Am Haus

The endings of a Turkish verbal tense written in black plexiglas were applied on the ochre façade of a corner building.

Am Haus, by Ayse Erkmen.
Photo: author unknown. Source here.

Mise-en-scène: a significant part of the Turkish community in Berlin was established during the ’60s and ’70s, under a bilateral agreement between Germany and Turkey. Originally recruited in order to fill the lack of manpower in post-war Germany, the Gastarbeiter (guest workers) were mostly young men who were paid full wages, but from whom it was expected to return to Turkey within some years. “But few workers returned because there were few good jobs in Turkey. Instead they brought in wives and family members and settled in ethnic enclaves.”[1]
Am Haus, the 1994 installation by the Turkish female artist Ayse Erkmen (1949-), chose the façade of a housing building at the busy Oranienstrasse, in Kreuzberg, one of the districts with the highest rate of Turks in Berlin.

Detail of the installation Am Haus.
Photo source: ERKMEN, Ayse – In Berlin. Berlin: DAAD-Künstlerprogramm, 1995. p. 29.

Am Haus could well be mistaken for an advertisement to a language school. According to a website of online Turkish lessons, there are two different variations of the past tense in this tongue: one with the suffix -di and one other with -mis, being that the first one is more common in the everyday speech. The difference between -di and -mis past tenses is simple: if you’ve lived the event or have seen it with your own eyes, with your own senses, the past is built with the -di suffix. But if you didn’t see nor hear it, then -mis is employed. The -mis tense is used in stories and tales. It is commonly referred to as the indefinite past tense.[2]
Erkmen’s installation introduces that peculiarity of the language through the endings of the Turkish indefinite past tense, a conjugation that fell into disuse amidst the younger generations of Turkish background who, meanwhile, assumed the German as their main tongue.

Am Haus means literally “On the House”, but one should conceal the article between brackets in order to preserve the ambiguity of the German title – specially considering the emphasis that this installation puts upon language refinement. “On (the) House” also refers to the way one speaks in Turkey, the faraway home of parents but less and less of their offspring.
Though subtle, Erkmen’s installation is extremely poetic. By employing the past that no one saw or heard, the “tense used in stories and tales”, the intervention acts in the field of nostalgia by promoting it – if it exists – or by pointing out its absence – to those for whom that past is long gone.

Concerning its categorization on the tripartite scheme of the public art – memory, identity and action[3] –, one could say that Am Haus relates more to identity, but its subtle interventional character grants it a special framing as action.
By adding a textual message to a wall, one can arguably state that Am Haus approach is reminiscent of the graffiti – they both definitely intervene in a provocative manner. However, Am Haus stands boldly apart from the intrusive character of a random vandal attack. Erkmen’s installation doesn’t seek to place itself where it doesn’t belong. In fact, by ‘turkifying’ a façade in the Kreuzberg district, Am Haus expresses an almost opposite attitude, like an attempt to complete the setting with an indispensible element that it lacked before. Erkmen’s “graffiti” convert instead of subverting. Furthermore, by imposing a Turkish cultural element on the façade of a typical Berlin building, Erkmen also seems to suggest that the social integration of the foreigners implies a certain need to rethink the public space and its ways of appropriation. It is specially this feature that reveals the interventional nature of Am Haus, defining it better as “action”.

For its prime location, daily crossed by thousands of Turkish speakers, Am Haus promotes transient discussion. One can imagine that, whenever a passerby who knows how to conjugate with -mis notices the installation, some sentences might be constructed employing the threatened tense. Others, to whom the hooked letters will stress an immediate familiarity, might end up frustrated for not understanding what they write. To those, the installation might end up whetting the curiosity for a grammar review.

More than a graffito, Am Haus is a “wanted poster” for culture, or a transformed form of publicity promoting the language.

Ayse Erkmen’s Conversations, Istanbul. 1997.
Photo: author unknown. Source here.

The link between this installation and advertising was emphasized in 1997 when Erkmen gave continuity to the project in Istanbul. On a large electronic billboard, the same indefinite past endings were screened for a few seconds in-between the programmed advertising spots. Conversations, was the title chosen by the artist for the installation in Istanbul.
In Erkmen’s own words: “The first version in Kreuzberg, Am Haus, sought to be a mere visual experience for those that are not familiar with the language and, for the Turkish community, an opportunity to build up sentences. While in Istanbul, it could induce conversations considering that most people speak the language.”[4]


[1] In here.
[2] In here.
[3] These dimensions are illustrated in the article “Berlin and Santa Comba Dão“.
[4] ERKMEN, Ayse – Art In Space In MATZNER, Florian (ed.) – Public Art: A Reader. Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz. 2004. p. 47.

Berlin Junction

Two curved corten plates shape an eerie walkway.

[Berlin Junction with the Philharmonic on the background]. Author Unknown, undated. Source here.

One year after being unveiled in 1987, in front of the Martin-Gropius-Bau – an important museum in West Berlin, nearby Potsdamer Platz –, Berlin Junction was repositioned, after a suggestion of Richard Serra (1939-), its author, to a site nearby the Berlin Philharmonic – the iconic concert hall designed by architect Hans Scharoun, that opened its doors in 1963.
Its new position was very close to the former plot of a house long gone. The number 4 of Tiergartenstrasse was the address from where Third Reich officials planned the “euthanasia” campaign that killed thousands of people with mental illnesses and physical disabilities. The former headquarters of the Aktion T4 didn’t survive the heavy bombings of the Second World War. Its debris gave place to a traceless urban space featuring a bus stop, a traffic island and a wide sidewalk in front of the philharmonic main entrance.
Due to its proximity to such a historically sensitive location, Berlin Junction unintentionally acquired a memorial meaning a posteriori.

For having not been originally thought as such, Serra’s memorial is shrouded in considerable controversy. The formal abstraction of the sculpture didn’t remind the historical background of the location in any special way; it was rather submitted to a recurrent formalism in Serra’s oeuvre that counted already, by then, with a vast curriculum of corten sculptures dealing with leaning surfaces and the spaces shaped by them. Edifying a sculpture like so many others to highlight such a sensitive chapter of German history was therefore not very well received by a significant amount of people.[1]

[Bronze plaque with Berlin Junction on the background]. Michael Rajzman, 2010. Source here.
[Detail of the engraved text]. Janna Falkenstein, 2007. Source here.

In order to answer to the critics – and to also create a space where one could pay homage and also get information about the past of the area – a bronze plaque was installed on the floor in 1989. Under the title “In honour of the forgotten victims”, the text inscribed refers to the event to remember, the profile of the 200.000 victims and the perpetrators (that included “scientists, doctors, nurses, policemen and law, health and work officials”) as well as the places of collection and extermination of those people. It finishes stating: “the number of victims is high. Low remains the number of convicted criminals.”
Even though the engraved text doesn’t specifically mention Serra’s sculpture, there is an implicit relationship between both in a material level. The dark tone of the bronze in which the three-meter sided square plaque is made of doesn’t leave much room for doubts that it is actually trying to integrate – justifying – the uncanny presence of Serra’s curves.
In a way, the silent minimalism of Berlin Junction and the discreet presence of the memorial plaque – often hidden under snow and leaves – would be responsible for a series of other memorials that eventually took place in this address: in 2007, an information panel was added to the shelter of the bus stop nearby and, from 2008 onwards, a vertical panel with documental graphical elements came to complement the available information, attracting greater attention to the spot.[2]

[Memorial of the Gray Buses with the Berlin Philharmonic on the background]. Tom Benz-Hauke, 2008. Source here.

More recently, another sculpture “parked” in the area in memory of the Aktion T4, as part of a wider project from artists Horst Hoheisel (1944-) and Andreas Knitz (1963-), called Memorial of the Gray Buses. The project consists of an itinerary sculpture of a bus cast in concrete, similar in colour, shape and size to the vehicles that transported the thousands of patients from the hospitals to the death camps.

[Memorial of the Gray Buses “parked” in Berlin]. Author unknown, 2008. Source here.
[“Where are you taking us? 1940/1941”]. Author unknown, 2009. Source here.

“Where are you taking us?” – the question of one of the patients is inscribed in the interior of the bus that, being divided in half through a passageway, invites the passerby to cross it. The bus sculpture stood there for one year, between 2008 and 2009, and is now roaming other sites involved in the Aktion T4 throughout Germany “as a way of transporting the memory – as a vehicle of history.”[3]

Even though the Memorial of the Gray Buses doesn’t show an explicit reference to Berlin Junction, it is possible to establish a spatial analogy between both sculptures in the sense that both outline a passageway. A crossing that, despite short, spatializes the idea of an initiatory experience; something like a rebaptism raising historical awareness. But the affinity between both sculptures is also enhanced by their own materiality. Although the concrete and the corten steel are substantially different, they both imply a powerful destruction symbolism. It was out of concrete and iron that the urban landscape of post war Germany was made of. Furthermore, while the concrete calls for the memory by facing the spectator with the amnesic risk of its alienating and unifying grayness, the corten steel, due to its similarity with rusty iron, conveys feelings of resistance and temporality, hence exhibiting the aura of having witnessed history. Nevertheless the oxidation of the corten steel being the result of a chemical process performed artificially and in a short time, this material embodies suffering and objectifies pain.
Therefore, one can argue that there is an immediate dimension that allows one to correlate Berlin Junction with a solemn tribute, both in a spatial and in a material level. This fact justifies, in a way, the a posteriori allocation of a memorial meaning to the sculpture and its apparent suitability for the purpose. Despite the critical voices raised against its intention to commemorate by itself the victims of the Aktion T4, there doesn’t seem to have been the will to remove the sculpture from its place. The problem seemed to lie only in its self-absorbed offish minimalism.

[Visitors interacting with Transition – Berlin Junction]. Georg Klein, 2001. Source here.

In 2001 – maybe as an attempt to overcome this uncomfortable feeling –, Serra’s sculpture came to incorporate a sound installation by the German artist Georg Klein (1964-). Transition – Berlin Junction lasted for six months and consisted of “a composing process for four voices: one female voice, one male voice, traffic noise and computer generated sine tones”.[4] Continuously produced, day and night, by speakers under four iron grates installed in the ground, the sound was “almost static – sometimes with a stable rhythmic pattern”. The grates included infrared motion sensors that transformed the sound in real time, whenever a visitor walked through the sculpture.

photography by fundel | bildraum-f.com, (c) 2012.

The basic sound was derived from the shape and material of the sculpture and its inherent acoustical proprieties, “specially the extraordinary echoes”. Depending on the use of the sensors, the “more or less metallic sound” composed “long sound curves […] like the different shadow lines of the curves of the sculpture”.
In a way, by adding an additional sensorial component to it, Klein’s installation can be seen as an attempt to further enhance the experience of Serra’s sculpture.

With his installation, Klein also further deepened the transitory feeling of Berlin Junction that, “with its dangerously sloping plates seems to be a special transition space with an ambivalent character just as transition times in life, with their aspects of searching, insecurity, hope and fear”.
Among the possible acoustic elements, a Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) poem could sound, also reflecting the ambivalence of transitions: “… the driver is changing the wheel. I don’t like where I come from. I don’t like where I am going. Why do I watch the changing of the wheel with impatience?”[5] Thus, in addition to being a result of a material and spatial understanding of the sculpture, Klein’s installation also does a political interpretation of Serra’s gesture by regarding it as a “comment on the situation of Berlin in that time: divided in two parts, paralyzed in a threatening position.”
Therefore, Klein’s sound installation enhances the possibilities of transition in Serra’s sculpture, by introducing both the change by movement and by participation.
The memorial mission of the Aktion T4 events was also intensified by the sound installation. “The word ‘here’ spoken by a female voice draws attention in a simple, semantic and phonetic way. And the visitors who perceive the strange sounds at this site with their ears, they also open their eyes looking to the ground, where bodiless voices come out of the earth.”

Overall, Transition – Berlin Junction ascribed some pertinence to Serra’s sculpture. The installation proved to be sensitive to the circumstance of the monument, contributing to its acceptance as a memorial and narrowing its relationship with the surroundings – by adding a musical dimension to the sculpture, Klein also brought it closer to the Philharmonic.

[Aerial view of Serra’s public sculptures at the Kulturforum], Bing Maps. 2010.

But there’s another – more discreet – aspect that one should take into account when considering Berlin Junction. Even though it’s almost unnoticeable on site – due to the distance and to some visual obstacles – Berlin Junction is perfectly aligned with an earlier sculpture by Serra, next to the Mies van der Rohe’s New National Gallery. Berlin Block (for Charlie Chaplin) was installed in 1978 over the museum’s deck, just like some other modern sculptures. But its positioning doesn’t seem to have been accidental; there seems to have been a conceptual intention in aligning both sculptures. If, on the one hand, Berlin Junction‘s curves can be related to the organic shapes of Scharoun’s concert hall, on the other hand, the rigidity and sobriety of Berlin Block place it more justly in front of Mies’ museum.
Together, Berlin Block and Berlin Junction strengthen Serra’s minimalistic approach to public art, while disclosing some of the political humour that portrayed the moment of their installation: while in 1978 the division of the world in two blocs was a reality with no end in sight, in 1988 it was already possible to preview an imminent transition, that would actually take place one year later, with the fall of the Berlin Wall.

[Berlin Block (for Charlie Chaplin) next to the Neue Nationalgalerie]. Author unknown, 1978. Source here.

Due to the fact it was installed one year after the death of Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977), the title of the cubic sculpture suggests that it is dedicated to his memory. But this dedication also allows one to draw some additional political parallels: the actor that directed and starred in “The Great Dictator” (1940) – a parody with the Nazi regime and the German anti-Semitic policies – was himself target of accusations of anti-American activities in 1952, and sympathy with the communist ideology, leading him to definitively abandon the United States.

While the Tilted Arc in New York City questioned the significance of public artworks[6] – proving that it’s the public who always has the right to the last word –, Berlin Junction and Berlin Block (for Charlie Chaplin) contributed to the questioning of public memorials in several other levels. Subscribing to Serra’s minimalistic approach to sculpture – as one can see with the shy (but certainly not unintentional) alignment of the block and the junction –, his Berlin public works also denote a tacit aptness to a memorial duty due to their material or spatial properties.

One could say that Serra likes to keep a certain impenetrable aura about the symbolic content of his works as a set of his own unattainable poetry. In 1998, when asked why he created a sculpture to Charlie Chaplin, Serra answered: “The piece is a 77 ton block cube. It’s impaled into the deck of the Mies van der Rohe National Gallery and the way it’s impaled into the deck gives the block a very ungainly look. Almost as if Chaplin was turning on his shoe. It has an almost comical gesture in the fact that this massive block seems to be plunged into the surface or entailed into the surface of the deck. And I think it undercuts the seriousness of the work by allowing one to see another aspect of its ungainliness. The title is Charlie, but you know what, Mark, we’re going to have to wrap this up. Some people came and I gotta get out of here with them. Unless there’s another question you really want to do, we’ll do it.”[7]


[1] It’s possible to find several websites where the relevance of Serra’s Berlin Junction as the official memorial of the Aktion T4 is discussed. The most active example is available here (in German).
[2] Details about this and other projects concerning the memory of Aktion T4 in this place can also be found here (in German).
[3] In here.
[4] This and all the other information concerning Klein’s installation Transition – Berlin Junction can be found in a short explanatory video available here.
[5] BRECHT, Bertolt – Changing the Wheel. 1953. The complete poem and an explanation about its political meaning is available here.
[6] The removal of Serra’s Tilted Arc from the Federal Plaza in NYC was extensively covered by both generalist and specialized press. For a detailed account of the events and its consequences to the art critique, refer to: DANTO, Arthur – Tilted Arc and Public Art, 1985. In: DANTO, Arthur – The wake of art: criticism, philosophy, and the ends of taste. London: Routledge. 1998. pp. 147-151.
[7] SERRA, Richard. 1998. In an interview with Mark Simmons. Available here.

Berlin and Santa Comba Dão

Gummlin, from the series Das Denkmal. Sibylle Bergemann, 1984. Source here.
[Untitled]. Author unknown, 1975. Source here.
Any resemblance is purely coincidental. It is rather unlikely that Sibylle Bergemann (1941-2010) had the headless statue of Salazar (1889-1970) in mind when she aimed the lens of her camera at the plaster molds of Marx and Engels.
The picture on the left is named “Gummlin“, in a reference to the small settlement in the north of Germany where the artist Ludwig Engelhardt (1924-2001) sculpted what would become a famous Berliner monument. The photograph belongs to the series “Das Denkmal” (“The Monument”), that documents the several phases of the execution and installation of that monument, the Marx-Engels-Forum.
The image on the right is a photograph of exceptional quality taken by an unknown photographer, documenting an odd episode that marked the democratization process in Portugal.In addition to the visual similarity, these two images have a lot more in common to tell us, namely, the three dimensions upon which one can interpret public artwork: Memory, Identity and Action. But, even though they are paradigmatic of these three dimensions, the two monuments also prove the limitations of such classification.

[Monument to Salazar]. Author unknown, ca. 1970. Source here.
[Unveiling ceremony of the Monument to Salazar]. Author unknown, 1965. Source here.

 

Memory
Signed by the sculptor Leopoldo de Almeida (1890-1975), the statue of António de Oliveira Salazar was erected in 1965 in Santa Comba Dão, in front of the local courthouse and next to the parish church. Although it was installed while Salazar was still the governing dictator of Portugal, the statue answers mainly to a posthumous logic. For being his birthplace, the small town was the ideal setting to edify a memorial to the Portuguese statesman, a kind of warranty to the memory of a man who was seen as the saviour of the fatherland and upon whom fell the entire merit of the national union – even if it had to be “proudly alone” in that merit. Hence, it doesn’t seem to be innocent, this sharp, formal reference to the monumental statue of Abraham Lincoln,[1] the notable American president responsible for the union of the United States in a time of civil war. It seems evident that, for the Estado Novo regime, Santa Comba Dão would effectively work as its own kind of Lincoln Memorial, a pilgrimage site for the future generations of Portuguese proud of the great patriot. Curiously, the posthumous feeling of the sculpture would become rather ironic three years after it was unveiled, when an accidental fall from a chair marked the beginning of the end of this dictator.

[Installation of the statues of Marx and Engels]. From the series “Das Denkmal“. Sybille Bergemann, 1986. Source here.
It was this very same logic that motivated the installation of the sculptures of Karl Marx (1818-1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820-1895) in East Berlin in 1986. With the opening of the Marx-Engels-Forum, the state paid its respects to the founding intellectuals of the great economic utopia of the 20th century in the capital city of their native country – even though they were both born in what, back then, was known as West Germany. With the headquarters of the communist government of the GDR as their backdrop and facing the iconic TV Tower, the respected revolutionaries could now proudly admire the system that they idealised. It was a recognition of the importance of their contribution, and evidence that their forecast was right when they stated that Germany was ready for the revolution. The memorial logic of both monuments lacks no big explanation. One can only remark on the formal adequacy to the respective ideologies and politics of the honourees: while Salazar sits atop an unreachable granite plinth, Marx and Engels let themselves be touched on ground level, in a kind of tacit commitment to the proletariat. For being fatherly figures of their respective governing ideologies, both monuments express a strong identitarian character. But here things start to split asunder.

[Aerial view of the Marx-Engels-Forum]. Hubert Link, 1987. Source here.

 

Identity
More than a memorial, this Berliner monument is a symbol. Even though the statues of the two philosophers assume a highlighted position, the Marx-Engels-Forum is an ensemble that integrates several monuments in a wide circular space. The white marble reliefs “Old World”, by sculptor Werner Stötzer (1931-2010), are the only work of the group placed in an external position of that circle. It is to the “Old World” that Marx and Engels turn their backs. In contrast, the bronze reliefs “Everyday Life of a Free Society” and “The Dignity and Beauty of Free People”, by Margret Middell (1940-), man the front of the ensemble. Furthermore, describing a delicate curve through the middle of the circle, four photography panels document the history of the labour movements in Germany.

More than promoting the ideology, the Marx-Engels-Forum sought to express the idea that socialism was something historically German. More than being prescriptive, the ensemble was illustrative, promoting the acceptance of the regime as something intrinsic to the national identity. Even before they were the fathers of socialism, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were German. In this scope, the homage delineates a mix between nationalism and socialism. It is in this hybrid of conflicting identities that these statues justly portray the problem of identity in Berlin.

The ensemble was erected in a context of loss of confidence in the regime. Few were the East Germans who believed in the ideology and the Berlin Wall was already showing signs of wanting to fall. Considering this context, the statues of Marx and Engels easily reveal themselves to be closer to a mythological allegory than to a strict mournful tribute, teachers taking time to review the material for a society becoming too lazy to even do its homework.

The group integrated an arboreal axis in the city centre and it was well-received by East Berliners who went there for family walks on sunny weekends and free afternoons. It must not have taken long for the sculptures to acquire their more familiar nickname: “the Pensioners”.[2]

Despite the obvious differences between their form and context, the symbolic approach of the monument to Salazar was, in regards to identity, similar to the one in Berlin. Following the common trend of adding famous quotes by those honoured onto monuments of commemoration, the one in Santa Comba Dão featured those quotes which best conveyed the imposing identity. “The ones that cease to fight are unworthy of living. But this won’t be said about us.” And the better known: “Everything for the nation. Nothing against the nation.” These are the statements that the photographs allow one to read more clearly. But an odd event would renovate the statue’s renown, at the same time refreshing its own identity discourse.

Along with the colonies, Portugal would also lose the head of its historical leader. In the morning of February 17th, 1975, the citizens awoke confronted with a headless statue. Apparently, it must have been through the course of several nights, “sawing some centimetres at a time”, that the monument was beheaded.[3] The mutilation of the sculpture caused a heated discussion in the town. If, on the one hand, Salazar ruled Portugal under a repressive and violent regime, on the other, he was for that no less a notable native and therefore a symbol of pride to some of the locals. Past the initial awe, the reaction of the vast majority of citizens came promptly: it was necessary to collect money in order to replace the head of their illustrious fellow citizen.

The incident concerning Salazar’s head clearly resumes the potential identity clash of public art. It is in threshold situations that identity is revealed. Probably, the statue was already suffering from the ills of invisibility that Robert Musil (1880-1942) warned us about.[4] The brass man, who before could only whisper, had to lose his head so that identity could speak louder. Within the event of the Salazar statue’s beheading, the concepts of identity and action start to intertwine.

[The monument to Salazar after the two anonymous actions]. Author unknown, 1978. Sources here and here.

 

Action
One can argue whether the act of beheading a sculpture is or is not public art. Putting aside the subversive nature of the gesture, the existence of its poetic dimension is undeniable. For three years Salazar would remain headless for everyone to see, saluting whoever entered in the house of justice. But it didn’t take long before some mocking remarks were graffitied on the base of the sculpture. What used to be a respectful tribute became something more like a ‘punching bag’ for revolutionaries.

In 1978, after a new head was casted, the citizens announced the date of the ‘heading’ ceremony. The central government made public its opposition to such an event and called the police to prevent it from happening. After the citizens tried to install the head on the statue, the police seized it. “Such attitude ended up provoking a series of chain reactions that led to the confrontations.”[5] The violent turmoil that followed was only resumed some days later, when the statue was “destroyed by an explosive device that shattered it into pieces.”[6]

Never in the history of the peaceful town did the local pride so intensely suppress the national one. The experience of Santa Comba Dão duly summarizes the way in which collective identity can project itself onto heritage, simultaneously exposing the dangers it can bring.

[The monument to Marx and Engels after the anonymous action]. Author unknown, 1990. Source here.

 

While the memorial in Santa Comba Dão revealed its aptitude for being a “punching bag”, the one in Berlin tried to pour oil on troubled waters. After the fall of the wall that had divided the city for almost thirty years, the Berliners also felt a momentary destructive impetus – it was to this instinct that they resorted when they smashed the concrete barrier using little more than hammers. Still, a very different intervention also emerged from that impetus. In the summer of 1990 someone added the words “we are innocent” (“wir sind unschuldig“) to the front side of the platform upon which the statues stood. The simple addition of this sentence under the figures had the power to change the way one sees them; even the gaze of those represented seemed to change. If before Engels stood in a sign of reverence to the working class, now he seemed to be doing so in order to defend, also on behalf of Marx, their innocence.

Maybe it was due to the timely declaration of innocence that the statues were spared. Or maybe because the Berliners never felt threatened by their “Pensioners”. The truth is that, during the twenty years that followed, the great ideologists persistently remained in the same place, while the surrounding landscape gradually changed. With the end of the regime, the sculptures lost almost all of their prominence, obtaining just relative enthusiasm among the nostalgic tourists that were flying to Berlin in search of its socialist traces.

[Removal of the Marx-Engels-Forum]. Theo Helmann, 2010. Source here.

 

In September 2010, the Marx-Engels-Forum was dismantled in order to give way to the construction of a subway line. A crane raised the heavy figures in a trajectory of 100 metres, an event attended to by the press and a few other curious individuals. According to Spiegel Online,[7] the statues will only be able to retrieve their positions in 2017. But meanwhile, officials are already discussing the possibility of rebuilding the medieval quarter that stood there before the war, once the construction works are finished. This kind of uncertainty tells much about Berlin’s attitude towards its heritage.

[Monument to the Heroes of the Colonial War]. Carlos Silva, 2010. Source here.

 

It was also in 2010 that the – so far – last chapter of the Portuguese monument was written, a continuation of the transience exemplified by the unspectacular public fountain that was installed after Salazar’s statue was destroyed. This time, the place was dedicated to the memory of the Heroes of the Overseas War, a campaign much supported by the dictator. After a project of the Urban Planning Office of the local City Hall,[8] the inconspicuous fountain was then transformed to integrate the new monument: the six major stages of the Colonial War were represented, six triangular plans placed across the fountain, uniting in its centre on a large engraved stone where one can read the names of the sixteen soldiers who died in battle who had been locals of the town. The names appear under two of the most renowned verses of The Lusiads, Camões’ (1524-1580) opus magnum hailing the epic deeds of Portugal in the Age of Discoveries: “And those who for their worthy contributions / Are getting released from the rule of death.”[9] In Santa Comba Dão it’s still possible to perceive the continuity which would otherwise be mistaken as a rupture from the previous approach: it’s highly likely that Salazar would have resorted to those exact verses in order to motivate the people for his imperialistic war.


[1] The comparison is mentioned in SAIAL, Joaquim – Eça de Queirós, Salazar, José Lopes, Duarte Silva e o Dr. António Loreno. Available here (in Portuguese).
[2] WHYBROW, Nicolas – Street Scenes: Brecht, Benjamin & Berlin, Bristol: Intellect Books, 2005, p. 209.
[3] Mentioned in Dão Profundo [blog]. Available here (in Portuguese).
[4] MUSIL, Robert – Denkmale In Nachlass zu Lebzeiten. Hamburg: Rowohlt Verlag. 1978. pp. 6-7.
[5] Mentioned in Dão Profundo [blog]. Available here (in Portuguese).
[6] Ibid. Available here (in Portuguese).
[7] Video report available here (in German).
[8] Mentioned in Dos Veteranos da Guerra do Ultramar [site]. Available here (in Portuguese).
[9] Free translation of “E aqueles que por obras valerosas / se vão da lei da morte libertando.” In CAMÕES, Luís Vaz de – Os Lusíadas. First published in 1572.