W.e follow the winding path behind the elephant-gray entrance gate and run towards the singing. There are dark Buddha sculptures and small shrines between the fir trees, a pond glistens in the sun. In a clearing, a monk in a wine-red robe sings a morning prayer, occasionally he strikes a head-high bell. It hangs on steel cables that are pulled up into the sky. An imposing stupa towers nine floors above the monk, an archaic tower made of granite and coarse concrete, strangely powerful and raw, at the same time open and flooded with light. The irritating effect comes from the massive pillars that were pounded for a completely different purpose. The stone pillars were supposed to support the monumental entrance stairs of the National Socialist rest home “Kraft durch Freude” (Strength through Joy).
It would have been an overwhelming staircase that would have turned its guests into devout dwarfs in the entrance hall. But the building was not finished in the Second World War, the pillars supplied were useless and lay around for years like unsatisfied, painful ghosts from the past – until the monks came from Vietnam. They bought the six hectare property, built the European Center for Applied Buddhism and turned the pillars of the gloomy Nazi architecture into a heavenly sanctuary. With that the first tower in Waldbröl was built. The citizens were amazed, the tower stood and held. And it worked by extracting the dull energy from the stone pillars, as the center’s founder, Thich Nhat Hanh, promised at the inauguration. Since then, in addition to their churches, the Waldbröler have had a stupa towering into the sky and one less thing to worry about.
“Don’t forget to say ‘Heil Hitler'”
That leaves the wall, the Nazi wall, behind which a school was to be built. It is an embarrassing seven hundred meters long, a sign, actually unmistakable, but not to be found at first. There is no indication in the old town. We stand in the center of the pretty town, turn between half-timbered houses and children who laughingly defy the rain as bronze figures under an umbrella, and read innocuous things on the board “history station”. In 1894, the municipal officials named the streets. We find out in which house the doctor Carl Venn was born. No sentence about the gloomy past, even the strange glass showcases do not help. One is empty, the other is a wooden box turned upside down, Château Camensac, Grand Cru from the 2000 vintage. The wall? “Up the mountain,” growls a driver, “then right. And don’t forget to say ‘Heil Hitler’. “
Single-family houses, paved driveways, trimmed front gardens that extend into the slope. After a few minutes we are on the outskirts, where a fat meadow that is still damp in the morning grows up the mountain until it meets an endless band of stones. Here it stands, the great wall, upright, monstrous and made of stone for eternity. In the 1980s, citizens painted “Never again war” on the stones in huge letters. The white color stands out against the brown wall, and although the lettering is meters high, it is lost on the wall. We walk across the meadow, climb up at the end and walk above the wall as if on a dead straight pier. Except that on the left there is no sea, but a wide landscape with tree-lined hills, meadows and hamlets. You screw up your eyes and open them again. A green idyll, as liked by the English novelist DH Lawrence, who was working on his novel “Sons and Lovers” in Waldbröl. Lawrence appreciated the quiet of the place. He called the village almost English, “quite pretty in a tame way”. A description that still applies today were it not for this wall. “Nobody gets along” is sprayed on with a stencil.