On Wednesday morning, the Berlin-based art collective Center for Political Beauty unveiled its latest project: 24 concrete slabs in the sleepy village of Bornhagen, Germany.
The project is an homage to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, an iconic feature of Berlin's central Mitte neighborhood that was unveiled in 2005 and pays abstract but stark tribute to the victims of the Holocaust with more than 2,711 slabs of varying proportions.
But the location of Bornhagen's mini-Holocaust memorial was chosen with one specific viewer in mind: Björn Höcke, a member of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, who owns a nearby property.
Höcke knows the original monument well. In January, he gave a speech in Dresden in which he described it as a “monument of shame” and said Germany's culture of addressing its World War II-era crimes needed a “180-degree turn.” The local branch of the AfD later apologized for the comments, but critics were angered that Höcke was not ejected from the party.
The Center for Political Beauty says it installed the slabs in Bornhagen as Höcke was a “secret admirer” of the Berlin monument.
Philipp Ruch, one of the organizers of the project, told the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper that the group was planning to keep the slabs in place for at least two years. “He should enjoy the view every day when he looks out the window,” Ruch said, adding that the “monument of shame” had been turned 180 degrees to better suit Höcke's taste.
The activists say the slabs would be removed only if Höcke agrees to falling on his knees and begging for forgiveness in front of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin. That requirement is itself an homage: Then-Chancellor Willy Brandt unexpectedly dropped to his knees during a 1970 visit to a memorial commemorating the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.
Höcke, who appears to have been spotted on his property looking at the memorial, has not indicated whether he will meet that condition. Jörg Meuthen, AfD's chairman, said that the memorial was “distasteful” and that his party would do everything to ensure that “these so-called artists are held accountable,” according to the Tagesspiegel newspaper.
The Center for Political Beauty says the project took almost 11 months of planning, with activists renting nearby properties after Höcke first made his comments and observing the far-right lawmaker without his knowledge. At the time of writing, the group had crowdfunded more than $68,000 to keep the monument in place for as long as possible.
A local representative of the AfD described the surveillance of Höcke as “psychological warfare” against him and his family.
But Lea Rosh, a German journalist who was one of the driving forces behind the installation of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, has said that she was glad to see the project reimagined in Bornhagen.
“This is a wonderful idea,” Rosh told the DPA news agency, adding that it was a “magnificent punishment” for Höcke.
More on WorldViews