As I watch our dogs chase Frisbees in a park near our home, I look up at the bright blue sky and realize there’s not a single cloud in sight, and the snow-capped Alps gleaming in the distance look closer than they really are. Incongruously, a German word pops up in my mind: Bombenwetter (literally bombs weather).
It’s an uncommon expression I picked up a few years ago while driving through Germany in a colleague’s company car. The weather was glorious and the German landscape was an explosion of green hues under a perfect blue sky. We had left Duisburg bright and early to visit customers to the south-east of our location and we were now heading into the sun on rustic back roads..
Guido (gi-doh), my German colleague, had been squinting into the sun for a few minutes when he finally reached into the glove box to retrieve his sunglasses. Bombenwetter, he told me by way of an explanation.
Still, I couldn’t make sense of what he had just said. “What do you mean, ‘bombs weather’?” I asked.
“Bombenwetter means a perfectly clear day”, he responded, but could not explain the origin of this quaint expression. He just said he’d learned it from his grandparents.
At that moment, as a buff of modern history, I thought I knew where the expression came from.
An Internet search later that day provided confirmation of my hunch.
During WWII, Allied bombers would often cancel their missions over Germany when the cloud cover was too thick. Conversely, a clear day would likely bring waves upon waves of Flying Fortress and Liberator bombers dropping ordnance on German targets.
Since Guido’s family came from the Düsseldorf area, there’s no doubt in my mind that his grandparents must have cursed sunny days an awful lot in the early Forties. Curiously, though, while their grandson did pick up the Bombenwetter expression, he was admittedly clueless about its origin. Many Germans of his generation I have met did not have a clear picture of the Second World War, nor of the ensuing Cold War—or perhaps they were in denial about those dark times in their country’s history.
I clearly recall another time when Guido and I were driving south on the A7 Autobahn. Headed for the Frankfurt area, we rode by the town of Fulda, which lies a few miles west of the former East German border.
The moment I saw the road sign pointing to the Fulda exit, I told Guido “We must be in the middle of the Fulda Gap”—that is, the flatland salient through which the Warsaw Pact armor was likely to launch an invasion of West Germany during the Cold War.
The blank look on my friend’s face told me he had no idea what I was talking about.