A “mindful” journey through the ruins of WWII in Cologne
  • Europe /
  • Germany /
  • Cologne

Discovering the remains of the city that was bombed and destroyed over ninety per cent of its entirety

(by Ernst Barlach, CC BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons)

(by Ernst Barlach, CC BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons)

On 1 September 1939, with Nazi Germany’s attack on Poland, one of the most disastrous conflicts in human history officially began. However, the conflict was the culmination of a period of poverty and repression that had already been going on for years in the centre of Europe. WWI had left Germany poor and plagued by heavy debts and heavy indemnities as compensation for the damage caused during the war. These measures, of course, plagued the population, causing a strong sense of anger and frustration. This prepared fertile ground for the emergence of an evil mindset, the Nazi ideology.

After Hitler came to power, the Nazi racial policy gradually unfolded between 1933 and 1939. With this legislative propaganda, the state accused all those belonging to the Jewish religion, the Roma ethnic group, communists, asocial individuals, and people with physical and mental disabilities of being the problem of unemployment, poverty and weakness that raged in Germany after the defeat of the events of the First World War.

The Nazi party became increasingly radical in its attitudes towards the treatment of minorities in Germany, especially towards Jews. This prejudice, known as anti-Semitism, is an ancient phenomenon which certainly transcends German borders: the Nazi party used this resentment to increase its voter base and place the blame on a minority. They gained economic solidity through the appropriation of private property of the Jewish people and political hegemony over the citizens through the venting of all class repression. Hitler exploited a situation of repression, anger, purity and instability during the 1930s to lead Germany via the darkest and most dangerous of all characteristics of humanity: ignorance and power.

Antoniterkirche houses three works by expressionist sculptor and artist Ernst Barlach that recall the limitations and suffering of those unfortunate years. One of the three works in particular, called ‘Der Schwebende’, communicates through its story the oppressive ideals of Nazi thinking. The sculpture, initially created by Barlach for the cathedral in Güstrow (in northern Germany), served as a memorial for the fallen of the First World War. However, the work was considered “degenerate art” for Nazi thinking and was therefore removed and cast in 1941 as part of the German people’s metal donation.

However, the cast of the sculpture was conserved. A recast in bronze was commissioned by Bernhard A. Böhmer, a German sculptor, painter, art dealer, friend and confidant of Barlach, member of the Protestant Church’s art service and dealer of countless works of ‘degenerate art’ destined for destruction by the Nazi authorities. The sculpture was stored and hidden in Berlin during WWII, but it was unfortunately destroyed by bombing towards the end of the war. Despite this, after the turmoil and destruction, the statue was recreated as an example against adversity and a symbol of resurrection and memory. Since 15 May 1952, it has stood here, in the Antonite church in Cologne. Although it is a third replica of the original, the efforts of many people to protect it make it an example of resilience and immortality of untouchable values.


1. Antoniterkirche

2. Old St. Alban

3. St. Kolumba

4. NS-Documentation Centre

5. Cologne Cathedral