As 2013 comes to a close, so too does Berlin’s year-long project, Zerstörte Vielfalt (Diversity Destroyed). The city has seen numerous temporary exhibitions, events, urban memorials and explorations of life stories relating to the culling of diversity by the Nazi regime in the years following 1933, aiming to celebrate the diversity of Berlin today and commemorate the destruction of these values in the past. 2013 marked the 80th anniversary of the Nazi rise to power and also the 75th anniversary of The Night of Broken Glass (Kristallnacht), which saw Jewish owned shops, buildings and synagogues destroyed, and Jewish people beaten and arrested in November 1938.
Remembrance of the oppression of social diversity by the Nazi regime is also permanently recognised in Berlin and memorials relating to those who suffered at the hands of the regime have become part of the landscape of the city. One such memorial is the Memorial to the Homosexuals Persecuted Under the National Socialist Regime, which stands in the Tiergarten, opposite the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. This memorial, like the Diversity Destroyed project, aims to both promote social equality and diversity today, as well as remember the oppression of homosexuals by the Nazi regime. Within the Diversity Destroyed project, the oppression of homosexuals was marked by Nollendorfplatz U-Bahn station, and a short walk away from here at the Schwules Museum (Gay Museum).
Nollendorfplatz and the surrounding Schöneberg district is regarded as a particularly gay-friendly area of Berlin, and its history of gay friendly bars goes back to even before the rise of the Nazi’s. Permanently, this is marked by a memorial plaque at the station and with the placement of a rainbow ‘Buddy Bear‘ nearby. The location of the Schwules Museum in this area is another marker of the recognition of the area’s history.
The museum marked Diversity Destroyed with the exhibition, lebisch. jüdisch. schwul. (lesbian. Jewish. gay), but it was the accompanying urban memorial at Nollendorfplatz that I found particularly innovative as a piece of public history. Both the exhibition and the urban memorial used biographies of Jewish homosexuals who had been significantly affected by the Nazi regime. The exhibition had 24 biographies and accompanying portraits, but the urban memorial had only 3 as space was limited.
Those included in the urban memorial were Magnus Hirschfeld, Charlotte Wolff and Richard Plant (all of whom were also included in the museum exhibition). Hirschfeld was a sexologist, and recognised as one of the fathers of the homosexual liberation movement. Wolff was a physician at the time of the Nazi regime, but later went on to research homosexuality, going on to write a biography of Hirschfeld and Love Between Women. Plant was a student in 1933, and fled to Switzerland so he could finish his dissertation. He would later go on to write the groundbreaking The Pink Triangle: The Nazi War Against Homosexuals in 1986. As well as images and short biographies of the 3 subjects (in German and English), the cylindrical memorial also presented information on Diversity Destroyed and the Schwules Museum.
The memorial was an accompaniment to the museum exhibition, a guide to those looking for the museum, and a piece of public history in itself. Even those passing by who were not visiting the museum could stand and read the panels and interact with the Jewish and homosexual history of the local area. Two of the questions that Diversity Destroyed aimed to raise and answer were, “which parts of Berlin played a significant role in diversity and its destruction? Where did the regime direct its perfidious campaign of hate?” The placement of urban memorials in specific areas of Berlin, such as Nollendorfplatz, highlight a particular history of oppression, that of Jewish homosexuals, and allow the passerby to acknowledge and reflect on this.
The use of ‘urban memorials’, as well as the Open-Air Portrait Exhibition, which included over 200 subjects, mark the Diversity Destroyed project as a remarkable piece of public history. The very public nature of open-air exhibitions and memorials makes them immediately accessible to all in Berlin as they become part of the landscape to both locals and tourists. Moreover, Diversity Destroyed succeeded in providing both a historical narrative and a contemporary message of social justice. Though our histories are very different, perhaps London’s landscape could take a few notes from Berlin’s by raising the profile of local area histories through such accessible projects.