Simon Schubert: Thingstätte on a Plane, 2015, 70 x 100 cm, paper
Interview with Simon Schubert
What got you interested in the Thingstätten Project?
I was interested in the aspect of architecture and its historic dimension, particularly the way architecture was used by the National Socialists to create space for communal identity und pseudo-religious community. This conscious attempt to create a link to Roman and other older cultures aimed specifically at creating an effect of the sublime.
Why did you choose to participate?
“Never forget”. You always have to investigate the Nazis and their actions, and it is interesting to see how their ideology and the visible signs of their power still inform the present, often unperceived.
I am aesthetically interested in these structures, as they lift up from the plane like a folding and are close to the architectural basis of my artistic technique of using folded paper to create three dimensional space. Space and Architecture, to me, is something that is folding up from a flat surface. The third dimension is created through folding the second dimension. After doing research on the “Typology” of the Thingstätte, I concentrated on the typical, recurring architectural elements.
Can you tell us something about your experiences with this project?
It was fascinating and alarming to see the number and location of Thingstätte that are still around and how they are presently used. Most visitors will be unaware of the Nazi past of popular open air theaters like the “Waldbühne” in Berlin or the “Karl May Festival” in Bad Segeberg. I enjoyed the research at the Archive of the “Theater Studies Collection” of Cologne University, as well as other Archives.
My work ranges from architecture and opera to visual and edible art. A childhood interest in the art of puppetry led my family to found a company that toured puppet shows throughout New England. This fascination for making “little worlds” or “parallel universes” has fueled my work in opera and concert-theater. From age 4, I took up the violin and started dance training at age 8. Later in life, I took up boxing, circus and flying trapeze. I believe this training in different movement genres has been critical to the way I shape stories as a director. 2009, I co-founded Giants Are Small, a company that produced groundbreaking work for the New York Philharmonic including the Grand Macabre, the Cunning Little Vixen and Petrushka. We developed a technique called “live animation” wherein puppeteers brought small dioramas to life, while cameras filmed and simultaneously projected these worlds over the orchestra. I am compelled by transformations on stage. I storyboard my designs, seeing them as a choreography of space and objects. The Boston Globe described my work like this: “a world where anything can become anything else, where absurd juxtapositions surprise and delight, where deep seriousness about art is infused with an equally profound sense of play.”
In 2000, I met Katharina Bosse, who was commissioned by NEST Magazine to photograph an elaborate home movie theater I had designed for a wealthy client in Wisconsin. The room felt like a subterranean forest where sheep grazed in a glen with reclining shrubs you could sit on. The sheep had necks that would slide forward to accommodate beverages, and the whole environment was programmed to deploy five different sunsets, leading to the movie of your choice.
I loved the way Katharina bridged my vision of the project with her own. She made it feel like people actually lived there, which, of course, they did—but most design magazines would rather preserve a more precious illusion of the perfect artifice!
So years later, when she asked me to participate in the Thingstätten project I was immediately intrigued. It seemed like a perfect way to make the image of a theatrical moment suggest a whole story that viewers could make up for themselves. In the way she brought a sense of reality to my theater, I wanted to bring theater into a context of reality, in this case one that had a very painful history to reckon with.
It was Katharina’s remarkable idea to assemble a group of artists to take on the dark history of these Nazi meeting forums and, by making a new visual image for them, to allow those who have been affected by their negative histories to see a chance for imbuing them with new meaning. Is it possible to reincarnate the spirit of a place?
I had just created a piece of theater called How Did We …?, a contemporary story about Millenials, which ended with a multi-armed Buddhist god called Yamantaka, also known as the conqueror—or killer—of death. It is a very powerful character because “terminating death” means overcoming the relentless cycle of rebirth and constant wandering. Yamantaka, then, represents the goal of the journey toward enlightenment: by “awakening” beyond the realm of death. I wondered if we could bring around a degree of cathartic transformation in the region by offering a new image of the local Thingstätte. I wanted to “kill” its power of being solely a symbol of Nazi strength, by bringing to life a deity from an entirely different culture—one so opposite of anything that represented the Third Reich that I hoped it could invite new ways to see the place—and therefore to offer an idea of what it could become.
It was very cold on the day we decided to shoot. I had not brought enough dancers to wear the costumes but every person we approached immediately wanted to participate. We had a propane heater inside the Thingstätte, a smoke machine and some theatrical lights. We had to keep wrapping everyone in blankets before each shoot. It was a difficult shoot that brought us together. In the end, I believe we were all transformed by being there. It really felt like we had done something useful, in the way that only art can be an agent for certain kinds of change. It felt like we had changed the nature of the story of this town. Had we terminated its negative legacy? Perhaps not, but we had officially offered an alternative to the death cult narrative pervading its recent history.
Director, choreography, puppet: Doug Fitch Dancers: Annika Harder, Irantzu Schneider, Isabel Martin Perez, Anna-Lena Christmann, Janika Hampl, Maya Dolata Still photography and video: Katharina Bosse, Jan Merlin Friedrich, Hendrik Lüders, Kuno Seltmann Director’s assistant: Lutz Rödig Production: Katharina Bosse, Franz Kluwe (Herchen), Nassim Rad (Assistant) Special thanks to: Franz Kluwe, Holger Zimmermann, Bodelschwingh Gymnasium Herchen, Bürger- und Verschönerungsverein Herchen,
Andrea Grützner born in Pirna, Germany, lives in Berlin and New York. She received her BA in Communication Design at HTWG Constance and her MA in Photography at Bielefeld University of Applied Sciences. Andrea Grützner was a member of the Waldbühne Berlin team, as well as travelling to Prieros in Brandenburg.
Konstantin Karchevskiy born in Russia, lives in Kaliningrad. Graduated from Moscow State University in 1989, in geography science. Konstantin Karchevskiy gracefully shared his collection of former East Prussian Thingstätte for this project.
Felix Nürmberger, born in Hof, Germany, lives in Munich. He received his BA in Photography, Graphic Design and Film from Nuremberg University and his MA in Photography from Bielefeld University of Applied Sciences. Felix Nürmberger travelled the southern route to Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg, and Stolzenau in Lower Saxony.
Erica Shires was born in Detroit, Michigan, USA and lives in New York City. She received her BFA in Media Arts / Art History from Pratt Institute and her Digital Interdisciplinary MFA from CUNY. Erica Shires traveled to the Thingstätten in Lower Saxony and North Rhine–Westphalia, contributing ﬁlm and photographs of Mülheim, Hösseringen, Northeim, Herchen and Lamspringe.
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.
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.