Eve of destruction


Theme week ahoy…

Back in January I mentioned “Zerstörte Vielfalt” (“Diversity Destroyed“), a Berlin programme taking up much of 2013 and inspired by the anniversaries of the Nazi takeover in 1933 and the “Kristallnacht” pogrom of 1938. The programme seeks to “preserve the memory and commemorate the lives of those Berliners who contributed to the city’s diversity: writers, artists, scientists and academics as well as small business owners, workers and immigrants from Eastern Europe […] as well as their marginalization and persecution after 1933.”

Along with exhibitions and other happenings there are red pillars dotted around Berlin right now, each representing a person or group who made a contribution to the city in the Weimar era. The one above – chosen because it is closest to where I live – is on Hermannplatz. At left is the Karstadt department store, at right a depiction of its previous incarnation when it was the largest such establishment in Berlin, its opening covered by no less a writer than Joseph Roth. This location forms part of a university-run audio tour of formerly Jewish-owned businesses in the area.

These pillars bear text along with large-scale images and like Rachel Whiteread’s large-scale works they perform the essential task of making absence present at the very loci of loss and devastation. Some of the subjects, such as Albert Einstein and Marlene Dietrich, need no introduction. But many more toiled in relative obscurity and only now receive belated recognition. In the coming week I’ll be looking at various personalities featured in the Diversity Destroyed programme who contributed to the diversity and brilliance of Weimar Berlin (you’ll find each subject among the potted bios here).

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