Memorial to the German Members of the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War, Berlin-Friedrichshain
The Memorial to the Fighter in Spain is a quality sculpture. It fulfills its purpose of honoring the German International Brigade members. However, it is insufficiently noticed and understood in an everyday context. But why?
The monument is made up of two primary elements: a powerful, dynamic figure made by Fritz Cremer and a complex, static relief made by Siegfried Krepp. Both sculptures compliment one another. Yet the arrangement of these works of art on a stage-like plateau, combined with a third element, a memorial plaque, is quite the creative venture. Despite various interventions (replacement of the memorial plaque, rearrangement of the relief with its back side pointed to the front), this arrangement works, and it should not, under any circumstances, be brought out of balance through further tamperings with the original composition. Instead, trust should be placed in the quality of what is already there. Cremer’s rendering of the fighter is full of symbols (sword/torch of justice, clenched worker’s fist, clear left/right alignment). Krepp’s relief deploys its own iconography to intricately illustrate the fate of International Brigade members. The reasons why the monument is no longer noticed or understood are thus by no means to be found in a presumed lack of image or narrative, but rather in the following points:
1. The monument has an educational purpose. It focuses on the illustration of well-known background knowledge. Today, this context no longer exists, unlike in the time of the GDR.
2. The monument is stuck in a certain time. It employs martial, pathos-laden imagery. People expect something different from monuments today. Monuments should be subtle and multi-layered. They should not depict the telling of a one-dimensional story; rather they should encourage reflection on the complexity of historical events.
3. The monument structure is in the form of a stage. It was designed for large events.
The following conclusions can be drawn from this stocktaking: The proposed artistic annotation must discretely and sensitively fit into the monument structure, while maintaining a certain distance in terms of space. It should not vie for attention but should help reveal the existing qualities of the place. The planned addition must also provide the background knowledge needed for the now obscure iconography to again be readable. To the one-dimensional story the monument tells, the planned addition should provide further levels of the story and should contribute to the topic’s complexity and different areas of focus, of particular interest to today’s and tomorrow’s visitors. Instead of informational placards, which inevitably interfere with the design, audio should be employed to provide information. Adding any additional images should also be avoided, as this would lead to a counterproductive duplication and thus depreciation of existing imagery.
In general, the monument must (again) become a powerful place that provides aesthetic experience in public space. It is not a question of providing information in the short term, which is simply forgotten once a passer-by leaves the site. Rather, the purpose is to enable an authentic, deep experience, which will remain in the hearts and minds of visitors for a long time. This is the only lasting way to make visitors aware of the topic. To this end, space for the individual must also be added to this collective monument, so that each person feels spoken to and included by the space. Phrased as slogans, the task of the current extension of the monument is thus the following:
Dr. Benno Hinkes