Right on the heels of Berlin’s 1.5 million euro celebration marking 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, a collection of iconic memorials—erected for those who perished during the Wall’s oppressive existence—have been stolen.
For the last decade, white crosses have stood at various locations on the former border in remembrance of those who died trying to escape East Berlin into the West. As of last weekend only empty metal frames remained where seven of the crosses had stood on the bank of the Spree just meters away from the German house of parliament. In their place was left a note: “There is no thinking going on here.”
Task force against inhumanity of the wall crosses; Photo © Paul Wagner
Last Monday, five days before Berlin commemorations officially began, the crosses resurfaced, but far beyond the former border of East Germany. Marking the outer edges of Europe, they reappeared installed on walls and fences in Greece, Bulgaria, and Melilla, Spain. Claiming responsibility was the political activist performance art group The Center for Political Beauty, led by artist and organizer Philipp Ruch, who cited the purpose of the relocation as a critique of Europe’s hypocrisy in fortifying its new borders while celebrating the fall of old ones. The group claims to have distributed the crosses to refugees in the forests outside Melilla, some of whom have spent years trying to cross the 11-kilometer-long fence into Spanish territory.
The Wall of the Dead at the EU external borders; Courtesy Zentrum für Politische Schönheit
Embellishing the political action is an online crowd-funding page that explains the aims of the project and includes plans to send three activist coaches from Berlin to Greece to “tear down the European wall.” Titled the Erster Europäischer Mauerfall (the First Fall of the European Wall) the campaign raised 5 1/2 times their initial goal in the first six days of the campaign. Calling today’s enforced barriers the “European curtain” in reference to the pejorative Western term for the border of the former Soviet Union and its bloc of allies (including the Berlin Wall), Ruch explains his aims to “remember not the past, but to remember the present—and tear down the EU’s external walls not with warm words but with bolt cutters.”
Earlier this year The Center for Political Beauty had expressed their disappointment in the German government for their limited reaction to the 76,000 applications for asylum by Syrian refugees via 1 in 100, an ironic call to action to help the German government decide which children should be rescued (and, in turn, which should be abandoned). The participant-led "fake" online vote was part of a broader project with another elaborate "fake" campaign in which the German Ministry for Families was shown promising to rescue 55,000 children and place them in the care of German foster families. The number was symbolically 1 percent of the total number actually in need of help and was based directly on the model of Kinderstransporte, the method which saved 10,000 Jewish children from their deaths in Nazi Germany.
Melilla; Photo © Patryk Witt / Zentrum für Politische Schönheit
While the group has received a deluge of disapproving remarks from German officials (there are rumors that the group is being investigated for grand larceny), it’s difficult to dispute they have a knack for making visceral and urgent the all-too-often intellectual understanding of memorials. Capitalizing on social media, alternative fundraising, and media dispersion tactics, the group is reviving the memorial as a call to remember and take responsibility for our present—not just as a reminder of the past.
(Image at top: Melilla; Photo © Patryk Witt / Zentrum für Politische Schönheit)
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