Germany: a land of farms and old cities, and the destination of my travels every two years.
It is a land with a past. Most towns here still hold scars of war in the form of bunkers that are sprawled throughout the country. A reminder of what once was. One such reminder is a tree. The survivor tree.
From the balcony of my grandmother’s apartment building, it is in clear view. It seems at first to be out of place, surrounded by apartments, a factory and shopping centres. However, it commands your attention.
It is a tall tree towering over everything around it, its foliage extending in every direction. The only thing protecting it from the street is a thin fence. Garbage is strewn all around it, leaving the tree looking forlorn.
No one pays any attention to it. No one knows its story. My grandfather told me once of its significance.
Opa had lived in the same apartment building since he was a baby. As he grew, the tree grew with him. He played under it and climbed its branches.
Then World War II came. The town of Ludwigshafen, where my Opa lived, was no longer safe. The constant threat of bombing weighed on everyone’s shoulders. When, and If, it would occur was unknown.
One day the sirens sounded. Their piercing cry forced my grandfather, then 11 years old, and his four siblings to the nearby bunker. There they waited as a wave of bombs fell outside.
When they finally had the “all clear”, they emerged to find their life changed. The apartment building had been demolished; bombed to the ground.
Just beyond the rubble and smoke, however, green foliage was still visible. The tree had survived the attack. A tree that had been so close to the apartment that if you stood under its branches you would be just a couple steps away. It truly was a survivor.
Eventually the apartment building was rebuilt. By this time my Opa was married with one child, my Dad. Opa moved back in and continued to live there for another 50 years, raising his family.
Now, years later, he has passed on, but the apartment and tree still remain.
Standing on my grandmother’s balcony today, I still see the tree, tall and strong. It is hard to imagine all that it must have seen over the last 100 years or so that it has stood in this spot.
Over time, things will come and go. Buildings will spring up and roads will be built, but the survivor tree will stand the test of time.
Perhaps, one day, it too will reach its end, but until then it serves as a reminder of the beauty of Germany, despite the sadness of its past, all held in 1,000 unwavering branches.