Thursday, December 04, 2008

Stumbling Blocks

At Your Feet 175 w

Walking along the pavement of the famous Königsallé in Düsseldorf I saw two metal cobbles next to each other. I had to bend down to take a closer look and see if there was any inscription. Yes there was, and it revealed the names of two people who had lived there; they were not famous people, but people who somebody wanted to remind the world about. The message was instantly clear to even a non-German speaker.

Remembrance metal cobble 1 DuesseldorfRemembrance metal cobble 2 Duesseldorf

The place names on Hulda Hornstein's cobble were all too familiar. When I researched the names on Walter Erle's cobble I found out that Heilanstalt Grafenberg was a mental hospital on the outskirts of Düsseldorf and Hadamar was a similar place a little further away which was part of the Nazi euthanasia program between 1941 and 1944. Out of more than 5000 Jews, only 57 returned after the war to Düsseldorf.

I also found out that these cobbles or blocks are called "Stolpersteine" (stumbling blocks) and that there are more than 100 of them all across the pavements of Düsseldorf, and they are part of an art project by Cologne-based artist Günter Demnig.

These chilling reminders of past history are today at the feet of all the Christmas shoppers in Königsallé with its posh, up-market establishments. With all the brightly-lit shop windows, does anybody look down long enough to discover these shiny "Stumbling Blocks"?

For more information:

www.stolpersteine.com

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stolpersteine

12 comments:

christina said...

So sad. Our town also had a large Jewish community (there is still a tiny walled Jewish graveyard grown over with weeds) and they're starting to install some of the Stolpersteine now to help people remember.

Kerstin said...

Hi Anders,

Thank you for visiting my blog, it was lovely to meet you this way :) You have to let me know where in Cologne you live, I grew up in Muengersdorf and Klettenberg. I remember the Stolpersteine Project very well, these are indeed chilling but very important and in a way beautiful reminders of a past that should never be forgotten. Thanks for sharing this!

Kerstin

swenglishexpat said...

Christina - Yes, it is truly sad, but it did happen, and I think you put it beautifully when you wrote "to help people remember".
Kerstin - I am not "geographically challenged", but I had just seen friends in Cologne, so therefore I did not express myself very precisely. I actually live on the outskirts of Moenchengladbach, which is not very far from Cologne; it's just down the motorway. Our friends though, live in Nippes in Cologne.

Diane said...

This post gave me chills. I recently took my 9-year-old daughter to the Holocaust Museum in DC, after having her read The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. I did a post on it, if you're inclined to read it :), http://dianesaddledramblings.blogspot.com/2008/10/light-in-dark.html (or A Light in the Dark, from October 25, if the link doesn't work). It was a serious day, but one from which she took a great deal (as did I).

swenglishexpat said...

Diane - What a good mother you are (not patronising). It is so important to pass on something of that importance to the next generation, even though it could be a soul-shattering experience. They need to know.

Diane said...

I did see your comment on the October post... thank you :). And thank for the 'good mother' compliment, too (much appreciated).

I also think it's so important, especially in this era of SUCH intolerance, that we make sure the next generations understand what has happened, what IS happening, and what can happen again.

Driftingfocus said...

Very, very interesting project...

swenglishexpat said...

Drifting Focus - Yes, it is admirable that some people put in so much time and energy into it.

Rositta said...

I have been there and also seen the Stolpersteine...very sad and reflective time for me being German...ciao

swenglishexpat said...

Rositta - I can understand the added dimension of the issue for you being German-born. I believe it is important when you talk or write about these matters to differentiate between Germans and Nazis whenever possible. I wouldn't want to be held responsible for everything my ancestors did in the past!

CanadianSwiss said...

I'm with all commentors. It is very sad, but yes, people need to be reminded. Sometimes I think that these Stolpersteine should be hung at eyes height, though, as still too many overlook, resp. don't really stumble over these reminders.

swenglishexpat said...

CS - Good point! They are very flush with the pavement so as not to cause an accident; health and safety, you know (just slightly ironic). So much for stumbling blocks! But hopefully they stand out, to the eye that is, with their bronzie shine.