Personal Website of Jewgeni Roppel
As I observed the Thingstätte Herchen with its round architecture in the middle of a wooded mountain ridge, it reminded me of a beautiful, yet tragic location from my childhood in Letmathe, Sauerland. It quickly became clear that I felt moved to juxtapose these two sites within a photographic project. I belonged to a group of adolescents between the ages of 9 and 13 who—over the years—met at a circular water hole located above our housing settlement. This small collection of water in the dark forest was the secret starting point for our adventurous games and expeditions. We felt a magical pull to our “playing ground” until this site altered the fate of one of our classmates to a mortal end. We were to learn later that this hole was in fact a World War II bomb crater and that, upon retreat, German soldiers had abandoned numerous ammunitions in the surrounding area. In the spring of 1976, a 13-year-old classmate and his friend uncovered a large winged grenade. They took their discovery home and attempted to open it. It was a sunny spring day as a deafening explosion shocked our community. My classmate was torn apart and killed; the other boy suffered serious injuries, yet survived. After more than forty years, I revisited this woodland area situated on a hillside. The allotment garden colony had expanded to within visible proximity. In the damp autumn forest, the crater had lost little of its dark and, for me, oppressive atmosphere; even its size had barely changed. Within this context, I found the inscription at the Thingstätte in Herchen, expressing the National Socialist blood and soil ideology, all the more cynical and macabre: “ BORN AS A GERMAN—LIVED AS A WARRIOR—FALLEN AS A HERO—RISEN AS A PEOPLE.” The Nazis had the text inscribed around 1934 to commemorate the fallen soldiers of World War I. The entire assemblage of the National Socialist Thingstätte with the Herchener Canons and the informational plaque from the Citizens’ Beautification Association (erected in 2014) seems to be void of any historical reflection. There is only a small plaque directly at the Thingstätte rotunda with the heading: “An unpleasant monument …” I have chosen these two locations for my photographic project with additional photographs from the surroundings and positioned them within their spatial and spiritual context. I have included photographs of the two entrances to the Thingstätte and the bomb crater, complemented with images of the current Thingstätte informational plaque and a newspaper clipping regarding the death of my classmate.
Rebecca Budde de Cancino
I am driving to Mülheim towards the Thingstätte. My
grandfather with me. In thought. On my way there,
the sunlight flashes like volleys into the darkness of
my closed eyelids.
And there I am, on the stand, high above.
Out there. Majestic. Despite the wooden benches.
Hundreds of empty seats facing a common centre.
And facing me: the rock, that has always been there.
I get myself to ask him, back when he was still alive,
if I could take a picture of the tattoo he was given
during the war, which tells his blood type.
He gets up. Takes his pullover off. There he is in front of
me, in his vest.
I am 19 years old.
His arm hanging. I take the first shot.
I instruct him to raise his arm.
I see armpit hair and a faded and badly tattooed circle.
I take a second shot.
He sinks his arm. Gets dressed. Not a word. This was the
highest proof of love.
I don’t know how I knew about the tattoo. We never
talked about it again, as we had never talked about
Confinement. Remains. A space. An opening. Blackness.
And then words. A wall. Shadows.
My foot hits the cardboard.
Thingsstätten were open-air arenas built by the Nazi Party in Germany between 1933 and 1936 to spread the Thing movement of the Nazi Party. The Thing movement called for the people to recognize their Germanic roots and traditions. Plays were staged in these arenas to awaken in the people the notion of Fatherland and the German Folk. These arenas were later also used for political demonstrations for the propaganda of the Nazi Party. According to Joseph Goebbels, the Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda in the Third Reich, these arenas were supposed to be the parliaments of their times—places where people could gather and discuss. The construction of Thingsstätten led to the dramatic staging of the Führer cult.
Through this fictional photographic reconstruction, the artist has tried to imagine the commissioning of a study by the Ministry of Propaganda of the NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers’ Party, commonly known as the Nazi Party) for the creation of a new kind of propaganda instrument. These documents, which could have been written by social scientists based on surveys and psychological tests, are in the nature of the scientific study and could have formed the first drafts of the plans for Thingsstätten. The pages which seem archived, lost or damaged, and rescued or rediscovered, reveal the decisions made regarding the design of the arenas, their locations, and use. Who conducted these studies and when remains unknown. Through this artwork, the artist subtly mocks the idea of scientific rationalization which disguises authoritarian fanaticism and tries to create a commentary not only of a past incident but to serve future times, with the increasing rise of nationalist sentiments not only in Western countries but also in his own homeland of India.
Images from multiple sources, historic and comtemporary, create layers.
I was interested to see these layers recreated in three-dimensional space.
Using historic images from the “Ordensburg Vogelsang” archives, I projected them onto the same location as the original, with the help of several assistants and a heavy, transportable power generator.
The Thingstätte at Ordensburg Vogelsang is part of an architectural ensemble, using topographic layers and a mix of architecture and sculpture.
Analog Photography Portfolio researching traces of overgrown former national socialist Thingstätte in Bad Schmiedeberg, Northeim, Holzminden, Bückeberg und Stedingsehre in Germany
Analog Photography Portfolio
Locations: Berlin, Borna, Herchen, Germany
“Visionary Sightseeing Binoculars” is an interactive public art project that aimed to stimulate diverse public awareness and discussion on the past and possible future uses of the architectural form of the Thingstätte. The Thingstätten are architectural forms that have been denounced by the German public and left to decay for 60 years, many situated in forests. They were used by the National Socialist Party in Germany in the 1930s to conduct youth plays, political rallies, and propaganda. Because of their contentious history, images of the sites have been destroyed; even the word Thingstätte itself was banned and the sites are not spoken about. The Thingstätten are underresearched and my work is part of a larger project in which a group of contemporary Jewish-American and German-American artists engage with the Thingstätten in their work. This larger group exhibition and catalogue is curated and written by Katharina Bosse.
“ Visionary Sightseeing Binoculars” consisted of the following elements:
– A metal viewing device (already built) installed in a public square for several days in Borna, at the base of the Thingstätte in Herchen, and at Tempelhof Flughafen in Berlin. It contained one past and one present photograph of the town’s old Thingstätte in stereoscopic 3D (created in Photoshop) and one past and present image of the Thingstätte of another town.
– The artist and assistant were present at the site next to the piece introducing the project to visitors.
– A survey was conducted via a QR code app to ask what people had in mind for the future of the Thingstätte.
Even though many towns have a Thingstätte, they are often hidden in the outskirts and overgrown in forests. Many residents are unaware of their existence, or unaware of their history. In Herchen in particular, residents thought it was an old castle, and many had never visited it.
In Berlin, the binoculars were installed at the public park in 2015 which used to be Tempelhof Flughafen, now closed. It is a location that Berliners use to cycle on the old runways, walk, fly kites and enjoy the open air, public art and the occasional derelict airplane of which there are a few. The Tempelhof Flughafen has housed many contemporary art festivals that take place outdoors, and the audience, although mixed, is most likely to be used to seeing public art. The reaction of people in Berlin to seeing the images in the binocular stereoscope was one of curiosity and of openness.
Many visitors did not know that the Berlin Waldbühne had been built by the Nazis. Some however did know this, and also knew of other Thingstätte sites in Germany in the countryside. Yet most project visitors / passersby objected to being recorded via audio or video or to having their face depicted. This may be due to the ad hoc nature of this project, that was staged in a public place for passersby to see, or it may have to do with an increased sense of privacy felt in Germany in general, as compared to American audiences I have encountered through this project in the past.
In Herchen an der Sieg, 16 people visited the binoculars within 3 hours, which were stationed at the foot of the hill where the Thingplatz is still today. People were open and curious, and wondered what the object was—it does not look like traditional art and, as intended, leads people to ask questions and wonder what it is, and what it is for. None of the participants knew that the architectural structure on the hill was a Thingplatz. Some thought it was a castle and they had not visited it. The local historian Franz Kluwe noted that many young people were not interested in it despite the town’s efforts and despite recent artistic projects having taken place the previous summer at the site.
In Borna, myself and my assistant generally felt unwelcome. Art, here, may not have been the best way to engage the public’s attention, despite being stationed in the marketplace. People did not engage with it and looked at us in a strange way. The weather was also uncooperative. Borna is a town to which I would like to return to spend more time. It lay in stark contrast to Berlin, in the nature of people’s reactions in Herchen. Since the project is not overtly recognizable as art, interaction may have been doubly hard for Borna residents who may not have been exposed to as much public art as Berliners have been in Tempelhof.
The project entitled “Visionary Sightseeing Binoculars”
is a photographic and socially engaged travelling public
art project. It took place in Berlin, Borna and Herrchen
in March 2015 for 8 days.
Artist: Rebecca Hackemann personal Website
Fabrication design: John Stemler,
Northpenn Machine Works
Assistant: Nassim Rad