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Gerson Fehrenbach’s Synagogue Monument (1964): Thirteen Cubes and a Menorah in West Berlin

Mon, December 17, 1:15 to 2:45pm, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Beacon Hill 1 Complex

Abstract

A sculpture, 2.35 meters tall and consisting of thirteen block-like forms, is situated in Berlin-Schöneberg, in the Bayerisches Viertel (“Bavarian Quarter”), along Münchenerstrasse, in front of a schoolyard. Thirteen coquina blocks (a material similar to limestone) of different sizes, some rectangular, some square, appear to be stacked in an asymmetrical fashion. Seen from the front (that is, from the sidewalk along Münchenerstrasse), the blocks are arranged around a central, asymmetrical void, through which one can see the neighboring elementary school in the background. The left uppermost block depicts a quasi-abstract seven-branched menorah. But the neither the sculpture nor the accompanying plaques give us information about the work of art. Who is the artist? Why a seven-branched menorah? Why a memorial consisting of blocks? Here I attempt to answer these questions by providing a brief history of the synagogue and the Schöneberg neighborhood, examining the artist’s stylistic development, analyzing the commission, and interpreting the memorial in terms of its two inscriptions and block-like forms. Fehrenbach’s memorial to the destroyed synagogue emerges as a work of art that is about what cannot be spoken, or depicted, in Berlin in the mid-1960s.

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