2023 Sommer

Facing Difficult Heritage

Workshop mit Florin Weber

How does a society commemorate the political crimes and injustices it has committed itself?

The British anthropologist and museologist Sharon MacDonald defined the term “difficult heritage” as a troubling past that might be recognized as meaningful for the present but contests a nation's positive, self-affirming identity (MacDonald. 2009.) – and therefore continues to be unaddressed in public remembrance or challenged constantly by revisions of history.

In many cases, the public chooses actively not to confront its past acts of violence and their consequences for present day on its own. Therefore, art, theater, cinema and literature can play an important part in bringing up difficult heritage into the collective consciousness and in questioning how history is written and taught, actualizing it in including forgotten or marginalized perspectives and critiquing the discourse around it. Yet, turning difficult heritage into art can be also a difficult task, there is the danger of affirming the past and reproducing its former ideology by naïve aestheticization, appropriating other people's suffering to gain cultural capital for oneself or transforming the subject matter into a (luxury) product easy to consume.

In the workshop “Facing Difficult Heritage” we will deal with the former Nazi Party Rally Grounds in Nuremberg as one example of difficult heritage.
The area contains the largest still remaining ensemble of national socialist monumental architecture in Germany. There, the fascist ideology – like its megalomania, the “Führer” principle and the imperative of “Volksgemeinschaft” (national community) – is still present in its structure. At the same time the grounds symbolize a negotiation since the post-war period on how to deal with the material legacy of the Third Reich appropriately – a process that every generation has to work through again and again. Alternating between repression, economic interest and historical reappraisal, Nuremberg's contradictory engagements with that site of perpetration can serve us as a seismograph for Germany's difficult relationship with its own past.

In the first part of the workshop, the students will get an overview of the complex history of the Nazi Party Rally Grounds. In regards of the Nazi Party Rallies themselves, we will talk what Walter Benjamin has described as the “aestheticization of politics” and analyze how the Nazis used artistic and performative methods, architecture and design in staging these events. In reproducing them via film and photography, the NSDAP was able to distribute their ideology so effectively, that Leni Riefenstahl's propaganda movie “Triumph of the Will” or Heinrich Hoffmann's photographs of the Rallies have overwritten our collective memory of the Third Reich. We will also discuss possible strategies how to face difficult heritage critically while looking at some artistic works as examples. 

The second part of the workshop is our field day: we visit the Nazi Party Rally Grounds together, talk about the relation of space, resources, identity and memory, have the possibility to react and work on site as well as evaluate the results and impressions in the evening.

Part I: May 10th at 3pm (CEST) / 4pm (EEST) via Zoom

Part II: June 14th at 11am in front of the Documentation Center Nazi Party Rally Grounds (Bayernstraße 110)

Graphics & Text © Florin Weber, 2023