The Counter-Monument: Memory against Itself in Germany Today

Critical Inquiry 18 (2):267-296 (1992)
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One of the contemporary results of Germany’s memorial conundrum is the rise of its “counter-monuments”: brazen, painfully self-conscious memorial spaces conceived to challenge the very premises of their being. On the former site of Hamburg’s greatest synagogue, at Bornplatz, Margrit Kahl has assembled an intricate mosaic tracing the complex lines of the synagogue’s roof construction: a palimpsest for a building and community that no longer exist. Norbert Radermacher bathes a guilty landscape in Berlin’s Neukölln neighborhood with the inscribed light of its past. Alfred Hrdlicka began a monument in Hamburg to counter—and thereby neutralize—an indestructible Nazi monument nearby. In a suburb of Hamburg, Jochen Gerz and Esther Shalev-Gerz have erected a black pillar against fascism and for peace designed to disappear altogether over time. The very heart of Berlin, former site of the gestapo headquarters, remains a great, gaping wound as politicians, artists, and various committees forever debate the most appropriate memorial for this site.4 4. The long-burning debate surrounding projected memorials, to the Gestapo-Gelände in particular, continues to exemplify both the German memorial conundrum and the state’s painstaking attempts to articulate it. For an excellent documentation of the process, see Topographie des Terrors: Gestapo, SS und Reichssicherheitshauptamt auf dem “Prinz-Albrecht-Gelände,” ed. Reinhard Rürup . For a shorter account, see James E. Young, “The Topography of German Memory,” The Journal of Art 1 : 30. James E. Young is assistant professor of English and Judaic studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is the author of Writing and Rewriting the Holocaust: Narrative and the Consequences of Interpretation and The Texture of Memory: Holocaust Memorials and Meaning in Europe, Israel, and America , from which this essay is drawn. He is also the curator of “The Art of Memory,” an exhibition at the Jewish Museum of New York



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