The 'Goose Fountain' in Munster's town square
ROBINSON’S GERMAN JOURNEY: DAY EIGHT
WEDNESDAY 28 MARCH 2012
MUNSTER TO HAMBURG: THE TOWER
It was a sunny and breezy midday.
This is what I wrote in my notebook as I sat in the small town square in Munster, on the steps of the ‘Goose Fountain’.
‘They don’t build monuments to the right things.
Kings and Queens, great statesmen, military men on horseback. They are all very well but they are pompous and proclaim uncritical praise where it may not necessarily be due.
Closer to the mark are the few paltry statues and plaques to Clever People Who Did Great Things. Discoverers, seekers and finders, creators and questioners.
They make a strong case, yes. But they are still not the right things to build monuments in memory of.
I remember first thinking thoughts like this when I lived in London and saw the statue of Nurse Edith Cavell just off Trafalgar Square. Nearby, Nelson is raised on his column in memory of a battle he took almost no part in winning. He gazes down on London’s countless statues of royalty, aristocracy, clergy, military and government.
Edith, though, stands on a small plinth at a cramped crossroads. In the First World War, she nursed and cared for soldiers from both sides. ‘Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness for anyone’. Someone whose statue in Germany is probably much more vainglorious than hers ordered her to be shot by firing squad for her trouble.
The origin of straightforward devotion and love like this is immaterial. Nurse Cavell or Greyfriars Bobby; it doesn’t matter. Their monuments and memorials and statues should be several times grander than they are because they provide a focus for us to remember good things - the humanity (or caninity) of devotion, loyalty and tenderness.
Why are there no monuments to flowers and trees? I want to see a giant, bronze statue of tulips and bluebells and sycamore keys and apples.
Why can’t someone design a sculpture to the glory and wonder of chaffinches and robins and blackbirds - and to how very much we love them, and to how much joy and pleasure they bring us without asking for anything in return?
There should be a sculpture somewhere in honour of sunsets or thunderstorms or heavy rain or deep snow or butterflies or bats or walruses.
I want to build a tower.
It will be very, very high so that it can be seen from many lands and by people speaking lots of different languages. You will be able to climb to the top and watch the sun rise or forests turn from green to brown or feed the birds or feel the wind kiss your face.
People will want to come from miles around and from across the sea to visit my tower. Their hearts will beat faster when they first glimpse it from a distance because they will know that it is a monument to them. It will have to be very grand indeed because it will have been built to honour humanity and all the things that give us grace and beauty and all the graceful and beautiful things we love and that have no monument or memorial.
My tower will be a recognition of selflessness and courage, devotion and care. It will honour all the millions and millions of people who care for each other unrewarded and unnoticed. People who seek no praise - not even the praise of self-satisfaction.
People who doggedly persist in facing difficulty, tragedy and adversity because of a love they cannot even clearly define deserve a tower like the one I have in mind.’
I had not travelled to, or arrived in, Munster on my hands and knees. I was not lonely or terrified or desperate. I had not stood naked at the gate, uncertain of my life’s worth and knowing only that horrors lay ahead.
I had stood at the gate with daffodils and primroses. Where once a heart full of hope and love and passion had been speared and smashed and shot to pieces by callousness, cruelty and selfishness, I had, I hoped, left sweetness and colour, gentleness and innocence as evidence of defiance and of the sheer awesome power of endless and unconditional love.
Smiles were our collective acts of revenge against the hatred and bitterness which sought to destroy whole lives there. Smiles - and nothing more except that I was there.
I know now that you cannot unbreak a heart. I know that there will always be too many locks and not enough keys. I know that it is easier to be lost than to be found. But I also know - from Berlin as well as from Munster - that misery and despair can be at least partly redeemed by the paths they force us to take. We can go a long way to neutralising their long-term effects by returning to the place of hurt and looking for the splintered shards of spirit, by trying never to underestimate the strength of grace and dignity and wonder - and by remembering.
That day in Munster I started to draw up the blueprints for my tower.
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