You may have read my grave article about the aftermath of the storm that hit the Baltic 2 weeks ago. For this articles I travelled to see a marina on the western side of Kiel bay. Right across that harbor, vis-à-vis, the small village of Laboe is situated. Since almost 100 years, when sailing on or out of Kiel bay, a landmark greets the sailors: Laboe. This huge, sleek but impressive structure is a 72 meters high (85 meters above sea level) tower – the war memorial.
This is a very special place, breathing history with every brick stone of the walls. Originally intended to honor the fallen German Navy sailors of World War 1, it was begun in 1927 and inaugurated by the Nazis 1936 with a huge Navy parade. After World War 2 it was transformed and since then a war memorial dedicated to all fallen sailors of all navies in all wars. Since I was a huge submarine-geek when I was a kid, this was the very first location I pushed my parents to travel to right after the re-unification of Germany – and as it turned out, our connection to this place is more than just the misty-eyed dreams of a sub-crazy teen.
From impressive to depressing
The war memorial of Kiel-Laboe consists of two major parts. The one is the huge tower with a small museum and a sub-terrain “Hall of Remembrance” – later more on this – and, of course, the world-famous U-995 German u-boat. Since my first visit I´ve been here a couple of times (I´m still kind of a sub-geek) and every time I come here I discover something new. The nice thing is, there are more than enough parking lots for your car and even during high summer season not too many visitors, hence, no queues, normally.
Most impressive is the submarine. It´s a 56 meters long type VII-c uboat of World War 2. Still the one type that has been built at the largest numbers throughout the war, still the one type with most ships sunk and still the one type with most crews killed. You can enter the boat at the stern and walk this cramped steel can all the way to the torpedo section in the bow.
I´ve made a “walkthrough” article on this u-boat a few years ago, together with actor Martin May who is one of my dearest sailing mates and happens to be one of the original cast members of the unforgotten masterpiece “Das Boot” by Wolfgang Peterson. Unarguably the best German movie ever and still, from my point of view, the best submarine movie ever (well, not the movie, but the original 6 hour TV-series, but that´s kind of geeky). The submarine tour is most impressive and will stir up some mixed emotions. I suggest you do the tour first, because the memorial is really something different.
The Memorial site: Serious reflection
Upon entering the memorial site, you walk by a huge ship´s propellor. That is one of the three screws of the battlecruiser PRINZ EUGEN. A large model of that ship nearby shows it in all her beauty and awe and also tells her story. Once the proud companion of mighty BISMARCK, she witnessed the “glorious” victory over mighty HOOD (well, it was more like a lucky hit, by anyway, history …) to her daunting termination, sunk by “Able” in the Pacific, an American atomic bomb.
Seeing this huge part of the cruiser stirs up some feelings: My own grand-grandfather used to be a sailor himself in the war. He served on ADMIRAL HIPPER, a sistership of PRINZ EUGEN (I´ve done an article on this last Christmas) and here we have the connection. Standing there, explaining those things to my kids, this whole place suddenly transformed from a “cool site” to go to and spend a weekend afternoon into the very place it was originally intended to: To remember, to think about and connect to the past, maybe to a very “near” history of my own family.
Inside the complex a small museum is adjacent. The history of the Germany Navy from its inception 1848 until the modern present day Bundesmarine, representative for the huge numbers of vessels serving and having served, some very impressive (big!) models are on display here. Including, of course, the BISMARCK, but also battlecruisers from World War 1, submarines of course and the latest stealth-frigates of today. But the heart – and by far the most memorable – part of the whole complex is a different thing.
Consequences of war
I did not take any pictures, out of respect and decency. I found it inappropriate. Connecting the museum with the huge tower, you will walk an underground tunnel. Halfway between museum and tunnel, a large round memorial hall is situated, underground as well, sparsely lit. It´s a huge chamber dedicated to all the fallen sailors of all navies in the world. Flags and memorial plates all over the place, a honorable, memorable place, like a grave, like an altar.
What was especially moving had been the many (and I mean literally hundreds) of fresh flowers, grave candles and handwritten letters, notes, pictures, that had been put there by so many families and fellowships of sunk vessels. Letters of grief, greetings of descendants to their predecessors, of wifes to their deceased husbands, daughters and sons to their fathers. Moving, still, some 78 years after the end of World War 2, 105 years after the end of World War 1.
And as such, the dry and kind of distant subject of “history” suddenly becomes a very close matter. Seeing those freshly placed flowers, those letters written literally days ag show that those impressive models, “cool” mines and submarine torpedoes are not just geeky artifacts or stage props for teenage-dreams but literally keys to our own, not so distant, past. Right there where Nord Steam 1 and 2 had been blown apart 2022 I use to have our dream-vacation and sail with my kids – war, as sad as it sounds, is not far away from us, neither in history nor in real life. Kiel-Laboe is a powerful location to make that clear. As we walk back to my car to drive home, we have the idea that next time we come here, we will place a flower, a picture and letter in memory of our grand-grand-father down there in the memorial hall as well. Greeting our sailing descendant too.
You may also like those related articles:
Berthing a submarine like a pro
Interview with Martin May, actor in “Das Boot” movie
Dangerous underwater Tango: Soviet submarine-tour