Art memorial a reminder of Nazi Germany

by Bryan Keogh

Residents of Berlin’s Sch”neberg district were given a history lesson when they began noticing anti-Semitic signs hanging on Bavarian Quarter lampposts in 1993.
The images depicted on the 80 signs were part of a memorial sponsored by the German Senate to commemorate the 16,000 Jews who once populated the area.
Now, the University’s College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture is displaying the memorial in its courtyard. Using pictures, drawings and maps, the exhibit encourages onlookers to consider how the laws slowly dehumanized Jews living in Germany.
Nazi Germany introduced the first series of anti-Semitic laws in 1933, beginning with a loss of health care and gradually removing Jews from daily German life.
Conceptual artists Renata Stih and Frieder Schnock designed the signs in 1992. A summarized version of each decree is written on one side, with a related image on the other.
A sign picturing a cat on one side originally hung in front of a Berlin pet store. The other side declared, “Jews are no longer allowed to have household pets.”
A picture of a red park bench accompanies the words, “At Bayerischer Platz, Jews may sit only on yellow park benches.” The sign originally hung from a lamppost near an actual red park bench.
Stih and Schnock spoke about the memorial and their intentions to incite German reaction in Berlin.
“When we put the cat up, someone yelled out of a window, ‘You dirty Jews, go away!'” Schnock said.
Stih said the signs mimic the subtlety of original anti-Semitic laws introduced into German society in the 1930s.
“The pictures are not obvious,” she said. “They fit seamlessly into the environs.”
Some Germans, especially in the Bavarian Quarter, which was predominately Jewish before 1933, were beginning to forget their past, the designers said. The neighborhood that scientist Albert Einstein and journalist Hannah Arendt once called home consists of very few Jews today.
“We wanted to destroy their naivetÇ, silence and unconsciousness,” Stih said, referring to Germans currently living in the Bavarian Quarter. “Normally a memorial is to celebrate. Here, we did the negative.”
Schnock said designers wanted people to think about the past during their daily lives.
Some citizens were initially concerned that neo-fascists were putting up anti-Semitic signs; others were offended and called the police.
When designers put the signs up, officers immediately took them down, discounting the permits held by Stih and Schnock as fakes. Two workmen who helped the artists were arrested.
The signs were placed in police cellars with other confiscated items, such as drugs and weapons, Stih said.
But the artists amended the signs, declaring them memorials, and put them back up a week later.
The University Humanities Institute sponsored the exhibit. Dan Brewer, the institute’s director, said the effect of Stih and Schnock’s art is broad.
“There are many other violent events that (their work) can help us understand,” he said.
The exhibit will be displayed until Dec. 15.

Bryan Keogh covers graduate and professional schools and welcomes comments at [email protected]