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Journal Kunstfest Weimar (1): elderly and fragile.

A lone madman? An unsuspecting visitor would think so, and when I arrived at the Theaterplatz in Weimar yesterday afternoon, I was that unsuspecting visitor. During the opening speeches of Kunstfest Weimar, a man shouted insulting texts at Bodo Ramelow, the prime minister of 'Free State of Thuringia'. The man dressed in a yellow vest was taken away by the police.

Later, during a very depressed conversation in the Light Room of the Hotel Elephant, I learned why this man had campaigned so effectively. It turns out he is indeed a lone madman, but he is also a hero of the AfD and Pegida. He stood up as an anti-Vaxxer, is a fan of Putin and denies the Holocaust. Loud.

This makes it all the more painful, because that very Theaterplatz, where the great German poets Goethe and Schiller stand arm in arm, is the scene of a special commemoration during this festival. Here, the artist Günther Uecker is rebuilding his 'Steinmal', a work of art made of wired-in piles of stones commemorating the thousands of victims of Buchenwald, Nazi Germany's first concentration camp, near Weimar.


In 1999, when Weimar was Europe's cultural capital, he built his temporary, fragile work in the memorial's cellars. At the same time, the then culture minister of Thuringia warned against the 'Buchenwaldisation' of Weimar. Wry, but according to prevailing politics, Germans should just stop looking back, and stop carrying the heavy burden of the Holocaust past.

Kunstfest Weimar, held for the first time in that year, remained the biggest arts festival in united Germany for another decade, until in this art-loving country too, in 2010, right-wing politics put an end to funding for a festival that thought beyond the region.

The commemoration of the victims of Buchenwald, to which the festival was always linked, is now still a regular part of Kunstfest, which - with much less subsidy - still wants to be an international leader. That is why those little stone monuments by Günther Uecker have now been rebuilt outdoors on Theaterplatz, and why people are so worried that next Monday, when all the dignitaries will be at the memorial in Buchenwald itself, AfD, Pegida and Reichsbürger will hold their demonstration against the war in Ukraine on Theaterplatz, between, on and over those little stone piles of Uecker.

Here in Weimar, they take commemoration a lot more seriously than in the Netherlands. But here in Weimar, that bedraggled provincial town in eastern Germany where you stumble over history, there is also a lot to worry about.

Europe on fire

AfD is on a meteoric rise, delivering its first mayor in a small town not far from Weimar, and is in the lead in the polls for the state elections, with the slogan "Set fire to Europe!". As a heavily ageing provincial town, with a cultural scene still heavily dominated by old white people, what do you put up against that? Would the Ubu, directed by theatre legend Robert Wilson, be an answer?

The show, which was largely subsidised by the Spanish government because of the contribution of the artist Míro's work but produced by Kunstfest, was not the combative pamphlet some had hoped for. Wilson is not one of them, and, for that matter, neither is Míro, whose unique designs for this show about a man who becomes king and meets his end badly, but still triumphs, are only a supporting role.

Tomorrow I speak to the elderly artist who revolutionised the world of avant garde art in the 1970s with Einstein on the Beach. He is recovering from a seizure last year, is just out of a wheelchair, and looked a bit fragile at the applause.

But he is not alone in this elderly fragility. All of Weimar looks elderly and fragile.

I am in this culturally pregnant city for five days at the invitation of Kunstfest Weimar. The organisation paid the train fare and I am staying at Hotel Elephant, one of the oldest hotels in Germany, where not only all the greatest artists, but also the greatest villains in history have stayed. One yearns for international attention, rightly so in my opinion. Apart from travel and accommodation, all other expenses are at my expense. A contribution towards this is more than welcome!

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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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