Homeland Bavaria: For Whom?

by Esther Parada
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Title:
Homeland Bavaria: For Whom?
Author:
Esther Parada
Year: 
2000
Publication: 
The German Quarterly
Volume: 
73
Issue: 
2
Start Page: 
171
End Page: 
174
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Language: 
English
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Abstract:

172 THEGERMANQUARTERLY Spring 2000

tion. Haacke recreated the Triumphal Col- umn which the Nazis had installed in Bismarckplatz in 1938; Passow raised the issue of complicity between National So- cialism and the Catholic Church by install- ing photographs and an audiotape at the Bishop's Palace, underlining the silence of Pope Pius XI1 in contrast to the outspoken- ness of Thomas Mann.

The Konigsplatz in Munich had a lon- ger history: King Ludwig I of Bavaria in the early nineteenth century had commissioned the construction of two great muse- ums, the Antikensammlungen (Museum of Classical Antiquities) and the Glypto- thek, which housed his collection of classi- cal sculpture. The Konigsplatz became an important ceremonial site as well. In 1895, for example, the Antikensammlungen was festooned for a celebration of Bismarck's birthday. During the Third Reich, two identical "temples of honor" were erected to the so-called Nazi "martyrs" of 1923 at the east side of the square, while the plaza was paved and appropriated for rallies and parades. In the 1980s the grassy areas were restored as part of an ongoing "de-Nazi- fication" process.

I had read about this history before arriving in Munich; but among the things that struck me visually when I first saw the Konigsplatz in June 1991 were the niches around the periphery of the Glyptothek, filled with statues of famous men. Both mythical and historical, the male figures ranged from that of Prometheus to Renais- sance artists Donatello and Michelangelo. I responded by creating an installation on the fasade of the building opposite the Antikensammlungen, which included a se- ries of simulated niches filled with female figures. Although time and money con- straints meant limiting myself to only six figures, I was able to develop a focus in choosing them, thanks to the excellent guidance I received from the Frauenstu- dien (Women's Studies) group in Munich.

The installation was titled "Homeland Bavaria-for whom?" and was meant to

provoke thinking about the issues I men- tioned earlier: what is the relationship of representation to power? who belongs- and whose image belongs-in public space?

Anchoring either end of the building fa- cade (east and west wings) I chose two fig- ures who represented traditionally esteemed women connected to the Konigs- platz site: the prototypical blonde Aryan of NaziYouth League rallies; and the figure of Athena taken from the frieze over the en- trance to the Glyptothek. The middle pan- els superimposed these icons over two ad- ditional women who referenced King Lud- wig's imperial role as collector: a portrait of Helene Sedelmeyer, the shoemaker's daughter, one of many women chosen by Ludwig to be painted for his Schonheits- galerie (Gallery of Beauties) at the Nymphenburg Palace in Munich; and the figure of Hecuba, taken from an Attic vase in the collection of the Antikensamm- lungen. Hecuba, representing a mother who-willingly or unwillingly- serves the military purposes of the patriarchal state by sending her son off to battle, stood in marked contrast to the last figure on the west wing, Anita Augspurg. Augspurg was a remarkable turn-of-the-century Bavar- ian-a lesbian, a professional photogra- pher, a lawyer, and a suffragist. In addition, as one of Germany's most outspoken paci- fists, she led the German delegation to the international women's peace conference at The Hague in 1915. With Jane Addams she was one of the founding members of the WILPF (Women's International League for Peace and Freedom).

The final figure on the east wing was the only contemporary woman-a Tunisian who had lived and worked in Germany for twenty years (as of 1991), having been invited originally as a guestworker by the Siemens company. It seemed to me ironic that Germans of the 19th century (and the Nazi period) looked to the Mediterranean cultures of the past, especially the Greeks and Romans, as ideal images to adorn their

PARADA: 173

Homeland Bavaria

public spaces, and yet the attitude toward actual Mediterranean peoples in Germany was, at best, ambivalent-and this was prior to the rash of violence against Turk- ish immigrants that occurred in the follow- ing years.

However, my favorite--and perhaps the most effective-image from this instal- lation is the one published here. I made it the day after the opening when I returned to the plaza to discover a fashion shoot be- ing staged in front of my panels.

Among the numerous women I met or learned about (and considered for this in- stallation) was Jewish poet and holocaust survivor Gerty Spies. In the introduction to her memoir about her years in There- sienstadt, I was fascinated to see that she also raised a question about belonging -about her place in German society.

Johannes Weiss, the author of the intro- duction to Spies's book,' notes that Spies sent him a newspaper clipping in which a prominent woman scholar had responded to a 1984survey in Cologne indicating that fifty percent of all citizens in the Federal Republic have strong feelings against Jews. In her letter the scholar had written:

Unbelievable horror! Only 24% of those surveyed reject anti-Semitism on princi- ple; and this not even forty years after the torture, murder, and extermination of millions who were of Jewish ancestry! It is small comfort to find that the hatred for Jews, and I assume for other foreigners as well, is proportionately greater among those who have little education and low income. (Emphasis added.)

Curiously, Gerty Spies did not react as rad- ically to the survey results as to the phrase used by the presumably liberal scholar: other foreigners. "So, am I also a foreigner?" she asked .. .

I do not mean to generalize from this anecdote about the status or outlook of Jews in contemporary Germany, since I am by and large unfamiliar with the current situation. But I would like to close by citing yet another artist's approach to remem- bering the past. This work traces the de- scent from indignity to atrocity in a form that is deceptively unassuming-in a way that keeps all ofus, as ordinary law-abiding citizens, implicated in ultimate disaster.

This work is cited by Jane Krarner at the end of her excellent 1995New Yorker article "The Politics of Memory."2 Kramer believes that this project, by the collabora- tive team of Renata Stih and Frieder Schnock, "[...I is the only memorial that even begins to approach the experience of being Jewish in Germany under Hitler:"

It isn't a monument. It consists of eighty silkscreened aluminum signs-outsize street signs, really-that Stih and Schnock have attached to lampposts all over the quiet residential neighborhood called Schoneberg. Schoneberg used to be a burgerlich Jewish neighborhood. It was rich and, as its name says, pretty-'ITe- wish Switzerland," people called it-and in this it was not much different from ot- her rich, pretty Berlin neighborhoods, ex- cept that sixteen thousand Jews lived the- re, Jews who thought of themselves as so "German" that a handful of them were still in Schonebergin 1943,waitingfor ot- her Germans to save them. They were on the last train out to Auschwitz. What Stih and Schnock wanted to do in Schoneberg was to trace the small, everyday, "ordina- ry" discriminations-the orders and pro- hibitions and decrees-that led to Au- schwitz by taking sixteen thousand assi- milated German Jews and slowly, methodically, placing them outside the pale of German life and German empathy and German compassion. On one side of their signs they printed bright, simple storybook pictures: a stage curtain, a bunch of radishes, a bathing suit, a cat, a pail of milk. On the other side they prin- ted the orders that went with the pictu- res: Jews are forbidden to act in theatres (March 5, 1934);Jews are forbidden to grow vegetables (March 22, 1938); Jews

174 THEGERMANQUARTERLY Spring 2000

are forbidden to go swimming (December 3, 1938); Jews are forbidden to own pets (May 15,1942);Jews are forbidden to buy milk (July 10, 1942).

The first of the signs I saw was right in the middle of Schoneberg, on the Bayeri- scher Platz, near the town hall. It was apic- ture of a red bench, and it said, "Jews can sit in the Bayerischer Platz only on benches marked in yellow." I got a map and started walking, and after a while I grew used to the signs. I knew how "normal" it must have seemed to other Germans when, in a few years' time, Jews were forbidden to do anything but die-and how by then nobody but Jews thought much about it. I followed the signs around the neighborhood until I got to a sign with the last Schoneberg de- portation order-and, finally, to a sign with what could be called the first official revi- sion of the Holocaust. On one side was a picture of a black file box with a blank label. On the other side was an order issued on February 16,1945.It said, "All files involv- ing anti-Semitic activity are to be de- stroyed." People in Schoneberg today live with the signs. They are not "art." They are like small memories, and, in their depth and simplicity, they leave very little to say.

Notes

lGerty Spies, My Years in Theresienstadt: How One Woman Survived the Holocaust, trans. Jutta R. Tragnitz (Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 1997).

2Jane Kramer, "The Politics of Memory," New Yorker 14Aug. 1995: 48-54.

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