Judith Siegmund :: Visual Art, Conceptual Art, Philosophy

In 2004, the year that Poland became a member of the European Union, there was more money than usual for art projects along the German-Polish border. Because the inhabitants living on both sides of the border were inundated with a series of artistic, social and political events marking the occasion of this membership, I decided to concentrate on Berliners as a target group, with "Starter Course. Polish for Beginners" – and to focus particularly on those Berliners, who "stand with their backs to the Oder River and face the West," as one Polish author so adeptly put it. Together with Ewa Maria Slaska, I developed a concept for a bus tour to Słubice that included Polish lessons on the bus. We advertised our express course tour through flyers, press releases and radio spots. More people were interested than could be accommodated by the 50 seats in each of the three buses.

From the meeting point at the Polnisches Kulturinstitut in Berlin, we left the city by bus headed East. The participants, quite honestly motivated to learn Polish, tormented themselves with sibilants and romantic words, which Ewa Maria had selected in order to teach them the entire Polish alphabet. The participants gave a lot of thought to the choice of vocabulary and have even written about it. Did the choice of words concern what is typically Polish? Or did the vocabulary mirror the individual tastes of the Polish instructor Ewa Maria Slaska? Visibly in need of rest after 1 1/2 hours of Polish lessons, the tour participants rushed to the buffet of coffee, tea and cookies, which Michael Kurzwelly had prepared for them at the Słubfurt information center. Słubfurt City, a location, which is registered in the European index of cities (for more information see www.Slubfurt.net), was outlined in a short speech by Kurzwelly. Afterwards, we went over the border on foot. At a number of stops, our newly acquired knowledge could be put to use. At the small vegetable market we attempted to make contact with the security guards, who protect Słubice from Polish hooligans, but also from German neo– Nazis and German right– wing extremists, who come over the border to acquire music that has been prohibited in Germany. At the Cargo Hotel we viewed the luxurious atmosphere that was built in the 1980s for truck drivers, who at that time would have been driving their trucks towards the West.

At the site of a Jewish cemetery, from which all of the headstones have disappeared and whose grounds were sold twice to private individuals (once during the Third Reich and once under Socialism), we listened to a talk in Polish about the history of the location, given by a member of the staff of the German–Polish Documentation and Media Center, with a translation into German. The property of the cemetery, upon which the weather– beaten ruins of a brothel can be seen today, is marked by a commemorative stone, built by the community of Słubice, and three empty graves fenced in by barbed wire, which were set up to face the street. Frequent arguments came about at this location, among other things over the way one should hold a discussion about German and Polish Anti-Semitism – every tour resulted in emotional tension. The level of destruction of the ruins of the brothel also increased from trip to trip, indicating that someone in a position of authority must have gotten wind of our tours and was now pursuing the complete demolition of the ruins.

In Słubice’s stadium (before World War II, Frankfurt/Oder used it as a stadium), we were greeted in the name of the mayor by his press spokeswoman, who reported the stadium’s history to us in Polish with a German translation. Today, the building is protected by historic preservation regulations. Together with the spokeswoman, we speculated whether or not Hitler had also held a speech here. This question took on a peculiar importance. It is very likely that every stadium was used for speeches and large assemblies during the National Socialist era, including this one. We concluded the day with a walk along the Oder River and a film in a beer tent showing a city tour through Słubfurt.

Judith Siegmund


Marc Lippuner about Starter Course in: www.neon.de