This year is the 100-year anniversary of World War I outbreak. In Copenhagen it means that the Golden Days Festival takes a special interest in life around the war, and how everyday life suddenly changed to a much more serious level.
At the Central Library they take it one step further by inviting classes from upper secondary school to a real underground experience from the war.
Having no idea what they were going to meet, 23 brave pupils from 9th grade at Den Classenske Legatskole turned up. They most certainly entered rooms, which are not visited every day, judging from the dusty equipment piled up along the walls of the narrow passageways. And yet, they have not faced their worst horror yet – leaving behind their cellphones!!!
The setting is a German bunker (Unterstand) during World War I, and the pupils are now transformed to Danish soldiers forced to fight on the German side of the battle line, because of the German’s occupation of Denmark … and these soldiers did not have cellphones with them. (And no, it is not enough to turn them off – in World War I they do not exist at all).
Inside the bunker they met author Kåre Bluitgen who happily shared his own experiences from various battlefields during his longtime career as a journalist.
Which is the most scary and incomprehensible story? Is it his his meeting with 12 year-old African soldiers, his heartbreaking reading of letters from the real Danish soldiers in a German bunker or the report from his own travelling as a young man with written letters on paper (no internet then) as the only contact to family back home? It is hard to say.
Nevertheless, the stories really come into life in the surroundings close to a real bunker. The pupils are asked to circle on the floor, their only mean of communication to the outside world being pen and paper. The light is low … and the water pipes do not hesitate to deliver their part of the show by flushing now and then as if water came pouring down underground.
Then the pupils are asked to imagine themselves as Danish soldiers, trapped in a German “Unterstand” 100 years ago. They have a short break in bombing, but they never know for how long. It might be their very last letter to someone beloved back home. What will they write?
– And if you can’t write anything that is also OK, Kåre Bluitgen says in a comforting voice as he challenge them to give it a try.
As minutes pass, the young people are surprisingly focused on the unusual way of communicating for their generation – with pure pen and paper. 10 minutes into the task 18 out of 23 pupils are still scibling … some more than other, but they definately have action going. Moreover, philosophical thoughts sneaks in too.
– What is the core of everything evil in the world? Democracy or religion?, a boy asks the girl sitting next to him.
And then … everything is black. Bombing!
Suddenly everyone is forced to put down their pen as Kåre Bluitgen returns to the room and asks if anyone is brave enough to read their letters aloud.
One boy is.
– My Dearest Mother, please forgive me for all the harm I have done to you …
As the boy reads further there is a stir in the class. This is very touching, and as more people decides to read aloud letters of pain, fading memories and love see the light.
The writing is actually working great 🙂 In order not to make it all too sad Kåre Bluitgen also talks about the funny PS’s the soldiers put in their letters. Like “PS: Send me a cake”.
– OK. PS: Send me the code for Wifi, a girl suggest as her friends giggles.
Well, it is a hard task to take the 21st century out of the youngsters. However, it can actually be done. Even if it is just for a little while.
Back upstairs a few pupils delighted themselves with fascination of modern technoligy as they had a sneak view into the library’s Book-Sorting-Robot.
Kåre Bluitgen’s current novel “Latteren i hjertet” (Laughter within the heart) is about a Danish boy who moves to Afghanistan with his father. The father builds a mosque, while the boy meets a very unusual girl. The class from the bunker has read this book, and if you want to join the reading learn more about Kåre Bluitgen and his books.