BONN · They went into battle with confidence, but not much enthusiasm was left when they returned: An exhibition at the Stadtmuseum from September 5 commemorates the end of the war in 1918 and the suffering of those who remained at home.
It is November of 1918 and a sad column of soldiers march over the Bonn Rhein Bridge, the predecessor of today's Kennedy Bridge. Some cars, but mainly horse-drawn carriages, transport what the fighters of the German Reich could salvage after their defeat on the Western Front. Some passers-by in Bonn stop to take in the sight of those men, plenty of them blinded, maimed and traumatized.
Other Bonn residents make their way glumly through the November fog, over the bridge. The laughing faces and waving caps that could be seen in the city four years earlier when the troops left the city, are nowhere to be found in the historic photo. It will be one of the images representing the theme of the exhibition at the Bonn Stadtmuseum (City Museum) beginning September 5, “100 years after the First World War”.
Macke goes to war
At the beginning of the war on August 8, 1914, historical photos show troops departing from the cemetery on Weststraße. The family of the famous painter August Macke was also there to say goodbye. Macke's son "Walterchen" had strapped on his toy sword and put on a helmet. "The soldiers sang and called out to the people," Macke's wife Elisabeth noted at the time. A short time later she received the devastating news: Her husband was killed on the Western Front. The losses were immense. After five weeks, only less than half of the soldiers who had so happily went off to war, were still alive.
There was no singing on the Bonn Rhine Bridge in 1918 in the November fog. Like hundreds of thousands of other soldiers once celebrated as heroes, these men also returned beaten and partially crippled from the war front, where they had gone just four years earlier.
They experienced the unimaginable
Written on their faces was the horror of senseless carnage. Bonn residents stood silently off to the side. Unimaginable things had happened. The First World War took the lives of 17 million people, looking back, a prelude to an even more murderous Second World War. The new exhibition at the Stadtmuseum is about the end of this war exactly 100 years ago. A team of curators and historian Erhard Stang, wanted to take a look at the impact of the war on everyday people.
There were the reports from the local press which continually called them the victors. The major loss of life was seen as necessary for the just defense of their country. Russia and Great Britain were made responsible for the outbreak of the war. But the shock over the ceasefire hit Bonn all the harder. The economic and social upswing that came with the outbreak of war in 1914, came to an abrupt end for Bonn and the surrounding communities. There was not much left after four years of war. Food, fuel, clothing and even cleaning supplies were scarce. Because of the lack of workers, many women had to take on men’s jobs - only to vacate them when the men returned in 1918.
Bonn an important site for medical care
Since Bonn hardly played a role in supplying German armaments, it served mainly as a place for the wounded to receive medical care. In addition to the university clinics, numerous Godesberg spa facilities and the Beethoven Hall, even the Redoute was converted into a makeshift hospital.
Around 4,000 soldiers from Bonn were killed until the war ended in 1918, and there were also around 720 local and foreign students at the University of Bonn who lost their lives. Hardly a family was spared. Despite inadequate care, no one died of hunger. But in fall of 1918, the “Spanish flu” broke out, claiming the lives of 288 people. Tuberculosis hit the poorer segments of the population.
(Orig. text: Ebba Hagenberg-Miliu / Translation: Carol Kloeppel)