April 06, 2020
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Beethoven Rolls On

Beethoven Rolls On
You're going to Bonn? Whatever for? It's the dullest place on earth." That's the typical response. It was the same response I got 40 years ago, when I last went to the place, during a holiday while a student at Cambridge. But at least it was then the capital of West Germany, well on the way to recovery from the ravages of the war.

The capital has now shifted to Berlin, as have most embassies. Yet, Bonn retains a laidback charm, with pretty pedestrian plazas and parks. And, then, there is the Rhine. A cruise down it, with old or ruined castles, vineyards and picturesque villages stretching on either side, is a wonderful experience. At Remagen, where a bitter and bloody battle was fought between the retreating German army and the Allied forces, the shattered bridge has been kept intact, one of the very few mementos of World War II. "The Germans don't like to be reminded that they lost the war," I was told.

The war flattened almost every major German city, including Bonn, destroying centuries of artistic heritage. There was a marvellous exhibition at one of Bonn's many museums, depicting West Germany after the war. First, huge blow-ups of the almost unbelievable destruction of the country, as the Russians from one side, and the Allies from the other, bore down relentlessly and unforgivingly on Germany, carpet-bombing the towns, cities and factories. A miracle followed, as Germany rose, Phoenix-like, from the ashes to become what it is today—one of the most prosperous and law-abiding nations in the world. The man who symbolises West Germany's resurgence came from Bonn: Konrad Adenauer, the country's first post-war Chancellor. The other great German associated with Bonn is Ludwig Beethoven, the greatest western composer who ever lived. You cannot move more than a few paces in Bonn without running into some place or the other named after Beethoven or Adenauer.

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