A monument in Berlin’s Tiergarten, dedicated to the tens of thousands of LGBTQ people who were killed and persecuted under the Nazis, has been vandalized, again.
According to a report on January 28, 2019, in the German art publication Monopol, the monument has been defaced using black paint. As the vandalism appears to be motivated by homophobia, Monopol reports that the Berlin police have begun investigating the matter.
The vandalism appears to part of a growing sense of homophobia in Berlin with fears mounting that the city’s infamous tolerance is yielding to violence and unease by far-right groups.
According to Bastian Fink, head of a non-profit in Berlin called Maneo, which keeps records of homophobic acts of violence, including documentation cases of insults and assaults, homophobic and transphobic acts appear to be on the rise.
In Berlin, Fink said that Maneo dealt with 800 cases in 2017, 324 of which fulfilled their definition of homophobic or transphobic attacks: physical attacks, verbal abuse, and theft. And “the figures we have show we still have a shocking daily reality, despite everything,” said Fink.
This marks the second time the statue has been subject to vandals. Several months after the monument was unveiled in 2008, vandals tore down a surrounding fence and broke the memorial’s window.
“This cowardly and shocking act is an attack on the image we have of ourselves as a tolerant and open city,” Frank Henkel, a senior lawmaker in the Berlin assembly and member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats, told Reuters at the time.
Beginning in the 1930s, some 50,000 gay men were convicted by Nazi courts during Adolf Hitler’s 12-year dictatorship. Some of them were castrated, and thousands more were sent to concentration camps.
The “Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism” was a project over ten years in the making. In 1992, demands started to circulate in favor of a national memorial site for the tens of thousands of LGBTQ people persecuted under the National Socialist regime.
In 2003, the German Bundestag passed a law earmarking funds for a memorial to those who fell victim to Section 175 of the former German Criminal Code, which bared homosexuality. The resolution passed by the Bundestag was to “create a lasting symbol of opposition to enmity, intolerance and the exclusion of gay men and lesbian.”
Between 2005 and 2006, an art competition to design of the memorial site was held, which the duo Elmgreen & Dragset won. Their design notably included film, which can be seen through a small square window on the side of the large cuboidal concrete block. The monument is situated in Berlin’s Tiergarten, only a short distance from the Holocaust Memorial dedicated to the millions of Jews who fell victim to Hitler’s purges.
According to Elmgreen & Dragset’s original vision, the monument was to embody the “character of a living organism subject to dynamic change rather than a static and final statement.”
In 2012, a new film was installed in the memorial by Gerald Backhaus, Bernd Fischer, and Ibrahim Gülnar; and in 2018, on behalf of the 10th anniversary of the of the Memorial — which was attended by the Federal President of Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier — a new film by Yael Bartana would be shown inside.
Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset (of Elmgreen & Dragset) said in an email to Hyperallergic that while they were concerned with the state of the memorial, more concerning today are actual threats against homosexual bodies. The pair wrote:
The memorial can be repaired — it was vandalised before and got back up on its feet again — far worse is when the victim of violent homophobia is a human being. The attacks on the memorial remind us that problem with homophobia is still very real and relevant, especially with the German right wing party AFD suddenly being elected into local governments and people like Pence and Bolsonaro now in power.
The flowers at the base of the monument were placed there over the weekend after the public got wind of its defacement. They contain messages of hope and solidarity.