As others mark World War One centenary, Germans prefer to forget

Wed Mar 19, 2014 5:17am EDT
 
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By Erik Kirschbaum

BERLIN (Reuters) - A simple plaque marks the forsaken spot where the Red Baron was buried in central Berlin but hardly anyone stops to remember the flying ace shot down in 1918. For Germans, the Great War holds so little interest.

The centenary of the outbreak of World War One has caught Germany off guard, while Britain, France, the United States and others mark it with battlefield tours, television programs, exhibitions and plans for ceremonies on the day, in August.

Germans aren't sure how, or even if, they should commemorate a war that cost them 13 percent of their territory, all their colonies, huge reparations and 2.5 million lives. The government is under fire for its inactivity.

"Most Germans don't want to have anything to do with the militaristic past," said Stefan Scheybal, a mason who tends graves at the Invalids' cemetery where Manfred von Richthofen was buried, a plot of land now bisected by a busy cycle path.

"We were brought up to scorn patriotism and everything about our belligerent history, so no one really feels a connection to World War One," said Scheybal, 51. "Most Germans don't care who the Red Baron was. Only English people come to see his grave."

The way Germany treats its war dead - even the gallant Red Baron, who shot down 80 enemy planes - helps explain why it is having a hard time figuring out how to mark the centenary of the start of a war that shaped the 20th century.

REASONS FOR APATHY

The reasons for German apathy run deeper than the obvious fact that they lost the war. Modern Germany has no appetite for war and shudders at the memories of Imperial Germany, with its spiked "Pickelhaube" helmets and exuberant militarism.   Continued...

 
Stone crosses and gravestones are silhouetted against the sky at Invaliden cemetery in Berlin March 17, 2014. REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz