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May 14, 2011

Silence is the Most Powerful Scream – Part I

"A reflective listening into the void, into the negative of an irretrievable form, where the memory of that which has been lost resounds, is preferable to a mere numb endurance of facts".

Outside the townhall of the German city, Kassel, there once stood a 40-foot high fountain.
Then came the Nazis.

The 'Aschrott Brunnen' fountain was regarded in the Nazi era as a "Jew's fountain", since its original construction in 1908 was funded by a wealthy Jew. Accordingly, it was destroyed in 1939, and was not the only victim; over 3,000 Jews from Kassel were transferred to concentration camps and killed. 


It is said, that by the 1960s, the locals of Kessel were starting to forget what had really happened to the original fountain, and many assumed that its destruction was due to British bombing during the war. To salvage the fading memory, artist Horst Hoheisel was hired to re-build the historical monument, in memory of its vanished predecessor.

The picture below (left) is what Hoheisel came up with.


What Hoheisel did was re-create a hollow replica of the fountain, which was displayed in the city square for a short time. The ghost fountain was then inverted, and lowered 12 meters into the ground, to be buried upside down in the exact location where it once stood. Covering it today is a shield of glass where people can peer into the deep hollowness while…(wait for it..)…listening to the sounds of fountain water coming from underground!

The fountain, in Hoheisel's words,
"is not the memorial at all. It is only history turned into a pedestal, an invitation to passersby who stand upon it to search for the memorial in their own heads" *
The "vanished" or "missing fountain" is one example of the German "counter-monument" trend. (See also the very interesting Harburg Monument Against Fascism).
Without going to deep into the idea behind counter-monuments*, the moral of the story is that memorialization is never easy.  
The 'Aschrott Brunnen' is a deliberate uncomfortable and eery experience. Deliberatly designed to make it seem as though the empty space is telling you "a fountain once stood here", while leaving enough space and silence for you to shore up the appropriate memory.
Back in Beirut, we have no space to remember, so our memories remain inverted within us, while our faces are the ones buried deep within the ground.   
One thing we can learn from the German experience however, is that it is never too late. Hoesel left the possibility that one day the German people may feel confident enough to turn the fountain around and restore it to its original form. That can only happen when the people of Kessel feel that they have truly turned the page.

To be continued...

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