Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Stumbling across Stolpersteine

"a person is only forgotten when his or her name is forgotten"

Gunter Demnig is in town. He's the artist who came up with the Stolpersteine project. Stolpersteine are the brass cobblestones that you see every so often embedded into the pavements in Berlin and beyond. You can also find them across Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Belgium, Norway, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, and I think France now too.

Gunter Demnig

Stolpersteine, or 'stumbling blocks' are a way of remembering the victims of the Nazi regime, inclusive of Jewish citizens, Sinti, or Roma; victims of political or religious persecution (e.g. Jehovah's Witnesses); homosexuals; or victims of euthanasia - anybody who suffered under this regime. They can also be laid for those who committed suicide because of the oppressive circumstances of the time, and can also be laid for people who survived the persecution, for example children who were removed to safety or those who managed to escape. They are laid outside the last chosen address of the person, and usually they start with the text 'Hier wohnte' (here lived) followed by their name, date of birth and a brief description of what happened to them. Sometimes they say 'here studied', 'here worked', 'here practised', 'here taught', or sometimes are left blank, but 'Hier wohnte' is the most common you'll see.

Positioning the Stolpersteine

Each victim receives his or her own stone. And today we were having 8 laid outside our apartment block. A family of 3, including a child, who were murdered in Auschwitz, a married couple who were deported to, and killed in Riga, and 3 women deported to Riga along with the married couple all on the 25th January 1942. 

Positioning the Stolpersteine

There was a lot of discussion about the positioning of the blocks. Family members are positioned together in groups, and depending on the paving blocks and manhole covers, etc outside your building, the positioning of the stones can be problematic. As you can see from the photos a lot of care was taken on finalising the layout, and it was decided to have them in a line directly in front of the Haus. 

Positioning the Stolpersteine

Gunter Demnig is very involved in the process of positioning and checking that all the details on the Stolpersteine are correct before laying. In the past he used to also lay the blocks, but as he is getting older there is a team who do all the heavy work of lifting slabs, laying the stones, bedding them in, and any cement work also required. 

Preparing the area for the Stolpersteine

It felt like a real honour to meet Gunter Demnig and see the Stolpersteine being laid. I really like them. They seem such a lovely way of remembering the people who suffered, and yet they are small, unobtrusive, and individual. When we first arrived in Berlin we lived in temporary accommodation on Heinrich Heine Strasse in Mitte, and the Stolpersteine there were the very first things that Orla asked about that were different from 'home', and the first things that we jointly fell in love with about Berlin.  


Fixing the Stolpersteine in place

People often ask how we feel about living in Berlin, in amongst all the history. I am interested in learning about it (where as I wasn't interested at school) and it seems to me that while we are here and have the opportunity to access so much information that it is the perfect time to do that. Stevie is less keen; he finds it distressing and I understand his choice in not seeking out more history than he wants to. Berlin is the kind of city you can come to and either immerse yourself in the history or avoid. I don't feel like it's *in my face* all the time, and I think the Stolpersteine are quite representative of that. 

Cleaning the Stolpersteine

Our Stolpersteine have come about due to the hard work of one of our neighbours. She has spent 2 years researching the lives of the people who lived in our building and were taken from here, including trying to locate any surviving family members. She has managed to find out more about some of the people than others, most lived in the Vorderhaus (front house) where we live, and the married couple lived in the side house. Only recently I found out more about the history of the area we live in through stumbling across some photos on Flickr which had a link to a website which the had further links leading me to further information. We live in an area which was highly populated with Jews, and reading about what happened to the people in my street and the surrounding streets was horrifying, and yet I couldn't stop. I am glad that the current occupiers of our apartment block have made it possible for us to have the Stolpersteine to remember the previous ones.

We're all gathering in front of the building on Sunday to commemorate the people named on the Stolpersteine, and to hear their stories. It'll be sad, but I'm glad to be part of it.







Links:
The Stolpersteine project website:  http://www.stolpersteine.com/
AndBerlin documents the Stolpersteine they come across: (start with the intro) http://andberlin.com/2012/01/11/stolpersteine/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stolperstein
Berlin.de piece on Stolpersteine: http://www.berlin.de/ba-charlottenburg-wilmersdorf/bezirk/lexikon/stolpersteine.html


18 comments:

  1. I also find the Stolpersteine very moving, and appreciate how successfully they let you feel connected to the past. How neat that you got to meet the creator himself and be part of the process for your building!

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    1. Totally, though my part in the process was so minimal it doesn't even count. But nice to be here and see it happen. It feels like a real privilege.

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  2. Fiona, thanks for posting your photos so that I get to see the process of the stones being laid. And more thanks for including a link to my blog in your post.

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    1. No probs, and you are welcome. It was through your blog that I found Gunter Demnig's Stolpersteine website, so thank you!

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  3. What a brilliant post (and pics).
    I have never seen one, but will definitely make sure we do on our next visit to Germany.

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    1. Thanks! I am sure you'll see them on your travels- you just have to keep your eye out for something that glistens a little.

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  4. Love this, so great that you got to meet the artist and see what goes into the project. I feel like I've seen these so many places but I can't remember where now!

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    1. I can't remember how many he told us there are in total but I am pretty sure you'll have seen quite a few. I think he said that a third of them are in Berlin. I'll find out on Sunday off my neighbour. Ad yes, I am pretty pleased to have met him!

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  5. The Stolpersteine are something I always notice walking around the city and I hope that never stops. Too cool that you were able to watch the process & shared it with us!

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    1. Thanks, and yes, I thought it was brilliant being able to see the process. Totally cool. Feeling a bit anxious about the ceremony on Sunday, I think it's going to be heart-wrenching.

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  6. I'm very jealous that you were able to be involved (even if it was a tiny part) in this process. The Stolpersteine project is something which helps me look back on the past with more open eyes as to what transgressed on these historically loaded Berlin streets. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Thanks, it's revitalised my interest again in finding out a bit more.

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  7. Totally off topic, but I just want to let you know, that there is one Liebster for you in my blog http://frauwelle.blogspot.com :)

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    1. Thankyou! I am now the recipient of two... and *must* do something about that!

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  8. WOw! I was JUST reading about this last night! I wanted to learn more about how my current city, Wiesbaden, was during the 3rd Reich. It is great project.

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    1. Thanks, I hope you managed to find out more about Wiesbaden's history. It is so interesting when you live in a place with a lot of history, isn't it? I really like seeing old photos of Berlin and seeing how it has changed since before the war.

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  9. Thanks for this post! I wrote about Stolpersteine in my own blog a few weeks ago, and it was fascinating to see your pictures of the actual set up process.

    I added a link to this post into my own post back here- http://stevenglassman.de/2012/05/08/stumbling-blocks/

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    1. Thanks Steven, glad you liked it!

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