West Surrey Area
Museums & Art Galleries
The Other Side –
German post-WW2 Culture
of the talk by Angela Findlay
on February 28th 2018
Angela began by telling us of when she travelled
across Europe in 2009 with her 75-year-old mother. They were
in the footsteps of her Grandfather who had been a General in the
German Army. He had been actively involved in setting up war
sites across Germany where, unlike in England, there would be no
soaring structures for the dead.
Germany’s loss of the war was replaced with the devastation they had
inflicted on others and a feeling of guilt for the destruction they had
She mentioned two prominent artists who made direct references to post
War Germany, they were Gerard Richter and Anselm Kiefer.
Richter was born in Germany in 1932 and is known for his blurred
paintings of photographs.
“Uncle Rudi”, 1965, is one of those paintings and shows his Uncle
dressed in SS military uniform.
Anselm Kiefer was someone who I had admired as an art student and had
been drawn towards his dark and moody mixed media work, but to be
honest I didn’t know the inspiration behind his work until this
lecture. He was brought up in the rubble of Germany and started
photographer who would dress in a Nazi Officer’s uniform posing in
different European cities. This proved to be controversial but
reaction, which was what Kiefer wanted.
Angela asked “How should a nation deal with a past as horrific as the
Well, in 1970, after laying down a wreath to remember the Warsaw Ghetto
Uprising, Willy Brandt surprised everyone by spontaneously kneeling
down in an act of remembrance. This in Germany is known as
There was also the release of a TV mini-series called “Holocaust” in
1978, starring Meryl Streep and this would have been one of the first
accounts of the suffering of Jews that many German people would have
In the 1980s, the “counter memorial” culture rose in popularity and
this is where it gave artists the opportunity to challenge the
traditional form of a monument. The counter memorials often
over time instead of being built to last and were also constructed into
the ground rather than above it. Angela showed us quite a few
of counter memorials and these included the Hamburg Monument, 1986-93
which was a tall square metal tower that was lowered (10 times in
total) until it has been completely removed. It was made of a
metal which could be written on and achieved all the aims of a counter
The Memorial in Neukolln, Berlin 1989-94 was created by Norbert
Radermacher, nothing could be seen until a light beam was triggered by
a passer-by and projected text onto the trees and grass. A
department of the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp was located here and
if it wasn’t for this counter memorial, you probably wouldn’t have
Aschrott Fountain was condemned by the Nazis as a “Jew’s fountain” and
destroyed. However, in 1987 the fountain was reinstated upside
that the water flowed from street level downwards. Although a
idea, I think this created a very strong and important message on the
Nazi persecution of the Jews.
Many memorials are wrapped in controversy, except Micha Ullman’s
Bibliotek Memorial, 1995 which is placed at the site where the Nazi
book burnings began in 1933. The underground library can be seen
through a window in the pavement and contains visible vacant
bookshelves. On a plaque reads the quote “Where books are burned
end people will burn”.
I think the simplest of ideas creates the greatest impact and included
in that is Gunter Demnig’s “Stumbling Stones”. These stolpersteins are 10cm by 10cm
concrete cubes (like cobble stones) with a brass plate on top inscribed
with the names, dates and whether the victims suffered persecution or
death by the Nazis. They are placed at the location of the
home or place of work and humanises the people connected with that
location. You almost need to kneel down to look at these stones
that in itself can be seen as a humiliating gesture.
The counter memorials are there to remind people of Germany’s history
to ensure that nothing like that ever happens again.
Angela finished by telling us about Karl Von Graffen, her Grandfather,
who had fought in the trenches of WWI, was a skilled artillery man,
never joined the Nazi party and instead fought for his country.
became a prisoner of war during WWII and once released, ended up
selling yo-yos and growing tomatoes. He smoked himself to death
A very touching and emotional lecture on an important subject of
Germany’s passive and active ways of apology and atonement.
Out of the darkness Germany is coming into the light by remembering.
Related Link (opens in new windows):
Angela Findlay's website