The chapter starts with Bäumer during training after his leave has finished, and you can definitely notice a change in his behaviour now. Before now there's been a big focus on people and the effect of war and the military on him and his behaviour, but now there's a sudden shift to focusing on nature. It's not necessarily a bad thing though, as it means there are sections like this where the detail is simply wonderful:
"Best of all are the woodlands, with the birch trees at the edges. They are constantly changing colour. The trunks may be shining and dazzlingly white, with the pastel green of their leaves waving between them, silky and airy; and then in the next moment it all changes to an opalescent blue, with silver coming in from the edges and dabbing the green away; but then all at once it can deepen to almost black at one point, when a cloud crosses the sun."That's probably the loveliest image I'm going to get from this book, and while it is nice to get sections like these, the sudden switch does seem a little odd. In any case, in conjunction with the fascination with nature, he expresses a wish to not really get closer than necessary to anyone at the training camp. He then mentions a POW camp next-door to them, containing Russian soldiers. Somehow the prisoners get across the wire fence separating the two camps and try anything to get a little more to eat, considering that they only get fed enough to not starve; it's a pitiful image, with all these men going through the rubbish bins and trading off everything of value that they have just to eat.
He ends up doing guard duty at the fence and ends up musing that if the war were ended that day, the Russian prisoners on the other side of the fence would or could in all likelihood be men that he would befriend. I don't know, that idea that governments control our lives in ways like that is kinda scary. In the end, we don't have much say in what they do or don't do, have we? In any case, he manages to speak to a few of them, including a violinist who used to play in the Berlin orchestra. A prime example of who we should and shouldn't like during war, I suppose.
The last Sunday before he goes back to the front, Bäumer is visited by his father and sister. They end up talking about his mother's illness. The doctors say that she's got cancer, but they hope that she'll get better by having an operation to remove the tumour. That is if the family can actually afford it, which is highly doubtful. Bäumer doesn't seem to catch a break, does he?
So that's the end of chapter 8 and it's thoroughly depressing. We seem to be on a downward spiral of bleakness now.