Saturday, 19 January 2008

Sounds of destruction

Every Saturday, exactly at 12:00 a.m., the city alarms of Salzburg (and, apparently, those of every city and town in Austria) are tested for half a minute. Their sound, loud and continuous, always remembers me of air raid alarms. It might well be that they are the old WWII bomb alarms, reused as city sirens...

Salzburg survived the end of World War II relatively well. Its geographical situation, deep into the then-German Reich, kept it out of the reach of Allied bombers well until the death of Mussolini. But its relative strategic unimportance, when compared to more industrial cities like Hallein, Linz or Graz, let it remain mostly ignored even when the Allies where already in Italy.

The bombing raids over Salzburg (with a total of 15) started on October 1944. People would have to run into the city hills, Kapuzinerberg and Festungsberg, into the underground shelters. The Hexenturm (Witches' Tower), part of the old military defenses, not far away of present-day Schrannenmarkt, was literally wiped out. One of the city's water reservoirs, up on the Mönchsberg, was destroyed as well, adding flood to the existing chaos. A bomb even entered the Baroque cathedral, perforating the dome, but it did not explode. Some say Virgin Mary made a miracle...

I learned about the air raids over Salzburg in a book that I catched some time ago, an autobiography of playwright Thomas Bernhard, who happened to spend his childhood in Salzburg during WWII.

Fortunately, I have never found myself in a bombing raid, and I do not know how would I act. I think fear would completely paralyse me, but I hope I never know. What I do know is that the only thing that is left is destruction, stillness, emptiness. But we humans do not seem to learn the lesson.

The famous view from the Dresden City Hall Tower comes to my mind. Or the ghostly quietness of the Old Town of Belchite, destroyed by Francoist troops during the Spanish Civil War and kept untouched as a tribute and as a warning.

I hope I'll never know how it feels to walk through the streets of your home town after being destroyed. But I guess it may feel like walking through a forest after a fire. That is an image I for sure will never forget. It was in Vespella, near Tarragona. I had ridden my bicycle to the top of a hill, and at the other side there was nothing but desolated moon landscape for as long as my eyes could reach. Tortured black tree corpses everywhere. Ashes. The smell. The unnatural stillness. Destruction. Absolute emptiness.


Bek said...

In the village I grew up in, that Saturday alarm was always the same like for the firefighters - just one long sound, instead of three shorter ones.

Tonicito said...

Yes, here it's the same long sound. 15 seconds, indeed. My friend K sent me this link, where all the tones are explained:,86334&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL