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.
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.
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.
One of the questions readers frequently ask is where do I write. Physically that is. Which seat is my backside attached to? What can I see from if I look up from the screen?
The answer is usually wherever I happen to be at the time. But if the weather allows it, outdoors. Here are three images of some of my favourite writing locations. The first is at Schloß Pesch in Meerbusch Ossum. The other two are in Meerbusch Büderich.
One relic of the second world war is an old flak-shelter which now stands by the Teloy windmill in Lank-Latum. It was designed for a single person. The rear is open. The idea was that anyone who was on duty during an air-raid, but was too far from a proper shelter, could duck inside one of these concrete devices and avoid being hit by shrapnel.
In The Devil’s Missal, the main character, Holda, spent her early childhood around Schloss Pesch. When she returns as an adult, revisiting those scenes sparks some strange memories… conscious and subconscious.
One of the confusing things for newcomers to Meerbusch is the sheer number of place names used for different parts of the town. Meerbusch was only officially recognised as a town on 20. May 1976. Prior to that it consisted of a loose collection of eight formerly independent villages: Büderich, Osterath, Lank-Latum, Ossum-Bösinghoven, Strümp, Langst-Kierst, Nierst and Ilverich, which went by the collective title ‘Waldgebiet Meerbusch’ – the forested region of Meerbusch.
As you enter the Herrenbusch by Haus Gripswald there is the obligatory information board for visitors complete with map and basic local history. This one has a rather lovely sketch of Haus Gripswald which gives a much better impression of the place than any photograph can, as so much of the house is masked by trees.