Museum Director Christian Ringskou of Ringkøbing Museum in West Jutland had
expected some controversy when he decided to let a former German soldier
introduce an exhibition about the occupation and the hundreds of wartime
bunkers dotted around Denmark’s coasts.
But what Ringskou didn’t realise was that he had a real seller in his hands,
with the museum that normally has 3-4,000 visitors a year clocking up 1,500
guests in the first 10 days of the exhibition.
“It was amazing,” says a surprised Ringskou of an exhibition which features a
reconstruction with the original contents of a troop bunker which was
uncovered intact by a westerly storm in 2008 and in the same condition as
when it was left in May 1945 by then 17-year-old marine Gerhard Saalfeld.
Summer after summer, Saalfeld, who at 85 attended the opening of the
exhibition recently, had unsuccessfully searched for his old bunker.
A central feature of the exhibition is a film in which Saalfeld revisits his
old bunker, finds the lower bunk that was his bed and the frying pan he and
his colleagues used to make food. He also recounts how everything he had
heard about in his time in the Hitlerjugend fell apart when it became clear
that Germany had lost the war.
Ringskou says that the process of reconciliation after World War II has now
reached a stage where it is time to hear the story from a new perspective.
“Saalfeld’s story is also a story of healing and reconciliation,” says
Ringskou, who at the opening of the exhibition presented Saalfeld with the
worn boot brush that bore his name and was one of many artefacts that had
remained untouched in the bunker since the day in 1945 when he left to march
back to Germany.
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