Living with Loss, Dealing with Shame

Neil Gregor looks at Germany and the legacies of war.

In 1949 Thomas Mann, the grand old man of German letters, undertook a brief return visit to the homeland from where he had been forced into exile in 1933. During his trip he was taken by civic dignitaries on a tour of what remained of the heavily damaged city of Nuremberg. He recorded his impressions thus:

The war has spared some architectural treasures and old city heritage monuments in Germany. But I will never forget how the old museum director led us up to the castle in the hopelessly ruined city of Nuremberg so that we might enjoy the view over the town. ‘The tower, the fountain’, he said with trembling voice. ‘You see, they are still standing. The sites of the Dürer-House, the Pirckheimer-House, you can still make them out, can’t you? The characteristic outlines are still there, in a sense everything is still there really...’ There was nothing there, but he was persuading himself that he could still see it. It was enough to make you cry.

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