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Journal Kunstfest Weimar #3: When remembering becomes a problem.

Water is very good at covering things up. Sixty kilometres south of Weimar is a huge reservoir, of which the locals know little more than that the hydroelectric plant supplies power to houses and the steelworks, a few kilometres away. At least one village has also disappeared, and artist cum experimental radio maker Sandra Rücker found out that her grandmother was born in that hamlet, Presswitz.

Rumour has it that, when the water is low enough, the village's church tower becomes visible above the water. Reason enough to make an audio documentary there, to be listened to while paddling across the huge lake in a rowboat with two others.

The water, due to prolonged drought this year, is more than 8 metres lower than it should be, the Canadian Spruce in the production forests on the mountains around it are dying en masse due to drought and acid rain, thunderstorms threaten in the distance. There couldn't be a better time for the church tower to appear above water.

Green power for war

The audio documentary you listen to while rowing takes you into the world of the village's former inhabitants, who were ultimately not at all gently driven from their native soil. The reservoir turned out to be a prestige project of the Nazis, who in 1937 were already preparing for World War 2. Their green power project was motivated by the huge electricity needs of the war industry.

That church tower, which should be visible in dry weather? We hear halfway across the lake that it is far too deep for that. Where Presswitz was, there is now 80 metres of water. But only later one of the survivors tells us that even in a paddling pool the church tower would not be visible: after all the forests up to the water line had been cut down by forced labourers, the Nazis decided to use the village as a target for shooting exercises. Before the water rose, nothing was left of it.

45 per cent

The former residents prefer not to tell that story. They cling to the romantic myth. Just as another, much larger, group of former East Germans clings to the myth that their weekly protest marches, started during corona, are still about legitimate discomfort and have not since been hijacked by the AfD, Reichsbürger and Wellness Right. Björn Höcke, AfD MP in Thuringia, can be called Nazi by the judge, and he is proud of that, as are the nearly 45 per cent of voters in the state who vote for his party. On Monday, they stand on Theaterplatz, supervised by Goethe and Schiller, with their feet on the names of Buchenwald victims.

In a small living room on the ground floor in downtown Weimar, you can hear another radio play. You sit in a circle with eight others and listen to the voices of yet another eight people, through an ingenious eight-channel audio system. Deceptively close, you hear people gather to talk about their fears as thousands of people march through the streets of Weimar every Monday in a parade of hatred, anti-Semitism, Putin glorification and Ostalgie.

The anxiety is palpable, and so is the tension, when in the group people look for nuance. Which, as in all discussions after corona, is sensitive. Until the end, when glass clinking anxiously close ends any illusion of dialogue.

Scared and angry

In Weimar, I met a lot of frightened and angry people this past week. People who want to remember things, because they hope that by doing so, history will not repeat itself. I also saw an ageing city, an inner city full of elderly people, white, around a university - slightly less white - where students, at least for the years they study there, provide a bit of colour and diversity.

Kunstfest Weimar, created in 1999 at a time when people in the former GDR were a bit done with the Holocaust, is bravely trying to stand firm, with their active commemoration of the persecution, which began at Buchenwald, a few kilometres from the historic centre.

The festival once started with 12 million in subsidies, but after the cuts by the German government in 2012, 9 tonnes of that remains. I have been reporting there for the past few days, and it felt ominous. Next year, the state elections coincide with Kunstfest. I don't know if I dare come and watch then.

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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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