THE RELEVANCE OF THE PAST FOR THE PRESENT
Between 1933 and 1936, so-called Thingstätte were erected as propagandistic open-air theaters and meeting places for National Socialism. Four hundred were planned, and around sixty constructed. Many of these today almost barely known sites, can still be found in Germany, Poland, and Russia. In the form of an interdisciplinary research project, art and documentation, texts and images by twenty-three international artists and scholars facilitate a pluralistic examination of the problematic history of the Thingstätte and the relevance of the past for the present.
Between 1933 and 1936 many ideologically motivated Thingstätten (“Thing sites”) were erected. The theme of the Thingspiele (“Thing plays”) performed there was German history. However, they were also used for Nazi rallies or celebrations and served to present an image of the so-called Volksgemeinschaft, or “people’s community.” Little is known about this attempt at creating propaganda theater built around architecture, even though many examples of this architecture can be found today.
These stages were particularly designed and situated. They alluded to historical Nordic-Germanic Thingplätze (“Thing places”), even though they were not actually consistent with them in terms of geography or meaning. The name Thingstätte was a politically motivated appropriation, intended to create “instant historicity.” The newly erected ceremonial sites were constructed with traditional materials, located at impressive sites, and, very importantly, were outdoors.
With the help of the Third Reich’s Labor Service, sixty of the planned four hundred Thingstätte were built throughout the territories of the Reich. Today, around fifty of these structures can still be found in Germany, Poland, and Russia. “The Thingstätte represent a time that is difficult to understand today, partly because, for a long time, a blanket of silence lay over the early years of enthusiasm for Hitler. When I stand in front of the architecture, it silently challenges me to find out more about this history,” says Katharina Bosse, an artist and the editor of the new publication. “Each Thingstätte has a historical and a contemporary dimension.”
Their contemporary significance, for example, comes from the fact that some are still used today as open-air theaters, where groups such as the Rolling Stones or the Wattenscheid Shanty Choir perform – unbeknownst of their origins. Thingstätten are popular destinations for day trips, reached by hiking or mountain bike trails, and their beautiful locations in nature mean that they are attractive spots for activities. Last, but not least, they are places that have literally been lived down, remains of the past sought for outside of books.
The interdisciplinary art project »Thingstätten« began in 2012 with questions about contemporary art, which Bosse was researching at a time when online social networks were rapidly developing; some of the issues were the significance of collectives and the relationship of platform to content.
Yet another question arose out of the meaning of national identities in general and the German one in specific. For most of the participating artists, the Thingstätte was a completely new theme, and their task was to create (site)-specific works of art for this project.
Katharina Bosse, Bernhard Gelderblom, Gerwin Strobl, Beata Wielgosik, Stefan Wunsch
Katharina Bosse, Rebecca Budde de Cancino, Doug Fitch, Jan Merlin Friedrich, Jakob Ganslmeier, Andrea Grützner, Rebecca Hackemann, Konstantin Karchevskiy, Hendrik Lüders, Daniel Mirer, Felix Nürmberger, Ralph Pache, Abhijit Pal, Philipp Robien, Jewgeni Roppel, Simon Schubert, Kuno Seltmann, Erica Shires, Thomas Wrede
Review in the F.A.Z. (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung) – english translation
By ROSE-MARIA GROPP
The Thingstätten were built during the National Socialism, today many of them serve as a festival stage:researchers and artists explore the historical places of worship. They are in many places, often barely visible in their remains – the Thingstätten.
But whoever listens to a concert with Anna Netrebko from Berlin’s Waldbühne or saw the performance of the pop musician Prince there: It happened on a former Thingst.tte. But who still knows their history?Actually, the Thingstätten are open-air theatres, which were built between 1933 and 1936, according to the model of ancient amphitheatres, without separation between audience and performers. They were built from original building materials, surrounded by impressive nature, under the open sky. The term refers to the Thingstätte as Nordic-Germanic place of jurisdiction and assembly. They originated under the signs of the beginning of National Socialism; they were intended to enable the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP), founded in the Weimar Republic, in the production of “Thingspiele”, specially pieced together plays of political thinking: to facilitate staging of “Volksgemeinschaft” (aryan people’s community). Some Thingstätten are still popular places for excursions or festivities, but now under completely different conditions.
In 2012, Katharina Bosse, Professor of Photography at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Bielefeld (HSBI), founded the interdisciplinary art project “Thingstätten” in order to preserve their memory. “With the help of the “Reichsarbeitsdienst” sixty – of the planned four hundred – Thingstätten were built”, she writes in the introductory essay to the recently published Kerber Publisher book “Thingstätten – On the significance of the past for the present”” featuring images and texts. , “today, forty to fifty can be found in Germany, Poland and Russia”. In the book are 45 of such places, each one documented in an individual way. Bosse explicitly does not aim for “one-sided authority to interpret”, be it that this is to be interpreted by “historical, architectural, language or political studies, art, theatre, performance, documentary photography, video or artistic photography”. She is interested in the coexistence of different sources, i.e. documentary photography of today’s conditions with fine art, such as performance, Illustration or installation. Around twenty very different contributions to “the ideas of a collective in the sense of democracy: as an expression of Individuality in the community” – against a totalitarian concept.
The result of this clever idea is as historically revealing as it is captivating. Because this project does not celebrate the once and partly still today impressive places without reflection. Instead, she makes the Thingstätte available not only for aesthetic purposes, but also for acute societal challenges.
The question why the Thingstätte era was so short is answered by the fact that in the years 1933 to 1936 the NSDAP operated the systematic “Gleichschaltung”, which was based on an insinuated, “völkisch” German past. Already in October 1935, however, Joseph Goebbels, Reich Minister for the National Enlightenment and Propaganda, banned the term “thing”. From then on, the National Socialists wanted to show off their modernity and orientation towards the future. Gerwin Strobl, Professor of Modern History at Cardiff University, analyses the complex and precarious interplay of different interest groups at the beginning of the Nazi era. Just for example: In addition to the Berliner Waldbühne, the Thingstätte in Heidelberg is famous and has long been a popular destination for excursions. It was a prestige project by Goebbels. Their Inauguration took place on 22 June 1935 as a midsummer celebration; Goebbels spoke of “National Socialism turned to stone”. Those who visit the intact Heidelberg Amphitheatre can guess that the – collective – ascent towards it served the original purpose. Only few know about the fact that the quarry in Bad Segeberg in Schleswig-Holstein, which had been converted into an open-air theatre, was one of the first Thingst.tte. According to Goebbels’ verdict, the area was called “Nordmark-Feierstätte” from 1937. Today, everyone thinks of the Karl-May-Festival, which has only been held there since 1952, a time when the stage “Mustangs” were still working in agriculture as their main job. The documentation of Bad Segeberg in the book also includes a black and white postcard with three swastika flags, which coldly reminds of the origin of the stage. The book volume with current photographs and historical evidence – and with surprising artistic views on the remains of the former Thingstätte – provides material for further thinking.
It is the opposite of a romanticising series of pictures. Even if in some places it looks as if nature is about to take back what had been forced upon it almost ninety years ago in the madness of the unjust regime. The project of Bosse and the international artists does not deceptively tell a story of an a sealed past, but brings the Thingstätten into our present – as eloquent testimonies set in stone of a past whose impact has not been silenced. The “Thingstätten” project is a “work in progress”. The platform www.thingstaetten.info welcomes further material from researchers and artists and committed initiatives.
Source: F.A.Z.˝ Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung GmbH 2001-2020 All rights reserved. Published May 20th 2020.