Malines, The Dead City
( Originally Published 1918 )
WE are being continuously told by the representatives of the official German Press that Belgian and British newspapers have exaggerated the destruction perpetrated by the German hordes. In answer to that contention we are giving the following description of the present state of Malines, which was recently published in a Jingo Berlin paper by a Jingo war correspondent, the representative of the Berliner Tageblatt. Before the war Malines was one of the most beautiful and one of the most thriving cathedral cities of Belgium, the ancient seat of the Cardinal-Primate. The lurid description by Herr Bender, every word of which has about it the ring of veracity, is the most terrible indictment of Germany which has hitherto appeared in any European journal :
The fiercest fury of battle, the most heartrending tragedies of death, all the sorrow and suffering of war, weigh less heavily upon the heart than the unearthly, leaden grey stillness of Malines as it stands revealed to the petrified gaze.
" Life in the town is extinct. The city is dead. The 60,000 inhabitants have fled. The dark houses stand open. The streets are empty. This emptiness is so vast, so infinite, that one involuntarily checks the hasty step.
" From time to time German soldiers pass along the streets. In the Grand' Place, the Marché aux laines, the Place d'Egmont, at the station, soldiers are at work in large groups.
" Inhabitants there are none. They fled to Antwerp when Malines, by the mysterious chances of war, was drawn into the centre of the artillery fire of both combatants. They left houses and rooms lying as they were, the meal spread upon the table, the cloaks hanging in the hall.
" There may be still twenty inhabitants in the town. There may be only ten. We cannot tell. In all I saw only five human beings three women and two men. They were creeping through the dead city. In the greyness of the gloomy day they seemed like ghosts, like the dead risen from their tombs. A soldier on sentry duty told me there were only fourteen citizens left in the town. The straggling suburb of Muysen was absolutely deserted. Every front door stood wide open. A white goat stood in a room and stared at us through the dim window-panes. In a passage of another house there hung a girl's hat with a crimson scarf. Close by was a large watchmaker's shop a shop in which the gold and silver watches and ornaments lay untouched and orderly in the cases and on the tables. And not a soul far or near.
" Opposite the cathedral is the inn ' In t' Gulden Vlies.' On the tables the glasses still stand with the dregs of wine in them. Round about are bright green chairs from which the guests appear just to have risen. On the left is a large clothier's ' Lakens en aile Kleederstoffen ' the doors wide open, the clothes on mannikins in gruesome solitude. Beside it a ' Schoenmagazin.' The picture is always the same. Every shop, every house with not a soul from attic to cellar. On the Dyle, which flows through the middle of the town, boats glide slowly down the stream as if guided by an invisible hand.
" A dog is sniffing round a house that a grenade has destroyed, tearing the whole building down and turning it into a heap of ruins.
" The emptiness and desolation of the mediaeval streets are so fearful, so oppressive, that one holds one's breath, and horror awakes within one the childish belief in the legend of the enchanted town.
" That which human eye never beheld, that which Hofmann and Poe never even dreamed in their diseased imaginations, has here become reality. A by one annihilating magic stroke, the people of a great city have vanished into nothingness. They have left hearth and home, not waiting to take with them even money and valuables. They have fled in haste on their dread way of terror. In their rapid flight they left behind them no living creature but the beasts in their stalls and the birds in their cages. When no one came to feed them the beasts crept into the house to seek for food. The birds, the melodious yellow friends of man, soon fell dead from their perch.
" In the middle of the town the cathedral of St. Rombaud stands enthroned a Gothic building of gigantic dimensions. The tower, a hundred metres high, forms the western extremity. Above, at a dizzy height, four dials fourteen metres in diameter. They are bent and riddled with shots.
" In the church walls are seven gaping grenade holes. Roof and tower are strewn with shrapnel shots.
" In the interior, confusion indescribable. The magnificent stained-glass windows, representing in glowing colours the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, lie shattered on the ground.
The richly carved altars and all the pictures have been preserved. But the space in front of the high altar was struck by a splinter from a shell. The wooden saints were hurled from their pillars. The marble of ancient bishops' graves was shattered.
" And yet the actual damage is insignificant. At first only the utter confusion is evident. On closer inspection, the most valuable art treasures are found to have been preserved. Only the coloured splendour of the windows has been laid in the dust. Single panes and paintings on the glass can still be distinguished in all their beauty. And up above, on the clear glass of the eastern middle window, there stands out gloriously, full of living strength, the radiant words : ' Soli Deo, Gloria in AEternum.'
" Now the inhabitants will return once more to the town.
Antwerp, their last home and refuge in dark days, has fallen. There, too, the German flag waves and flutters in the wind that blows over the Scheldt from the North Sea. The last days were too horrible. There was no water left, and the pipes only ran sparingly for an hour in the morning.
" Belgium's last great city fell. And still the Belgians do not give up hope. They will continue to wait for their King. Meantime they have given up waiting for the English. These noble friends have delayed too long, and will delay in the future, too, when life and possessions have to be risked. For they have always found in life ' companions in arms trusting men who bled for them, as Antwerp now has suffered and fallen for them."