[11] Passages: Memorial Site and Magnum Opus

Overview 11/11

On the problems of creating a memorial site

Shortly after the end of Franco’s fascist rule in Spain in 1979, the municipality of Portbou mounts a simple plaque on the cemetery wall: For a “stateless German”. Exactly forty years previously by supporting Franco and occupying France, the German military had a doubly devastating effect on life in Catalonia, as Portbou twice became a bottleneck for European exiles.
Towards the end of the 1980s a citizen proposes the creation of a more impressive memorial site to the serving German President, Richard von Weizsäcker. However, both as a result of conservative opposition, and of a campaign in 1992, mounted by the „Bild” newspaper, the project is called into question.
The “Association of Independent Cultural Institutes” takes on the project, and Konrad Scheuerman, at that time the managing director, now remembers:
In the Federal Republic in 1989 thinkers who viewed society, history and politics critically were, to put it mildly, not exactly in favour. The project was, therefore, impacted on negatively by numerous political animosities.
In 1993 the German federal states, the regional government of Catalonia, the municipality of Portbou and private benefactors agree to finance the project and on the 15th May 1994 The memorial site commemorating Benjamin, exile and persecution can finally be inaugurated in the presence of Lisa Fittko

The memorial site Arcades by Dani Karavan

Something has to be found, which does not claim to be a definitive interpretation, but which is provocative and future-oriented. (1➘)
The Israeli artist, Dani Karavan, designed White Square in Tel Aviv, the Way of Peace between Israel and Egypt, and the Human Rights Road in Nuremberg. In Portbou he employs natural features of the site: Olive trees should be our borders, he remarks as early as 1976. Konrad Scheuermann on the choice of Karavan:

Close What should be the central focus of such a site? Mass exodus in general? Or the actual flood of refugees? And in a place that had to endure several fascist regimes and where innumerable people fled across the border. The choice of Karavan was on artistic merit, with the added bonus that he is an Israeli.
Karavan purposely does not refer to a seemingly static monument; in actual fact his creation consists of several individual memorial sites: a constantly ➀ changing turbulent sea as a reflection of Benjamin’s chaotic life, a ➁ corridor between rusty sheets of steel, an ➂ olive tree as a symbol of peace and a ➃ platform with a steel cube in the centre with a view of the horizon, giving the feeling of freedom, hampered only by the fence and cemetery in between (2➘).
Agitation, restlessness and a constant desire to move on normally characterise the behaviour of travellers at a border, and this is true in Portbou too. (3➘)
The transitory character of Portbou manifests itself most clearly in the design of the station, which puts its architectural and acoustic stamp on the town. It, together with the iron and glass constructions of the nineteenth century Parisian Arcades, determined the choice of materials. Dani Karavan 2014:

TvCanTonicus, Portbou (4➘)

Benjamin’s Arcades Project

Prof. Dr. Jörg Zimmer, Walter Benjamin Endowed Chair at the University of Girona, on content and form of the Arcades Project:
Compiled from the English and German Wikipedia:
A huge collection of documents on life in Paris in the nineteenth century, written between 1927 and 1940, starting from the iron and glass arcades. (...) This incomplete study, planned as his magnum opus, was at one point conceived as a surrealistic montage of quotations. (5+6➘)
The German weekly newspaper, Die Zeit, on the content focus of the Arcades Project:
Through reflecting on the streets and department stores, panoramas and world fairs, fashion, prostitution and advertising, Benjamin wanted to create a dialectical fairyland, (German “dialektische Feerie”), and to write a materialist philosophy of the history of the capitalist era. (7➘)
Dr. Holger Brohm (Humboldt-Universität Berlin) on categorising the Arcades Project:
The work is considered to be one of fundamental texts on the materialist theory of culture. (8➘)
Prof. Dr. Bernd Witte on the role of the Arcades Project in Benjamin’s complete works:
During the protracted evolution of the work, which in 1927 was originally conceived as an essay for the journal, “Der Querschnitt” (engl. “The Cross-section”), his epistemological principles underwent a radical reorientation. (9➘)
Dr. Dirk Hohnsträter (Universität Hildesheim) on the form of the Arcades Project:
The 1354 pages of text require an approach to reading that is unsuitable either for a detailed monograph or an efficiency- oriented reader. (10➘)
Benjamin in summer 1938 on his working conditions:
It was a race against the war; and it was with a feeling of triumph that, after fifteen years of planning, I finally managed to complete the “flaneur” before the apocalypse. (11➘)
Adorno‘s dismissive letter to Walter Benjamin at the end of 1938:
The materialistic determination of cultural traits is only possible if it is mediated through the total social process. (12➘)
Konrad Scheurmann on the fragmentary nature of the Arcades Project:
... but also in the fabulous, labyrinthine posthumous oeuvre, which in all likelihood would have remained unfinished and been published posthumously even if Benjamin had lived to a hundred. (...) Perhaps the rhetorical key to the fabulous Benjaminian enterprise lies in having taken the attitude of the flâneur to its ultimate consequences. Perhaps the dispersion that characterizes The Arcades Project is the transposition into the realm of literary and philosophical discourse of the disinterested attention. (13+14➘)

Quellen und externe Links

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  1. Ingrid Scheurmann / Konrad Scheurmann: Für Walter Benjamin, Frankfurt/Main 1992, S. 254
  2. Karavan on the elements of his memorial site in his own words [CA] [EN] [ES]
  3. Scheurmann: For Walter Benjamin, p. 249
  4. The full-length video by Joan Gubert i Macias, filmed on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Dani Karavan’s Memorial Site on19. 11. 2014
  5. Wikipedia englisch
  6. Wikipedia deutsch
  7. Die ZEIT 1982
  8. Brohm (HU Berlin)
  9. Bernd Witte: Walter Benjamin, Reinbek 1985, S.116
  10. Hohnsträter (Universität Hildesheim)
  11. Walter Benjamin: Briefe, Frankfurt/Main 1966, S. 778
  12. dto., S. 784
  13. Scheurmann: Für Walter Benjamin, S. 211
  14. Scheurmann: Für Walter Benjamin, S. 214
  15. Walter Benjamin: Das Passagenwerk
  16. The Memorial Website [EN] [CA] [ES] :
  17. The Cultural Initiative Passatges [CA] [ES] [EN] [FR]:
  18. Ingrid Scheurmann / Konrad Scheurmann Dani Karavan - Hommage an Walter Benjamin, Der Gedenkort "Passagen" in Portbou [DE] / Dani Karavan - Homenatge à Walter Benjamin - Hommage à Walter Benjamin [CA] [FR]