Monthly Archives: October 2015

Update: Political Beauty Float Anchored

The team from the Center for Political Beauty has posted pictures to their Facebook site showing a successfully installed rescue platform in the Mediterranean.


Day of German Unity

October 3rd is a national holiday in Germany celebrating the reunification between the Federal Republic (West) and the German Democratic Republic (East) in 1990. Today marks the 25th anniversary of reunification.

Germans celebrate today by watching documentaries about divided Germany, visiting concerts and listening to speeches held around the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. According to Berlin Police, there are so many people out to celebrate that the S-Bahn has stopped letting people out at the Brandenburger Tor stop. At the same time, there are also demonstrations taking place between right-wingers and anti-fascists around the Berlin central train station. The numbers, as reported by the Berliner Zeitung, are not large – a little over 200 right now.

As Germans celebrate the “silver wedding anniversary” (BZ) of their reunification, the country is embroiled in a political debate about refugees, distribution through a European quota system, and rapid legal changes to adjust to the nearly 800,000 refugees Germany expects to receive this year. Joachim Gauck made headlines today for stating that the refugee crisis is an even bigger challenge that reunification. The CDU finance minister, Markus Söder (Bavaria) has apparently stated an even more foundational change to German law: he questions, according to Der Tagesspiegel, whether Germany should continue to offer asylum as a basic right (Grundrecht) in its Basic Law. This basic right, lest we forget, was enshrined in the (initially West German) Basic Law because of the horrors of Nazi persecution and their irresponsible mass movement of people against their will.

There are two historical moments worthy of remembering in face of the two political conversations happening simultaneously today: the massive amount of displaced persons (Heimatvertriebene) who flooded into (a much smaller) Germany after World War II, and the constant stream of refugees fleeing East Germany before the Berlin Wall was constructed in 1961.

The numbers are staggering: upwards of 14 Million people were displaced in Eastern Europe after World War II. 236,390 East Germans fled to West Germany in 1961 alone; another 388,396  fled in 1989.

Rather than reacting with alarm, as most of the CDU/CSU has done, Germany could see itself as a master of refugee incorporation. Close to every twenty years, another wave of refugees has sought safety on Germany territory and incorporated themselves into German social and political life (1945, 1961, 1989, 2015), and the republic still stands.

Center for Political Beauty

The Zentrum für Politische Schönheit is, by far, one of the most visible groups doing performance work with high media impact. This summer, as a tribute to those who die crossing the Mediterranean hoping to reach Europe, they dug up the grass on the lawn in front of the Bundeskanzleramt (the Office of the Federal Chancellor) into 100 graves. The Queen of England was about to make her regular visit to give “The Queen’s Lecture” at the Technical University of Berlin, and Germany was enjoying a summer of rainy, British weather to boot. As the German newspaper Bild noted, the lawn was quickly green again. I went to look a few days later, having missed the demonstration, and indeed – the grass had already sprouted. A metaphor for the short memories of the German elite, or a tribute to the ethereal nature of political performance?

The Zentrum has continued to make headlines for its next project: setting up floating rescue stations in the Mediterranean for refugees who find themselves stranded. First articulated as a project to build a fictional bridge from North Africa to the Mediterranean, the ZPS produced this glossy video in the spirit of campaign advertisements:


According to an article in Der Tagesspiegelthe ZPS is also soliciting money to install at least one rescue platform by October 1st.  Getty Images has posted a before shot of the preparations taking place off the coast of Sicily, which you can see here.

The name “Political Beauty” is certainly accurate – the images and glossy video of the ZPS’s projects have a sophisticated aesthetic composed of satire and privileged resistance. But it raises the question in the context of an ongoing humanitarian crisis: what kind of a weapon can art be? Are these kinds of projects the brief blips of a group of young, bright, performance artists, who may turn their attention randomly to a variety of causes as it strikes their fancy? That modernist German poet Rilke, so much a favorite of the artistic adolescent, said, a century or more ago, that “Nothing touches a work of art so little as words of criticism.” But if we focus on the “political,” our critical tools might become far more adept: what is the political reach of a glossy video about an industrialized superhighway when the practical reality of this Aktion is merely one float on the edge of Sicily?

That question is by no means merely rhetorical; it is an open one. In the face of this kind of humanitarian crisis, where images of suffering are now our daily bread, any attempt to understand efficacy will need an understanding of both the political and the aesthetic.

Lutz Bachmann charged with Volksverhetzung

Lutz Bachmann, after a delay of several months, has finally been charged by Dresden prosecutors for inciting hatred. After last Monday’s PEGIDA demonstration, an individual also filed a complaint for the same charge. Volksverhetzung and the legal paragraphs defining it include a paragraph against justifying the foundations and actions of Nazi totalitarianism, which is apparently seen by some as the only way to establish a post-Nazi republic that maintains protections for free speech. (Thanks, Wikipedia). Bachmann posted a particularly controversial post this summer urging his followers to take to the streets in front of a home for asylum seekers in Freital in July, where police and protestors came to clashes several times.