The cabinet in my dining room was filled with tchotchkes. All those trinkets were scattered on four shelves in no particular order and, therefore, it was exceptionally difficult to find anything. In order to retrieve a particular dish that I wanted to use, I needed to take out numerous items that all ended up cluttered on the floor. On one occasion, I decided it was a perfect time to throw out some of these objects that had been slumbering there for many years.
It was a momentous task, because I had to make decisions about what to keep and what was dispensable. When I came to a little, square china ashtray, no more than two inches long on each side, with gold trim and two spaces to place a lit cigarette, old memories came rushing into my mind. In the middle of this little ashtray was a painting of the Alte Nahebrücke in the town of Bad Kreuznach, Germany, the town where I was born. It brought back memories from my life there as a little girl when my father took me across this bridge to visit his friend so they could play chess together.
The Alte Nahebrücke is a medieval stone arch bridge first built around 1300. It had eight arches. However, the more important architectural landmarks of Bad Kreuznach are the bridge houses that were built starting in 1480. The bridge had two arms and originally spanned the Nahe River and a neighboring canal called the Muelenteich (Mill Pond). The bridge has withstood many wars since it was built; the city of Bad Kreuznach was bombed by the Americans during World War II, and it survived. On March 16, 1945, German troops blew up the arm of the bridge spanning the Nahe in order to hinder the approach of American forces. American tanks arrived in Bad Kreuznach on March 18, 1945, unimpeded by the damage to the bridge. Only the section spanning the canal remains intact now. With four houses on its piers, it is one of the few remaining bridges in the world that has buildings on it. Artists from all over Germany come to this spa town just to paint the bridge.
I left Bad Kreuznach when I was a young child after Kristallnacht, the “Night of the Broken Glass.” However, I returned two times after. The first time was to show my husband and three daughters the town where I was born. That was in the 1970s. I did not know anybody left there. All the Jewish people had been murdered or escaped, as I had. It was a time when no one spoke about the Holocaust. The bridge was there, and we crossed it. However, I felt unmoved by it. The second time I visited with my brother, Ernest. The bridge was there doing its work of transporting automobiles and pedestrians across the canal. However, on both ends of the bridge, the town had added memorials to remember the Jewish community of Bad Kreuznach, which no longer existed. We realized that there was deep remorse by the citizens of Bad Kreuznach when they realized that their parents and grandparents had been complicit with the Nazi regime and had helped the Nazis commit their atrocities, even if they were simply bystanders.
I must have purchased the ashtray in one of the souvenir shops on one of these visits. Probably during a time when smoking was still fashionable. My first thought was to throw this ashtray away because no one I know smokes anymore. I didn’t discard it then, because it still reminds me of my past and of all the grand bridges I have crossed during my life.
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