Artwork marks renewal along German-Polish border
Dec 24, 2009, 10:28 GMT
Hamburg - The idea came from a Swiss artist, the money from Canada and the rubble from parts of Poland and Germany destroyed in World War II.
The end result is a work of art recently unveiled in Pasewalk, Poland nearly 65 years after the end of the war. It commemorates the reconstruction that has taken place along the German-Polish border and symbolizes a new beginning between the two countries.
The Pasewalk Police Phoenix is a 5.5 metre-diameter open-top sphere made of stone and mortar. In addition to its open top, it has an opening at the bottom large enough to allow people to go inside.
'It is also an artistic statement against violence,' said Ernest Daetwyler, the installation artist whose idea the sphere was.
'The project can also contribute to an improvement in the not entirely unproblematic German-Polish relationship,' said Matthias Pfueller, chairman of the German association of public memorials.
A coincidence led Daetwyler, 45, from his home in Canada to the German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in 2007. He had met a Chinese artist in Switzerland who worked at an artists' garden near the Uecker River, which flows through the town of Pasewalk. While visiting Daetwyler, he was touched by the war history of the border region, whose economy is among the most structurally weak in Germany.
Historians say that the region has not yet come fully to terms with its Nazi past and present and with its current role as a stronghold of the far-right National Democratic Party, also known as the neo-Nazi party.
In 1933 Pasewalk was one of the first cities to name Adolf Hitler an honorary citizen. In 1918 Hitler lay in a military hospital in Pasewalk recovering from a poisonous gas attack sustained in World War I. He is said to have made the decision to enter politics there. Hitler's honorary citizenship wasn't revoked until 1995.
About 85 per cent of Pasewalk was destroyed in the war. Farmers removed the rubble with horse-drawn wagons into an area called Friedberg on the edge of Pasewalk. It became overgrown and was in the same state in 2007 when Pasewalk historian Wolfgang Brose showed Daetwyler the site. Daetwyler said that's when he got the idea to create the sphere.
About 50 kilometres to the north is Pasewalk's sister city Police, now in Poland. The city was called Poelitz until 1945 and was heavily bombed during the war because of a chemical factory there. There also was a pile of rubble and the remains of weapons, which Daetwyler included in his art project.
Even before the people of Pasewalk heard of Daetwyler's plans, his idea won praise in Canada.
'The Canada Council of the Arts gave me a prize, securing the initial financing of the project,' Daetwyler said. Two subsequent prizes awarded in Canada and another from the Pro Helvetia culture foundation in Switzerland were received and Pasewalk's city council approved the plan, clearing the way for work to begin in June 2009.
'The location was well chosen,' said Brose. The Pasewalk Police Phoenix stands on a plot of land on which a Jewish businessman ran a large foundry prior to the Nazi period. The man was ousted by the Nazis and killed and the company was destroyed. Near the massive sphere sits Pasewalk's Leninhain, a typical East German memorial commemorating the victims of fascism.
The artwork should have been completed in August, but instead of taking two months to take shape it took six. The reason: Local people, though invited to help build the sphere, failed to turn up. Mostly, other artists and Pasewalk businesses helped out.
'The people here are very reserved,' said Daetwyler. With the help of friends, students and school children, he dug up the rubble, washed it and used the steel to build a corset that one of his artist friends welded together.
'I like his idea,' said Jesus Fernando Soberon, a Spanish dancer who helped out with the project. Wearing rubber gloves, he plopped down mortar and placed bits of rubble into it. There was no need to use a level.
'This work of art is actually very beautiful, but we also need a new street and we've never got new street lights,' said a retiree passing by the artwork.
'Such historical rehabilitation projects require time and sometimes impetus from outside,' said Pfueller.
Daetwyler is still looking for donations. The longer construction time meant the cost of the project increased by several thousand euro beyond his expectations.