Haltern / Le Vernet. Five years ago, the copilot crashed a Germanwings Airbus in the French Alps. Today there is a memorial stone and 149 metal bars commemorating the victims. Memories also live in the Westphalian town of Haltern.
You are missing. Just as their names were cut out of the thick steel plate, which stands unmistakably in the school yard of the Joseph-KOnig-Gymnasium in Haltern am See in Westphalia. A candle always burns there. It commemorates the 16 pupils and two teachers who died five years ago when the Germanwings plane crashed in the southern French Alps. They came from an exchange in Spain.
In the crash on March 24, 2015, 144 passengers and six crew members died. The French investigators are convinced that the mentally ill copilot intentionally brought the plane to a crash. The victims come from 17 nations, most of them from Germany and Spain. Proceedings are still ongoing at the regional courts in Essen and Frankfurt, in which members of Lufthansa want to claim more pain and suffering. The Marseille public prosecutor is still investigating.
March 24th falls again on a Tuesday this year. People in the southern French Alps pay attention to such details. Because the crash in the region with high, snow-covered mountains is far from forgotten. Bernard Bartolini, the mayor of the small valley of Prads Haute-Bleone in the valley, is moved when he talks about the plane crash and its consequences. “It shaped us so much in the first six months after the crash that I have trouble talking about it again.”
The crash site in the “Trois Eveches” massif is still in the area of Bartolini’s municipality, but is remote and difficult to reach. At a height of 1400 meters there is a memorial on the way to the accident area on the edge of a gravel road.
Metal poles protrude into the clear sky, small flags flutter in the wind. Flowers will bloom again in summer. The poles symbolize the victims of the disaster. But there are only 149 bars, reports the mayor of the village with around 200 inhabitants. The memory of the copilot is left out in front of an impressive mountain backdrop. “It was very tough when we found out that it was a deliberate act,” says Bartolini. He tells of the months of tension after the accident. His community issued around 2,600 death certificates for the 150 victims. “Everyone needed something, the embassies, the judicial authorities.”
In the village of Le Vernet, to the west of the crash site, March 24 has also carved deeply into people’s memories. In the community there is the communal grave, in which the remains were buried, which could no longer be attributed to any of the victims, and a memorial stele. In front of the board with inscriptions in four languages are pictures of the victims, stones, flowers, crosses or candles. Even if the memorial service for the relatives was canceled on the anniversary due to the Corona crisis: “We share our community with the families of the victims,” said Mayor Francois Balique. “I once said:“ We open our homes and our hearts to families. You feel at home here. ”The time of mourning is now over in the village – today it is about preserving memory.
Balique speaks of the tragic events as if they happened yesterday. He was particularly impressed by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s (CDU) reaction, he says. “She showed great pity and really suffered, especially the loss of young people.” Just a day after the disaster, Merkel, the then French head of state Francois Hollande and Spain’s head of state Mariano Rajoy had rushed to the accident region.
The memory of the deceased is also kept alive in Haltern am See. “They are a natural part of school life,” says the headmaster of the Joseph KOnig High School, Ulrich Wessel. Also in everyday school life: shortly after the inauguration of the steel memorial plaque, he had benches set up there that are used by the students during breaks. “There is no atmosphere of solidification here.”
Wessel attaches importance to a “worthy culture of remembrance”. This also includes a wall with cheerful portrait photos of all those killed in the foyer. A school brochure states: “The history of our school is inextricably linked to the air disaster.” This is explained to new students in the first few days, says Wessel. And yet: “We have returned to a day-to-day school life in which all students also have the experience of a normal school life.” Halloween party and carnival celebrations included.
It is not easy for Wessel to answer the question of how relatives in Halter are doing. “It always means: time heals all wounds. But if you look at the lovingly designed graves, you know that the saying does not apply here. ”Relatives confirm his impression:“ The grief is still there and just as intense, but we have learned to live with it, ”says A mother. She goes to the cemetery with her husband every day. “This is an important place for our grief.”
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