24 July 2015, Friday – Funeral in Le Vernet (2)

°FOUR MONTHS AFTER THE DISASTER°
Before breakfast we swim a few laps in the pool, which is practically empty. Most of the guests are still sleeping. The warm night has managed to cool the water a bit so it is refreshing. The sky is almost cloudless and it looks like it´ll be a sunny day. Hopefully, it won´t rain in the mountains during the ceremony. I enjoyed gliding through the water although it was more strenuous than I expected. I´ve had no energy since Jens´s death, even for sport.
Back in the hotel room, we watch the ZDF Morgenmagazin interview on our smartphone which was taped yesterday. It´s strange to see ourselves on TV.
The horrific disaster in the Alps of southern France has attracted even more media attention due to the gruesome circumstances. The media satisfies the public´s interest and can get to the bottom of what went wrong, but can also be deeply hurtful, as happened in the case of a German family member. Unbeknownst to him, he was photographed in a state of devastation, his face contorted in pain, which is why the organisers reassure us we will be tightly shielded from reporters.
The buses are scheduled to leave for Le Vernet at 10 am, but we have to wait another hour as the plane from Spain arrives late. The family members are being transported in a convoy. Finally we leave. At Marseille airport we meet the new arrivals, including Melanie, who have arrived on a special direct flight from Düsseldorf.
Altogether there are nearly 300 mourners from different countries on seven buses, accompanied by a police escort with blue lights flashing. They make sure we have no problems getting through traffic.
The sun beats down and the air-conditioning swirls around us pleasantly. The closer we get to the high peaks, the less we speak. Increasingly dark storm clouds threaten the passing countryside, signifying turbulent weather.
Having to face the second gravesite fills us with trepidation.
We reach Le Vernet around 2.15 pm in the pouring rain and our bus parks in the queue next to the other buses. We get off. French police officers push rain covers or umbrellas into our hands, which we gratefully accept as no one in sunny Marseille had reckoned with such a change in the weather. We are led to one of the spacious white tents which have been set up on the meadow. Here we can collect ourselves. An inviting buffet of drinks and snacks has been laid out. Melanie was on one of the first buses and has saved a table for us.
The ceremony is scheduled to begin at 3 pm with the laying of flowers by the Prefect of the Départements Alpes-de-haute Provence as well as diplomatic representatives, so we set off. Heavy rain blows at us from all sides. We stand behind crowded rows of chairs under a large tent tarpaulin. Huge amounts of water bucket down on it threateningly. Doubtfully we look up. Will it hold the weight? Flashes of lightning crackle down followed by a resounding clap of thunder. Do the deceased victims want to tell us something? Is it the rage of our loved ones at the injustice inflicted on them and us at the unwanted separation? The heavens weep in the face of abject misery.
Regional French politicians and delegates from the German government as well as Germanwings lay wreaths. Carsten Spohr, Chief Executive Officer of Lufthansa, is not attending the memorial service because of the open letter written by parents of the Haltern victims. He does not want to make the tense atmosphere worse. His reaction is appropriate and in this situation we are relieved at his absence.
Clergy of various religions offer prayers, including the bishop of Digne-les-Bains.
The ceremony is over. The rain eases off until it´s just spitting.
People throng towards the memorial stone to see the flower arrangements and wreaths at its base and read the inscriptions on the ribbons.

Again and again our gazes are drawn to the massif, which exerts a magical attraction on us. Behind it the inconceivable horror took place. Pressed closely together, the mountains reach towards the clouds as if they wanted to hide the site or preferably turn the clock back to a time before the tragedy.
We splash through puddles in the meadow because we want to go to the chapel, where the locals have lovingly collected all the items family members have placed around the memorial.
At the door we are greeted by Jens´s blue triathlon suit which Melanie and his sport friends brought along with them on a previous visit. It´s on a table with mementoes from the other victims. Our tears flow endlessly.
We make our way back to the tent. I discover the reporters´ base a reasonable distance away. No one bothers us.

(To be continued)

© Brigitte Voß / Translation: Ellen Rosenbaum

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