Watches and BOMBS! Pforzheim, Germany

Written by Hank Martin in W. Europe

It was winter, but the sun was out. Something didn’t seem right though. I stood in the main square of Pforzheim, struck by the solitude. To my right a woman sat, her gaze focused on some point in the far off past or future. Her shoulders were hunched, caving in on her body and her cold, bare skin shined a waxy white in the clear morning. She had white, brittle hair poking out from beneath a hood.

Others walked through the square, some with ipod ear buds stuck in their ears. Others had bags slung over a shoulder, the strap pressing against their chests and meeting the bulging fabric of the bags that smacked against their hips as they walked.

But, among all of the people, those moving and those sitting, solitude clung to the air. It was as if a huge vacuum had sucked all the air out of the city, leaving it empty and dead. This goldstadt seems to have lost it golden feel. The other thing immediately noticeable is the modern feel. The buildings, the streets, everything is clean and new.

Pforzheim was once a gem, literally, as it had renown the world over for its jewelry and watches. I’ve always had a fascination with watches. The movement of the gears, the quiet tic toc of the hands, the precision of the pieces…all of it marks a sophisticated creator.

Crushing the Clocks of Pforzheim

But then war robbed this city of life. In WWII many of the shops and factories of this 120,000 peopled city were converted to military purposes. Citizens produced precision equipment, such things as anti-aircraft shells and allegedly even V1 and V2 rockets. After all, a place known for its attention to detail and diligence should have no problem refocusing its energies on more practical, military applications. And it didn’t.

In fact the town did such a good job at aiding the Nazis in WWII that the British Royal Air Force repaid the favor by bombing it. Now, we aren’t just talking about any bombing. The bombing that the air force carried out was the worst of any in WWII. On February 23rd 1945 citizens of Prorzheim were at home eating dinner, or maybe relaxing after a long day of work, when the air sirens went off.

Panic ensued as the Royal Air Force laid to waste the town in an effort to destroy built up areas and industries associated with the war effort. But, they did much more than that. When the planes finally vanished into the horizon they took with them the human spirit of Pforzheim.

Over 80% of the buildings in town were destroyed and more than 17,000 people lay dead. That was 1/3 of the population of Pforzheim at the time. The death toll was so high, and many of the bodies so mangled that identifying them was impossible. They buried everyone in mass graves in the town cemetery.

The city was depopulated; the area near the Leopold Square I’m now standing in dropped from over 5,000 to 12 inhabitants after the bombing. In addition to all of the deaths, twice as many people were displaced, living out of shacks and surviving on soup kitchen lines.

The rubble left from the bombings was pushed into a nearby valley, forming two hills. Time would eventually cover the hills with grass, trees and flowers. People would have picnics on the hills, looking down into town. Life would continue above, but the concrete, rebar, cars, and destruction would remain below. . After the war, an occupation filled with raping and looting, Pforzheim began the slow process of rebuilding.

German Watches

Practically everything I see in town was built within the last 60 years. I came here because Pforzheim is world-famous for their watch making. I wanted to see some masters at work. But, I found the scars. There is a quiet desperation in the air, almost a fore longing for WWII never to have happened. I wonder, if these people and this town was told its fate beforehand would they have still produced weaponry for the Nazis?

With Hitler’s death a whole country was left in ruins. This man built up a noble ideal, inspired German nationalism, and then tore it all away with his demise and the release of details regarding his atrocities. Germans were left shamed and embarrassed, betrayed and without direction. The one man who had given them hope, purpose and the promise of a brighter and more glorious future also took all these things away. He left behind a country in ruins.

ConcressCentrumPforzheimWalking through the jewelry shops and window shopping watches. I gaze at the beautiful German made watches, brands like Archimede and Limes.  But beyond this precious and beauty lies a lesson to be learned and a feeling that something is "off." While you won’t hear anyone talk about it, you can sense that it affects them. They bury away the even like rubble beneath a hill of grass, but they don’t forget.

A Visit to Pforzheim

People here have been branded, after all this historical event took place within the last century. I have no doubt that young children have heard of the story from their grandparents or in school. Parents have seen the effect of it on their parents while growing up during an era when Pforzheim was being rebuilt. And these grandparents, the ones that were young kids at the time can still remember the day their lives changed forever.

Someday these first-hand accounts will be gone, leaving only a note in history books. Then, when humans can distance themselves from the horrific things that happened here they may be able to wrap their heads around it and move on. For, right now, the event is still too fresh, people are too close to understand the utter destruction of civilians who were under Nazi occupation.

However, I have no doubt that at some point this town will slowly regain its spirit. That day will come when people forget that a valley existed outside of town, and see only the two beautiful hills surrounding their city.



Hank Martin

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Traveling for a world education and writing about the life lessons learned.

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