He said: Every German town has their Friedhof (cemetery). The Friedhof is typically situated on a hill overlooking the town and offers great views. The Friedhofs that I have visited have ranged from very small to quite huge, but what they all have in common is an unmistakable way of moving you. Below is the view from the Eulenbis Friedhof.
Each Friedhof is carefully taken after by the people of the town. There are always fresh flowers during the summer, and nearly every grave will have a fresh arrangement sitting on or near the gravestone. After several trips the flowers all stayed new, and I started thinking “who is taking care of all of these arrangements?”. As we got to know our neighbors in Sulzbachtal we would see them walk up to the friedhof with fresh flowers and come back without any. We would see our neighbor Inga doing this often. Our neighbor Paul will also shuffle between two cemeteries on Sunday – one where his parents are buried, and another close to our home. This is the Obersulzbach Friedhof that we walk up to most every night. The view is incredible and there are sheep and cows along the way to say hello to.
Each Friedhof has watering cans and water available. The flower, or Blumen, businesses flourish around the Friedhofs. Across the street from the large cemetery on the east side of Kaiserslautern, there are at least 3 flower shops. You can purchase a nice arrangement for about 5€, grab a watering can, and venture across the street to pay your respects. Walking along the outer cemetery wall, along Mannheimer Strasse across from Kleber Kaserne, you can see shell marks from the World War II bombs dropped by the Allies. These are large, several inch, gashes in the walls from the three bombings of Kaisersalutern in 1944. The allies bombed Kaisersalutern not just to cripple their transportation and industry, but also because there were German bases (Kasernes) there. 70 years later, they are now American bases and have been a major part of the German landscape and economy here since the war. More than 60% of Kaiserslautern was destroyed by bombs during the war, and unexploded ordinance continues to be found to this day. In fact, we just heard about a bomb that was found in the town of Enkenbach-Alsenborn just last week. Local authorities ordered the entire town be evacuated while the bomb experts dealt with the situation. We just had dinner in that town at a pizza and ice cream Italian place about a month ago!
Many Friedhofs will have a World War I and II memorial to those killed or missing from the wars. The memorial in Sulzbachtal when translated reads “they gave their best for the Fatherland”. Regardless if you are a German, American, or any other nationality, these are very moving memorials that are found throughout the country and make you think about how we got here, and were these wars really necessary? Over 2 million Germans died in WWII alone. The memorial in Wolfstein which sits next to the remains of an 800 year old castle was filled with hundreds of names (in a town of about 2000), and an overflow memorial had to be built in a different section of town. Often times, the names of the missing will out number those killed.
On the first Saturday in September, my wife, daughter, and I visited the Lorraine American cemetery in Saint-Avold, France. The cemetery contains 10,849 graves, the largest number of any American World War II cemetery in Europe. The Soldiers buried there were killed during 1944 and 1945, as the allies pushed East across France and into Germany, eventually breaking through the Siegfried line and crossing the Rhine river. The feeling you get when first seeing the cemetery is indescribable. The view is incredible from either end, and this picture shows the view from the eastern bluff looking back towards the entrance and visitors center.
We were the only people there walking the 113 acres. Each cross is aligned perfectly in rows, columns, and diagonals. Mixed in are stars of David, about 200 total, for the Jewish Soldiers. In this picture below can you find a star of David?
There are 30 sets of brothers and 4 medal of honor winners buried here. The grass is immaculately trimmed; in fact a couple from Louisville we met afterwards said they had seen special machines used to cut the grass short and even around each white cross. The couple was on a journey to see the man’s brother, who was buried here when killed in the fall of 1944. The man was only 6 months old at the time and had no memories of his brother, yet it still took him 69 years to become ready enough to visit his grave in person.
The history in Germany and across Europe is incredible. A great way to appreciate this is to visit a cemetery. Whether it is the local Friedhof up on the hill, or a battlefield cemetery, it is sure to be a moving experience.