Philip Oltermann, The Guardian, November 3, 2014
For the past 10 years, 14 white crosses in the heart of Berlin have marked the lives of those who died trying to cross from east to west. Over the weekend, they disappeared, replaced with empty black metal frames and a note: “There’s no thinking going on here.”
On Monday, the crosses resurfaced, not in Germany but on walls and fences that mark the very outer edges of Europe, in Greece, Bulgaria and Melilla, on the north African coast. A performance art group called the Centre for Political Beauty claimed to have organised the stunt.
In a video statement, the group criticised what it said was Europe’s hypocrisy in fortifying its borders in the south just as it celebrated the fall of an old border in the east.
On Friday, two days before the 25th anniversary of the fall of the wall, the group plans to send up to three coachloads of people from Berlin to the Mediterranean, to “tear down the European wall”. Its crowdfunding page carries Ikea-style instructions on how to dismantle a wire fence with a bolt-cutter and an angle grinder.
“We may not shoot people trying to leave our countries and yet we have more people dying trying to cross European borders than ever before,” said Philipp Ruch, one the project’s instigators. More than 3,000 migrants have died trying to cross the Mediterranean this year alone, according to the International Organisation for Migration.
Asked whether he planned to return the crosses to Berlin, Ruch said: “You’ll have to ask the crosses themselves. All we know is that they weren’t prepared to take part in the festivities.”
He said the crosses had been handed over to a group of Malian refugees in the forests of Mount Gurugu, outside Melilla, some of whom had spent the past two years trying to cross an eight-metre fence into Spanish territory.
The stunt drew criticism from the director of the Berlin Wall Foundation, Axel Klausmeier, who said he sympathised with the motives but “could not approve” of the memorial being used for political ends.
“Each of the crosses is in memory of a wall victim with their own fate, their own motives for the attempted escape with their own lives. Those who demand more respect for the dignity of human individuals–which we supported wholeheartedly–should also respect the dignity of the individual victims of the wall,” Klausmeier said.
The Centre for Political Beauty has a history of controversial acts. In 2009, it auctioned the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, on eBay. This year, it organised an X Factor-style audition for Syrian refugees in the German capital.