Language connects people. Culture shows diversity and commonalities. Which quotes represent Europe – aphorisms by Adorno or Hannah Arendt, a Beatles lyric, or a line from the film Amélie? In a pan-European quotation contest conducted as part of Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the EU, the Goethe-Institut gathered suggestions from the public for the “Disappearing Wall” project. The winning entries were engraved in multiple languages onto 20-centimetre wooden blocks and inserted in gaps in a 4.5-meter tall plexiglass mesh structure.
From late August until the end of November, the Disappearing Walls will be on view in central squares of 17 European cities from Poznań to Nikosia and from The Hague to Turin. Visitors are each invited to take one of the blocks home. In the end, all that is left is the transparent plexiglass structure. The wall of wooden blocks has disappeared; the dividing line has been transcended.
How is this artistic event proceeding in each place? What is the atmosphere like? How have residents received the installations? We asked project supervisors at the Goethe-Institut in Segovia, Thessaloniki and Brussels.
Segovia, 18-19 September
Rebeca Castellano Alonso, Programming Department Coordinator, Goethe-Institut Madrid
The project had tremendous resonance in Segovia. Within 24 hours, all the blocks with the quotes had disappeared from the Disappearing Wall. One factor behind this was probably that we presented it in cooperation with the Hay Festival, which is a major literary festival with many best-selling contemporary authors from Spain, such as Irene Vallejo and Julia Navarro.
Roots and wings. But let the wings take root and the roots fly! (Juan Ramón Jiménez)
The Disappearing Wall stood on the Plaza Mayor, Segovia’s town square, for two days. Some 3000 people showed up: tourists, day-trippers from nearby Madrid and a great many of the city’s residents. Word spread: check it out, there is an unusual installation on our square. We invited authors from the Hay Festival to read out quotations. That sparked many conversations. Notwithstanding the social distancing rules – only two people were permitted to approach each side of the wall at a time – the mood grew unbelievably vibrant. People shared quotations, read them to each other in the different languages, discussed them. The people were truly starving for culture, for connection. In Spain, we had a lockdown for months, followed by the summer holidays. The wall quickly became a meeting place for people in the city. Before lunchtime and early in the evening, long queues formed. Nobody wanted to swap the quotation they had randomly drawn from the wall for another one. Everyone found something personal in what they had drawn.
This Europe must not become a fortress in which we isolate ourselves from the others. It must be open. (Helmut Kohl)
I was moved by a mother with three small children, who approached me timidly: ‘I’m from Morocco. Am I allowed to participate in this European project?’ That she even asked... The subject of Europe and its borders was invoked by many conversations on Plaza Mayor. A group of young Spaniards grew animated: “What Europe stands for is that there are no borders any more. That everyone is equal. We wish there would, finally, be no walls left between human beings.
Thessaloniki, 25-27 September
Stefanie Peter, Director of Cultural Programming in Southeastern Europe, Goethe-Institut Athens
Our disappearing wall was set up on the seaside promenade, with the sea on one side and the city on the other. The mood was focused and curious. The visitors quietly read the quotes, which were engraved in the wooden blocks in Greek, German and the original language. The fact that not only was there a sculpture to marvel at, but that the public could get actively involved, was well-received. I was impressed at how much everyone opened up to it. But culture is so crucial for human beings.
Freedom is always and only the freedom of the one who thinks differently (Rosa Luxemburg)
A panel of theatre directors, writers and philosophers considered the contest’s longlist for Thessaloniki and selected 150 quotations that we hoped would especially speak to people in Greece. From Sophocles to Oscar Wilde, from Asterix and David Bowie to Rosa Luxemburg. Some were familiar, but others nearly no one had heard before. Still, in the end, we noticed from the selection that the quotes could be universalised. They fit all countries – because we are all Europe.
Brussels, 3-4 October, and Antwerp, 19-20 September
Elke Kaschl Mohni, Director of the Southwestern Europe Region, Goethe-Institut Brussels
The Disappearing Walls in Antwerp and Brussels could not have been more different. Antwerp: 25 degrees [Celsius], radiant sunshine on a car-free Sunday. Each hour, musicians from the opera gave a little concert on the adjoining square. Pedestrians strolled by, quietly drew quotes from the Disappearing Wall, read, chatted and enjoyed the late summer day. Brussels drizzling rain, the Grand-Place was deserted in the morning. Only gradually did the Brussels city centre come to life, and soon enough, despite the grey skies, there was a long queue leading up to the artwork’s entrance.
”What day is it?“ asked Pooh ”It's today,“ squeaked Piglet. ”My favourite day,“ said Pooh. (Alan Alexander Milne)
In Brussels, around 4500 visitors came in total, including many families with children. We were barraged with questions; people found the interactivity inspiring. The atmosphere was wonderfully relaxed and contemplative. Perhaps all the more so because of the coronavirus and the strict safety measures. Otherwise, it likely would have been too crowded to appreciate the sculpture. And where are there any live cultural events these days? The people were more mindful and calm. Five at most stood on each side of the wall and read quotes to each other. How does this sound in French, Dutch, German? When selecting quotations, the diversity of topics, languages, and countries was very important to us, as well as a balanced mixture of male and female voices.
We have different histories, we should insist on that, and we should begin to tell each other these histories. (Christa Wolf)
We truly reached a broad public with the artwork. In a playful way, it prompted discussions about serious subjects: 30 years since German reunification, 30 years of the new European order. What do walls mean for Europe today? What does solidarity mean to us in Europe? For me, that has rarely been distilled as beautifully as on the evening of 3 October. It was still drizzling, and the German embassy had organised a light show to mark the thirtieth anniversary of Reunification. The Grand-Place and the Disappearing Wall were festively lit up. There was music playing, ”Wind of Change“ by the Scorpions, and hundreds of people standing near side by side – socially distanced – peacefully united.
You can find more information on the cultural programme of Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union here.