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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Edited by Julian Isherwood