mines, such as the one which crippled a Sherman tank next to the Böhlerwerk.

US Sherman tank blown up by a landmine by the Böhlerwerk, killing one and injuring five

It was to this environment that Klaus Wahl, Willi Pöttgen and Petronella Theunissen returned to where they lived behind the Böhlerwerk on the Nordstrasse. On the 20th May the three young neighbours were exploring together outdoors when they discovered a new toy to play with. Tragically the ‘toy’ turned out to be a live grenade which exploded in their hands, killing them outright. They were the last casualties of world war two in Meerbusch.