Austrian vs. American Family Histories when Forming Cultural Identity/Memory, Morality and Judgement Concerning the Anschluss, and the Flaktürme Non-use as Symbolism. (Inspired by Reading Hannah Arendt’s “Eichmann in Jerusalem”)

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Most of history, just like life experience, is banal. When studying the past one must not forget this. The problem, when studying the lives of perpetrators or victims of WWII is that their lives culminated in part of an event that defines them. This has the effect of historical dehumanization. This is the use of the dead for purpose. The creation of historical narratives depends on this process. The goal when examining the past in the present is awareness. One must be aware of the use of one-sided personal histories to fill a need or agenda in the creation of a cultural memory. The same may be said for the creation of national or cultural identities. The history of the nation becomes defined by major historical events, usually containing mass trauma or radical change. This experience of the sublime is used to create memory. The banality is lost, as is identification with the real lives of the humans involved, who now become characters in the story of national, cultural, or class struggle. This is a defense mechanism to help make sense of a traumatic experience. Another effect of this process is the formulation of a new identity to replace the old. Austria chose the defense mechanism of forgetting or ignoring. When this proved too difficult a task, they chose the narrative of victimization. What are the effects of this? What identity formed around this? And what are the effects of the reversal of that narrative on the current cultural memory? Confused identity. The death of most participants in WWII before extensive research could be performed. A gap in memory. Current attempts at filling that gap carried out with sparsely informed memory creating a one-sided memory that is not full in its scope.

Judgement of dead generations is another form of distancing (like forgetting or ignoring or false narrative.) The accused were already judged or died before judgement. So now the best way to separate oneself and ones identity is to sit in judgement. This does not aid understanding. The memory must not only be “remember what they did or what happened to them,” but also “remember who they were,” this is how to explode the past in the present. This memory can be used as a way to form a new identity to replace the one formed by false narrative or active forgetting. “Remember who they were” leads to the understanding that humans experienced this and that experience can teach and serve as a warning. And by “they” it must mean all Austrians.

In some historical thought, one is warned not to judge individuals based on current moral standards. With the horrors of WWII this is next to impossible. Does one think of the horrific and murderous acts of past generals and leaders or is one to focus on their political achievements? For America this lends itself to narratives on slavery, genocide of the native Americans, various wars of conquest… All acts of atrocity and mass trauma. The debate over whether the Holocaust was unique is a difficult one. Personal stories and family histories are a tool used to understand some of these events, within the more overwhelming political narratives built around historical events. This humanizes the people involved and leads to the creation of a more accurate cultural memory. Rather than left or right wing political narratives that want the individual to remember something that fits their purposes. But how does a culture not judge by current moral standards? And shouldn’t there be judgement? If the current moral is that one should not kill, except when the government deems it necessary, (executions, war, economic sanctions,) then how is it different with current US soldiers etc? What about the fire bombing of Dresden and the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Acts of mass trauma on civilian populations based on ethnicity and/or race are not judged equally because the victors claim what is morally justifiable. The US also had internment camps. These are relegated to the side notes of history in most cases. Seen as history and not an active part of the cultural memory. This is why there are not memorials of shame in the US. It is a history Americans can distance themselves from through judgement if they subscribe to liberal narrative or they accept these acts as necessary to victory. (Which is how the Holocaust would have been treated by the German government if the Nazis had won WWII.) None of this debate lends itself to understanding unless there are attempts at memorialization (acts of commemoration or construction of memorials or education in public schools,) leading to little chance for contemplation or reflection on these events of mass trauma. Or, the current generations simply do not care. It is painful to think that “Grandpa, who I was always told was a hero, may not be, even though he was just following orders when he dropped those bombs on the civilian population of Dresden or Nagasaki.” It is similar to the memory debate in Austria, Austrians in the Wehrmacht were also just following German orders under victimization theory. To be told now that victimization theory is false is to be told one has grown up with a false memory. Americans cling to the accepted WWII narrative as they describe what it is to be American. Any discrepancy in the American narrative that has created the cultural memory is either utterly rejected or seen as “judging past participants in events of mass violence on civilians by current moral standards.” It is more accepted to examine the role of Americans in westward expansion during the 19th century because there is no emotional attachment. (And current American society has reaped the rewards of the Native American Genocide, so therefore entering into the “necessity” argument. Necessary for the land to be “civilized” by God’s people.) WWII acts of atrocity are very painful for the survivors, or children of Wehrmacht soldiers, because of the emotional attachment involved with loved ones. It is why victimization theory lasted so long. Its too close to home, too messy. The goal is to provide understanding and contemplation, not to provide a moralizing historical narrative. The difference between history and memory is crucial at this junction. Memory is the act of remembering the past in the present. History is the distancing of the past. “This is what is vs. this is what was.” The act of judgement is a current act done by using the morality one has come to live by. A society or individual institution cannot create an accurate judgmental or moralizing historical narrative because judgement (not in a negative sense, but the act of judging for oneself) is a present act. So it is in the realm of memory. One must have a well rounded and exhaustive set of research and facts, (based on humans not characters and more than one narrative) to contemplate and reflect upon to use to judge based on the cultural memory individualized. This includes the banality of human experience.

The act of Genocide, or supporting a genocidal regime goes against what has always been considered moral action. Crimes against humanity are a seperate category from the individualized act of murder. According to Hannah Arendt, this must be focused on when judging the actions of the individual, especially when it involves “acts of the state” or “superior orders.” Because if obedience to the state is seen as moral action, though the law and practice of the state violates basic human principles, (“We all know it is wrong to kill..etc.,”) then it is impossible to judge unless one separates the idea of a crime against humanity rather than an individual crime. This is how justice is served by the execution of Eichmann, though he was acting in accordance to laws defining and organizing a “moral” imperitive for the Third Reich. (Being that most laws are seen as being based in moral human principles, which is why they following the law is usually seen as a moral act.). Therefore to judge the individual for enforcing a law against humanity, based on a current moral standard is possible and necessary in crimes of such magnitude. The individual does have the ability to act against a criminal order or law. But making a judgement on political and individual responsibility in the present, using current moral standards, (and basic human principles and morals that have remained constant) still depends on cultural memory and the narratives involved because it is a present action.

Arendt mentions the most poignant interview in the case of Eichmann being a story from a disposesed Jew who was helped by a Nazi Adolf Schmidt, (who was later executed for assisting multiple Jews hiding in the East.) She used this example to reinforce her opinion that “Every man deserves his day in court” to share his story or have his story told. This applies to the family history/research aspect of not only the anschluss, but the years that followed. It is time to apply this concept to the Flaktürme in Wien as well. Because the judgement inevitably is not one of individual responsibility at this point, (though each individual is responsible to act in according to basic moral standards, even in the face of totalitarianism,) the question is Austria’s POLITICAL RESPONSIBILITY. Because Austria has not responded to their dark past with the same measures as the German government. And six giant concrete examples of this are sitting in Wien, where the government is willing to sell them to private institutions or fence them off, but not use them as a base for research, contemplation, or reflection on what their presence actually means, (as opposed to the German historical research and memorialization process.). But there is the counter-argument that maybe the use or non-use of the Flaktürme emulates the progress those in power have actually made when attempting to come to terms with the past.
The purpose is not to create a case to afford justice. The purpose of studying the cultural memory and the Flakturms effect on it (as well as Anschluss memory) is to capture a phenomenon and to reflect on that phenomenon using many resources and multiple narratives. Then one may touch upon some of the reasons the Austrian identity formed the way it did, and reacts to the Flaktürme and Anschluss memory with such repression. Pointing fingers without an attempt at objective understanding is counterproductive. The goal is not to teach an obvious morality or to judge actions already deemed deplorable, (though the political responsibility question looms large,) the goal is to remember.
Scott Evans

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Stages of the Viennese Flakturm Narrative and thoughts on Austrian Identity Formation

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Stages of Austrian Flakturm narrative:

1-  Flakturm is an Austrian Nazi structure built as propaganda, shelter, anti-aircraft structure. (1943 – 1948) “Grandpa was an Austrian Nazi”  Reminder of war and Anschluss without the false narrative, but surrounded by other reminders, (ruins, personal memories, trauma.). Reminder that Austria’s willingness and cooperation with the German war effort and atrocities.  Strong structure speaking to what “could have been,” while surrounded by ruins or a society in chaos with Russian soldiers committing atrocities and an instable government.

2-  Flakturm is a Nazi German structure and example of the victimization theory.  (1948 – 1986 or 88?) “Grandpa was doing his duty as a citizen in an occupied Austria (aka Kurt Waldheim excuse)”. New narrative and memory created and reinforced by Moscow Declaration, “look at what monstrocity the Germans left us with.”. Reminder of World War II atrocities commited by Germans and occupied Austrians.  1948 amnesty of 500,000 Austrian Nazi’s to get the Nazi vote.  Attempt at stabilizing society, politically and socially.  Populace realizes this does not ring true, but needs to live with this false narrative, as it helps form the Post-War Austrian identity.  Plans to cover them with expensive hotels , various other plans to hide the otherwise useless structures.  How do we hide them and/or make money off them?  Also one of the only reminders of how thin the victimization theory is.  Erased from postcards of Wien, integrated into daily consciousness of Viennese and ignored.  Memorials built elsewhere reinforcing victimization theory or ambiguous remembrances of war atrocities (Mauthausen.). The vandalous burning of the Hans Haacke Installation at the Sites of Remembrance ’88 event in Graz in 1988 seemed to bring the opinion that the talk needed to start to the forefront of Austrian media, shows the debate under the surface of Styrian memory.

3-  Flakturm is a German and Austrian Structure and now we are confused.  (1986 – 2006?).  “Grandpa was an Austrian Nazi and maybe a monster, lets continue not talking about it.”. Austrians taught a historical narrative and having a memory constructed for them by the government are confused because they are now told their memories are false.  Kurt Waldheim controversy exposes victimization theory.  Austrian president (1990’s?) admits Austrian complicity in official announcement.  People already mostly knew victimization theory was false, but how does Austria recreate a cultural memory?  “Lets wait for those actually alive during the period to die, so we can completely remake the cultural memory into something that still serves society.”. Flaktürme are a reminder of historical/mneumonic debate.  Flaktürme serve as an even greater reminder of the false narrative/memory Austria used to create its current identity.  Even more of a reason to hide/remove them and/or change their meaning as they represent both complicity and false identity, various proposals are taken and/or carried out.  (house des meeres, data center, MAK, etc.). And the populace has gotten so good at ignoring them that they are a permanent part of the urban landscape. “maybe we dont have to hide them with a hotel, just find a use for them.”. Structures used briefly as memorials by faktum flakturm and various art performances, but Austrian society or govt  proves unready to condone an honest dialogue.  Memorials now created glorifying resisters, jewish martyrs, and various finger pointing or incredibly ambiguous (postmodern) ineffective memorials built now that it is accepted that victimization theory rings mostly false.  At the same time there are memorials to dead wehrmacht soldiers in every small town.  People don’t know what to remember.  Austrian historians do not approach memory from an objective historical research…    Left vs Right wing narratives.

4- Flakturm is just a building (2006 – now). “Grandpa was an Austrian, he was also a Nazi, we already talked about him a little bit and pointed a finger at him in school, can’t we just talk about something else now?”. People are burned out from all the confusion caused by the narrative debate.  Society is functioning just fine with the Flakturm used as a retail structure or just closed up and ignored.  Everyone is dying who remember the original phase of Flakturm memory, and the cultural memory is formed with a finger pointing at the atrocities, the “monster” version of austrians comes forth, without an honest attempt at understanding the Anschluss.  The memory debate continues, Flakturm is a historical object to remember as shelter and war object (LaSperanza,) or is a symbol of Austrian complicity (Uhl/Bauer). “Now that our memory we teache includes Austrian complicity, we can use the Flakturm for whatever we want.” We arent hiding under victimization theory, though some believe it partly still.  The Flaktürme are no longer a reminder of false narrative, they are ignored or the use should reflect our changed attitude toward the Anschluss. “We already talked about it enough.  Lets go to the cafe on top of House Des Meeres.”.  Flaktürme are ignored as Flaktürme, they are just buildings.  Original meaning is lost.  “We know they were built by Austrian Nazis using war prisoners, but who cares?”  Ute Bauer project denied, LaSperanza allowed to do small things to promote his more accepted narrative (govt acceptance.)  Lost meaning leads to many accepting the brutal beauty of structure.  Memorialization around memory of not only war, but false memory of war and false identity denied.  If it is just a building, then we just need to make money out of them now.  “maybe the best memorialization of the Flaktürme is by leaving them unused, speaking to the problem of memory and narrative.”. Maybe the best way to memorialize is by creating an object of contemplation that defies being ignored, (neutralizing memorial or art installation.). But neither is done because of the money involved.

>  See the Jay Winter article about the link between family history and memory as taught in larger narratives…austrians remaining silent and not discovering family history, then the flood of shoah narratives, leads to a strange formation of current austrian identity….formed around defensiveness and a lack of collective memory communicated by the austrians involved (mostly jewish victims). So the right wing becomes even more defensive and their idea of what forms national identity is a knee jerk reaction (hatred of foreigners/victimization theory) the overwhelming narrative is more of a narrative highjacked by shoah stories, (which of course are important,) but the family histories of austrian families who had husbands and sons in the wehrmacht etc are important to form a more accurate cultural memory containing multiple narratives and building an identity based on the complex narratives….an attempt at understanding or true reflection to what WWII did to the people and the changing ways in which the Austrian people remember the war and the holocaust, which also speaks to their identity.  This is the even harder historical work…to research family history which you may not be proud of to understand and ultimately humanize ALL the actors involved in the tragic events.  Has this happened in Austria?  It is relatively easy to do shoah stories now because it can be told in the form of heroes and villains and requires less soul searching, (unless of course you are Jewish.). The flaktürme stand as a reminder that this history has not fully been told and that the narratives have changed….a reminder of an incomplete identity…an Austria that doesnt know how to put itself back together again, (after cultural trauma.). Therefore they represent that austrians dont understand themselves, which leads to confused sense of national identity (anti-immigration/racism)
Tony judt article is great at expressing the us vs. them narratives of wwii memory.
>the question has been answered (by the debunking of victimization theory) as to who did this.  But after so much victimization theory led historical narrative, (and repression,) it has become easiest as a reaction to say “YOU did this!” as if admitting guilt is enough (for some to say they are tired of talking about it…the historical/memory work has been done etc, or it is time to move on, aka “the flakturm is just a building”) but the cultural memory has not been formed with the next step of remembrance that provides understanding…”YOU did this!” is not enough.  The next step is the question “Why did WE do this?” The answer lies in research of family histories…of talking about what was not discussed for so long.  Therein lies the answer to the riddle posed by the Flaktürme.  Because it is not enough to say that there were a lot of anti-semites in Austria at the time and other historical (political and economic and religious) causal theories.  The answer is at the family level.  It is at the  level of identity, they formed an identity after a traumatic event (WWI) and it meant something different to every person involved.  Histories concerning the Flaktürme are even more distinct.  POWs forced to construct them are almost all dead as are many others involved in their construction.  It is almost impossible now to form an accurate cultural memory because it is passing into the twilight of collective memory.  So the state can teach whatever it wants, as well as media outlets that combined tell an overwhelming saga about evil austrians and jewish martyrs, but there is no understanding.  And austrians researching their family history during the anschluss risk being called nazis themselves, as if any research of these family members is done out of pride and/or an attempt to create another heroes and villains narrative.  The Flaktürme become less problematic when the cultural memory is more rounded through this type of research and the structures become a part of the history…of the memory.  Ultimately isnt that what has driven the towers to be problematic?  They have no true place in the cultural memory.  They are ignored because they cannot be processed.  Its like seeing a photograph from a family vacation and seeing a man you don’t recognize standing where you remember your father being.  Unconsciously you know it is him, but you don’t recognize him until finally your mother confirms it.  (see Barthes Camera Lucida)

>. Researching this, one must not become focused on what is true and what is false in the narratives because ultimately all of it is true and all is false when dealing with popular movements like the anschluss.  One must  focus on the narratives themselves, why were they formed the way they were to suit the needs of the Austrians to form an identity following trauma (see Ankersmit) and how did those narratives apply themselves to the Flaktürme debate?  Now the Flaktürm debate is based around different narratives, (LaSperanza vs. Ute Bauer/Markus Hafner) and other experts who do not want to take sides.  What is lost in this is that not one narrative is better or more true than the other, the debate on cultural memory of the anschluss and the symbolism/effect of the Flaktürme can encompass all of them.  These experts have too many personal grudges against each other.
> ultimately the Austrian government has proved unready to deal with reconstruction of the anschluss memory based around understanding, as it believes that since the crime was admitted, that is enough.  Then there are memorials raised that are either ambiguous sculptures or deal with themes that do not fill the place of a well-rounded cultural memory, (one-sided, specific narratives.). But the younger generations have proved ambivalent to anschluss memory, partly because they are bombarded by shoah memories in school, partly because it was 65 years ago and the city has been rebuilt and an accurate, all-encompassing memory (ALL the stories) has been repressed, so Austrian youth do not realize the ramifications of such repression.
> What happens when memory has been repressed for 40 years, then hijacked voraciously by the left and right wing political narratives for the next 25?
– You end up with six Flaktürme in your city that dont fit into the cultural memory, so you dont know what to do with them.
– Political movements like Jörg Haider and right wing parties as kneejerk reactionaries as a result of being attacked and angry that they have to defend themselves for “being Austrian” because their identity was formed during the big silence.
– What does it mean to be Austrian?
– People lump Germany and Austrians together in how they have treated the Third Reich memory, even though the memorial process is different, the historians debate happened in Germany, and Germany had the “dialogue” Austria didnt.  People forget a “dialogue” has two sides…its not just people pointing fingers, thats called an accusal.

> cutural vs. national identity:  when using the cultural memory to shape a national identity, (such as the Austrian government/media has done,) it is easy to confuse this with a cultural identity.  The creation of a national identity is undertaken in order to manipulate the populace into serving as a tool for those in power.  This has been true throughout history, since the era of the nation-state began in the 19th century.  Politicians now use the idea of Austrian National identity in order to define who the ideal Austrian is, whether it is a liberal idea of an ethnically diverse and inclusive population or a more conservative ideal, (white and catholic, etc.)  When researching the creation of a cultural identity, (and individual identity) through family research and research of multiple narratives it becomes an all-inclusive process.  The creation of either national or cultural identity through incomplete research into historical narratives leads to manipulative rhetoric; the attempt at control of the populace by those in power.  The Flaktürme could stand as a warning symbol for what happens to a people when greater human nature is overtaken by the rhetoric of ultranationalism, militarism, and discrimination.  In my opinion the government does not want to support this type of project because the Austrian political tactic of appealing to nationalist ideals, (the government and media installs in the mind of the public,) remains the same.  A recent example of this is the growing popularity of the FPÖ party, which espouses a veiled anti-foreigner/bigoted nationalist message.  This phenomenon can be a large hurdle for those who wish to use the Flaktürme as active or negating memorials or sites of memory.

Letter about Effective Historical Narrative, Documentaries, and Cultural Trauma

Excerpt from a letter sent today, 7/11/13:

I would like you to see some James Benning documentaries and tell me what you think.  He is more on the conceptual/visual arts realm of the documentary spectrum, and of course he doesn’t portray truth, just truth as he sees it, or at least education to some degree.  Historical Narratives are a tricky bitch and in the modern era, with memory constructed through the flash of images on a screen or through photographs that don’t really give you a sense of what the image IS, (like if I look at a picture of my grandfather from 50 years ago it tells me nothing of the last fifty years unless I compare it to another photo, or does it?  see Roland Barthes “Camera Lucida” for more,) and humans seems to learn through stories (certain narratives,) rather than image, but the art of telling the story is lost, so all we have is image.  And when a story is told well (a rarity) it normally uses the tricks of melodrama and manipulation of the emotions to provide an effect.  We tell people who they are and they believe us because how do they know otherwise?  Joshua Oppenheimer got around this trap by having the killers tell their OWN stories, and the process of memory creation brought forth a humanizing change within the subjects of The Act of Killing.  I talked to him for a while the other day, and a lot of his opinions about Indonesians are the same as mine about Austrians.  Of course my opinion means nothing, but the presentation of material within a powerful and meaningful construct, allowing for contemplation of a phenomenon is worth spending time and energy on…I guess.  James Benning seems to be able to walk this line, through his documentary we saw a few days ago, “Stemple Pass,” he shows four identical shots, except for the change in season as he reads Ted Kazinsky’s(sp?) journals from a replica of the Una-bomber’s cabin.  Of course, he is allowing for time to create contemplation on the words that are being spoken and for the viewer to actually think about what is being presented.  In our modern culture, how much do we actually think about what we see?  Even if it is good?  We leave the theater, and maybe if it is people like you and me we actually discuss the themes and concepts behind the documentary we have seen, but we soaked it up as a series of images that are politics as art.  I like how Benning has done this and I would like to try a similar approach to the Flakturm Documentary.  I need the image and I need facts, but the time of “talking heads” documentaries is over.  Of course, having only four shots in a two hour film is really asking a lot of the audience, but you have to trust them, and I respect how much he trusts me.  And I want to give him that in return.  I would love to have this kind of relationship with who I create my art for.  This is obviously not for everyone.  But this is one way to provide a truth for the artist where I can feel like I at least am trying to be honest and NOT pushing a historical narrative as manipulation.  I do not want to point a finger…I just want to understand.  I live a stone’s throw from the Flakturm at Esterhazy Park.
Frank Ankersmit has a great article that has explained some concepts dealing with repressed cultural memory due to the experience of trauma or the sublime and how it affects cultural identity.  Cultural forgetting through the act of memory repression leading to either an eventual discourse and catharsis or the immediate creation of a new identity to disassociate one from the traumatic event.  But at the same time you know of your old identity.  It is like if a woman is shown an old photograph of herself from before a traumatic experience and she doesn’t recognize who she sees, but she KNOWS IT IS HER.  Was the dialogue ever opened in Austria?  Some people I talk to think it was, most think it wasn’t.  It is still an interesting debate over what the hell to do with a Flakturm.  How is memory constructed to form an Austrian cultural identity when the traumatic events experienced remain in the unconscious through a lack of dialogue?   In the Act of Killing Joshua Oppenheimer humanizes the killers so we can understand them.   I passed a monument to the dead soldiers of the Wehrmacht during the Anschluss years in the Styrian town of Admont two nights ago.  It does not humanize these people to provide understanding, even if it is from the perspective of heroes or villains…the old trapings of historical narrative to appeal to politics and a sense of regionalism or nationalism.  Who were these people and where is the material that tells us who they were for us to contemplate?

Scott Evans

Ignoring the Aesthetics of the Flakturm as Ignorance

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I walked around the Flakturme in Augarten yesterday and they are both fenced off and have no access.  Supposedly they are filled with dead pigeons, pigeon shit, and a horrible smell.  They also are falling apart inside, so the walkways to the top are difficult to traverse.  They are in complete disuse.  Does the city own these two?  They have such a bleak beauty about them, the lost dreams of a generation of National Socialist Austrians and Germans, failed plans and hopes for a lasting society torn into rubble.  The fact that they remind the Austrians that their amazing culture and beautiful people were once caught up in an ideology as disgusting and brutal as that espoused by the Third Reich is readily apparent in their unwillingness to fund the restoration of these melancholy structures.  By embracing the aesthetic properties of the Flakturm Austrian society would be acknowledging a role in the past that is one of collaboration rather than victimization.  It takes understanding of the many facets behind Austria’s Anschluss years to be able to embrace this past and separate the function of what the Flakturm was, as opposed to what it is.  Many Austrians and non-Austrians alike who live in Vienna have mentioned to me the aesthetic beauty of these giant grey structures.  What is a Flakturm?  A beautiful tower to be acknowledged, but a tower that represents a living history and a political debate over the “correct” cultural memory of WWII events.  To purposely acknowledge their aesthetic worth, at the same time as memorializing them, would be a step in the right direction.  To acknowledge something is better than to ignore its existence.  (Or hide them, or turn them into zoos and aquariums.)  Or is recognizing the Flakturm and its artistic merit beyond the capacity of current Austrian society?  To remove the functionality from the aura of the structure is recognition that the towers were built for a non-functional purpose in Wien to begin with.  So is restoring one or memorializing their existence at the same time acknowledging a more than willing participation in the horrific acts of the Second World War as well as ultimately accepting guilt?  Or is it simply making a monument to fascism?  How does the public interpret such ideas.  Better just to continue ignoring their presence?  But if one creates a memorial of one of these structures will it fall into the trap of politicized historical narrative?  How are these ideas of memorialization viewed by a populace who has already experienced a modern history of politicized historical accounts, false narratives, and a repression of cultural memory in the form of the lack of dialogue?  It is all too close to home.  Austrians love the brutal aesthetic from afar, but the reminder that such a fantastic culture was filled with Nazi ideology is too much.  So is embracing their aesthetic value a form of ignorance through victimization narrative, or an act of redemption through remembrance and understanding?  This question seems to be at the heart of the debate over what to do with these structures, and why it has lasted 70 years.  It is a shame that such amazing feats of architecture are unacknowledged and ignored for their beauty.  Instead they are covered, hidden, removed from postcards, covered by vulgar climbing walls, bought by private companies who leave unrealized plans for their use, or used to create an extension of right-wing Austrian political victimization theory.

Markus Hafner and his Flakturm Faktum society seemed effective in memorializing the Flakturm and its living history through art installation.  Is this the answer?  Rather than the ambivalent ambiguity of a public art work like Lawrence Wiener’s that adorns the top of the “Haus des Meeres” Flakturm (“Smashed to pieces (in the still of the night,)”) what about an art piece that uses the structure and its aura for contemplation?  The Lawrence Wiener work is so ambiguous it has no understanding or function, besides getting people to ask what it means.  Many Viennese I have spoken with love the work, feeling that it at least creates a dialogue concerning its relation to the war and the Flakturm itself.  But to examine the interpretations I have heard of Wiener’s phrase is to examine mostly a victim theory or a complete falsehood.  Perhaps this will end up being the focus of my final work that comes out of this whole research project.  Examining the ineffectiveness and ultimately the vulgar nature of the Winer piece.  Now it is being dismantled, (at least partly?) because the “Haus des Meeres” is putting a cafe at the top of the tower, built by prisoners of war, where they can sip on their Melange and have a beautiful view of the city while not being exactly sure what their Austrian “grandpa did during the Anschluss.”

Scott Evans

Flaktürme: Denkmale des Nazi-Größenwahns by Johanna Lutteroth

Flaktürme: Denkmale des Nazi-Größenwahns by Johanna Lutteroth

Here is a rough translation in English:

Flak Towers: Monuments of Nazi Megalomania
 
The “miracle of defense” for military flop huge sums invested in the establishment of the Nazis flak bunkers, a powerful weapon to oppose the Allied air raids. But the Monsterbauten were soon overtaken technically – a typical case of Nazi hubris. By Johanna Lutteroth

Sounded cocky Hermann Goering shortly after the war began, “If a single English aircraft can break through our air defenses, if a single bomb falls on Berlin, then I want to be called Meier.” Just under a year later the commander of the Air Force was forced to admit sheepishly gaps in the defense. On the night of 26 August 1940 threw the Royal Air Force bombs on Berlin for the first time – in retaliation for the bombing of many Germans. Although the damage was limited, but the psychological impact was enormous. Berlin had put in fear of attack.

Hitler responded immediately and mimed to calm the population level: “We will eradicate their cities,” he drooled for days and left England bomb. He also ordered the construction of several “air defense towers” in the cities of Berlin and Hamburg. Four AA guns should find it place. The air defense promised, the fire would almost mow the enemy aircraft from the sky. To emphasize the valor and omnipotence of the “Third Reich”, the towers should look like medieval fortresses. The calculus: Everyone would understand this language of form.

The plans to designed by Berlin architect Friedrich Tamms, who had already made in the Kingdom as a bridge specialist a name. “The starting point was the demand of the air defense, an anti-aircraft battery set up so that it was higher than the surrounding roofs,” he recalled later. The designs thus saw a 40 meter high turret front, on which were the anti-aircraft guns, and a slightly lower Leitturm on which the fire control for the detection of enemy bombers should be accommodated.

The Nazi leadership was thrilled. She celebrated the towers as “wonders of the defense” and an “artillery maximum design”. A typical case of Nazi hubris. After only three years later, the anti-aircraft bunker as a military and economic would prove a flop.

Self-sufficient life world

It had all started so promising. Tamms basked in the success to have invented the turrets with a whole new type of building: a modern fortress of reinforced concrete. 75 meters long, 75 meters wide, 40 meters high. 2.5 meter thick walls and a 3.5 meter thick blanket were a hundred percent protection against the dreaded bombs expected. An encircling walkway at a dizzy height gave the building the required medieval fortress character. Thus, the anti-aircraft bunker could be put to good use after the war, they should obtain a representative facade made of fine natural stone.

Tamm was aware that the bunker had to be completely self-sufficient. Each tower would therefore have its own water supply, its own ventilation and an emergency generator. The size also offered enough space to house besides the soldiers and civilian air-raid shelters accommodation, a hospital, kitchens, a bakery and offices for government officials and authorities. Thousands of people could find shelter in these bunkers for weeks.

And everything seemed to run smoothly. Thousands of forced laborers began in October 1940 with the construction of the first air defense tower, the Zoo bunker in Berlin’s Tiergarten. 100,000 tons of concrete, 10,000 tons of steel and 45 million Reichsmark came to use – a procedure by which one could build bomb-proof bomb shelter places for 180,000 people. After only six months of combat and Leitturm were completed – a menacing-looking, giant gray concrete with a slightly smaller twin. Only for aufhübschende facade was no time. Nearly a year later, were in Frederick and in Humboldt grove two “shooting Dome” as Tamm liked to call the shelter because reminded him the gun fire of anti-aircraft guns at the Cathedral of Light, Hitler’s chief architect Albert Speer was staged on the occasion of the Nuremberg Nazi Party in 1938.

Tamms have to manipulate the

In October 1942, was also in Hamburg, the first Flakturmpaar – but already during the construction became apparent that the bunkers were technically obsolete: the bombs of the Allies could now penetrate up to 3.5 meters thick concrete ceiling. Added to this was that the towers given their gigantic size provided a perfect attack surface and could be easily located. The anti-aircraft guns were exposed to enemy fire virtually unprotected, and the many windows at risk the stability of the side walls.

So Tamms improved by: He gave up window. With a side length of 47 meters, the new anti-aircraft bunker in Hamburg-William Castle was considerably narrower, more robust. Side effect: a Tamms saved more than 42,000 cubic meters of reinforced concrete.

The Allies were victorious in the meantime in North Africa, and it would be only a matter of time before they end up in Italy and its air strikes would fly from there. Therefore the end of 1942, Hitler ordered the construction of flak towers in Vienna. Similar to Berlin, they should be arranged in a triangle around the city center. In summer 1943, the first tower was finished in Arenberg Park. Two more – followed in the pin barracks and in the Augarten. The last could be put into operation in January 1945. To provide even less of a target, the Vienna model was further narrowed.

Military and planning bodies mingled less now working in Tamms a. This gave him the opportunity to give his Viennese architectural towers one last finishing touches – the construction program for the air defense anti-aircraft bunker apparently had no more absolute priority.

Completely ineffective

Indeed, the anti-aircraft bunker euphoria of the Nazi leadership had cooled noticeably in the summer of 1943. The reason: The once acclaimed air defense towers were nowhere near what you had promised them. Only occasionally they had brought bombers from the sky – and the Allies soon learned this: you no longer flew their attacks as the beginning of the war, flying low, but at an altitude of 8000 meters and more. The anti-aircraft guns had trouble to meet them at these altitudes. In addition, the pilots dropped from their attacks tons of tinfoil – called chaff – from which crippled the radars on the Leittürmen. The anti-aircraft guns had to blindly shoot. To get a machine from the sky, it took up to 3000 tests. Each firing, calculated as the historian Hans Brunswig, the Germans cost about 2.7 million Reichsmarks.

The result was this out of proportion. With the construction of the planned for Munich and Bremen bunker was therefore not even started. The existing anti-aircraft towers filled mainly one purpose: they served as a civilian bomb shelter – and to reassure the population.

After the war the Allies wanted to remove the symbolically charged strongholds of the city as quickly as possible. My command was: blasting and outwear. In Berlin he was also implemented. The Zoo Bunker were demolished or filled in Friedrichshain, in the Humboldt grove was only a part of the flak tower stand. In Hamburg, the demolition failed due to the tight construction. An explosion had damaged the surrounding houses, only the smaller Leittürme could be removed. The turrets in William Castle and the Holy Spirit are still there as gray box, monumental and menacing as ever.

The Viennese, however, hardly bothered by the towers and just let them be. It may have to do with the fact that the Austrians saw primarily as victims of National Socialism, not as an accomplice. For them, anti-aircraft bunker are rather a memorial of the German occupation as a private symbol of power. An interpretation that would have kept the Nazi henchmen so surely never imagined possible. Tamms “Shooting Dome” therefore characterize the city today.

Collaboration: Robert Kuhn

(Thank you Alina Kolar for showing me this article.)  A simple explanation and overview of Flakturm history.

Walter Benjamin’s “Work of Art in the Age of Reproducibility” Pt. 2

Some more excerpts I find of note, I have posted Vertov’s “Man with a Movie Camera” because I think it illustrates some points Benjamin makes near the end of this section:

The reception of works of art varies in character, but in general two polar types stand out: one accentuates the artwork’s cult value; the other, its exhibition value…Cult value as such tends today, it would seem, to keep the artwork out of sight: certain statues of gods are accessible only to the priest in the cella; certain images of the Madonna remain covered nearly all year round; certain sculptures on medieval cathedrals are not visible to the viewer at ground level. With the emancipation of specific artistic practices from the service of ritual, the opportunities for exhibiting their products increase. (257)

The scope for exhibiting the work of art has increased so enormously with the various methods of technologically reproducing it that, as happened in prehistoric times, a quantitative shift between the two poles of the artwork has led to a qualitative transformation in its nature. Just as the work of art in prehistoric times, through the absolute emphasis placed on its cult value, became first and foremost an instrument of magic which only later came to be recognized as a work of art, so today, through the absolute emphasis placed on its exhibition value, the work of art becomes a construct [Gebilde] with quite new functions. Among these, the one we are conscious of—the artistic function—may subsequently be seen as incidental. This much is certain: today, photography and film are the most serviceable vehicles of this new understanding. (257)

In photography, exhibition value begins to drive back cult value on all fronts. But cult value does not give way without resistance. It falls back to a last entrenchment: the human countenance…In the cult of remembrance of dead or absent loved ones, the cult value of the image finds its last refuge. In the fleeting expression of a human face, the aura beckons from early photographs for the last time. This is what gives them their melancholy and incomparable beauty. But as the human being withdraws from the photographic image, exhibition value for the first time shows its superiority to cult value…Atget…around 1900, took photographs of deserted Paris streets. It has been justly said that he photographed them like scenes of crimes. A crime scene, too, is deserted; it is photographed for the purpose of establishing evidence. With Atget, photographic records begin to be evidence in the historical trial [Prozess]. This constitutes their hidden political significance. They demand a specific kind of reception. Free-floating contemplation is no longer appropriate to them. They unsettle the viewer; he feels challenged to find a particular way to approach them…The directives given by captions to those looking at images in illustrated magazines soon become even more precise and commanding in films, where the way each single image is understood appears prescribed by the sequence of all the preceding images. (257-258)

The film actor lacks the opportunity of the stage actor to adjust to the audience during his performance, since he does not present his performance to the audience in person. This permits the audience to take the position of a critic, without experiencing any personal contact with the actor. The audience’s empathy with the actor is really an empathy with the camera. Consequently, the audience takes the position of the camera; its approach is that of testing. This is not an approach compatible with cult value. (259-260)

What matters is that the actor is performing for a piece of equipment—or in the case of sound film, for two pieces of equipment…for the first time—and this is the effect of film—the human being is placed in a position where he must operate with his whole living person, while forgoing its aura. For the aura is bound to his presence in the here and now. There is no facsimile of the aura…What distinguishes the shot in the film studio, however, is that the camera is substituted for the audience. As a result, the aura surrounding the actor is dispelled—and, with it, the aura of the figure he portrays…In particular, lighting and its installation require the representation of an action—which on the screen appears as swift, unified sequence—to be filmed in a series of separate takes, which may be spread over hours in the studio…Nothing shows more graphically that art has escaped the realm of “beautiful semblance,” which for so long was regarded as the only sphere in which it could thrive. (260-261)

The film actor’s feeling of estrangement in the face of the apparatus…is basically of the same kind as the estrangement felt before one’s appearance [Erscheinung] in a mirror.But now the mirror image [Bild] has become detachable from the person mirrored, and is transportable…While he stands before the apparatus, the screen actor knows that in the end he is confronting the public, the consumers who constitute the market…Film responds to the shriveling of the aura by artificially building up the “personality” outside the studio. The cult of the movie star, fostered by the money of the film industry, preserves that magic of the personality which has long been no more than the putrid magic of its own commodity character. So long as moviemakers’ capital sets the fashion, as a rule the only revolutionary merit that can be ascribed to today’s cinema is the promotion of a revolutionary criticism of traditional concepts of art. We do not deny that in some cases today’s films can also foster revolutionary criticism of social conditions, even of property relations…a person might even see himself becoming part of a work of art: think of Vertov’s Three Songs of Lenin or Ivens’ Borinage. Any person today can lay claim to being filmed…Some of the actors taking part in Russian films are not actors in our sense but people who portray themselves—and primarily in their own work process. In western Europe today, the capitalist exploitation of film obstructs the human being’s legitimate claim to being reproduced. Under these circumstances, the film industry has an overriding interest in stimulating the involvement of the masses through illusionary displays and ambiguous speculations. (261-262)

Walter Benjamin’s “Work of Art in the Age of Reproducibility” Pt. 1

Image

Part one of some excerpts of note from this fascinating piece.  I have been focusing on Benjamin for the last week…I guess he is required reading for a lot of Germans/Austrians, which is funny because Weber State University doesn’t have one class that teaches his works.  I love reading him though, and his take on art and history are incredibly interesting and important:

The Work of Art in the Age of Reproducibility

Theses defining the developmental tendencies of art can therefore contribute to the political struggle in ways that it would be a mistake to underestimate.  They neutralize a number of traditional concepts—such as creativity and genius, eternal value and mystery—which, used in an uncontrolled way…allow factual material to be manipulated in the interests of fascism.

In principle, the work of art has always been reproducible…But the technological reproducibility of artworks is something new…[P]hotography freed the hand from the most important artistic tasks in the process of pictorial reproduction—tasks that now devolved solely upon the eye looking into a lens…Around 1900, technological reproduction not only had reached a standard that permitted it to reproduce all known works of art, profoundly modifying their effect, but it also captured a place of its own among the artistic processes. (252)

In even the most perfect reproduction, one thing is lacking: the here and now of the work of art—its unique existence in a particular place.  It is this unique existence—and nothing else—that bears the mark of the history to which the work has been subject…The here and now of the original underlies the concept of its authenticity…The whole sphere of authenticity eludes technological—and of course, not only technological—reproducibility…[T]echnological reproduction is more independent of the original than is manual reproduction…[I]n photography it can bring out aspects of the original that are accessible only to the lens (which is adjustable and can easily change viewpoint) but not to the human eye; or it can use certain processes, such as enlargement or slow-motion, to record images which escape natural optics altogether…[T]echnological reproduction can place the copy of the original in situations which the original itself cannot attain…[I]t enables the original to meet the recipient halfway…The situations into which the product of technological reproduction can be brought may leave the artwork’s other properties untouched, but they certainly devalue the here and now of the artwork…[T]his process touches on a highly sensitive core…That core is its authenticity.  The authenticity of a thing is the quintessence of all that is transmissible in it from its origin on, ranging from its physical duration to the historical testimony relating to it.

One might encompass the eliminated element within the concept of the aura, and go on to say: what withers in the age of the technological reproducibility of the work of art is the latter’s aura…It might be stated as a general formula that the technology of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the sphere of tradition.  By replicating the work many times over, it substitutes a mass existence for a unique existence.  And in permitting the reproduction to reach the recipient in his or her own situation, it actualizes that which is reproduced.  These two processes lead to a massive upheaval in the domain of objects handed down from the past—a shattering of tradition which is the reverse side of the present crisis and renewal of humanity…

Just as the entire mode of existence of human collectives changes over long historical periods, so too does their mode of perception.  The way in which human perception is organized—the medium in which it occurs—is conditioned not only by nature but by history…[I]f changes in the medium of present-day perception can be understood as a decay of the aura, it is possible to demonstrate the social determinants of that decay.

The concept of the aura which was proposed above with reference to historical objects can be usefully illustrated with reference to an aura of natural objects.  We define the aura of the latter as the unique apparition of a distance, however near it may be.  To follow with the eye—while resting on a summer afternoon—a mountain range on the horizon or a branch that casts a shadow on the beholder is to breathe the aura of those mountains, of that branch.  In the light of this description, we can readily grasp the social basis of the aura’s present decay.  It rests on two circumstances, both linked to the increasing significance of the masses in contemporary life.  Namely: the desire of the present-day masses to “get closer” to things spatially and humanly, and their equally passionate concern for overcoming each thing’s uniqueness by assimilating it as a reproduction…The stripping of the veil from the object, the destruction of the aura, is the signature of a perception whose “sense for sameness in the world” has so increased that, by means of reproduction, it extracts sameness even from what is unique…The alignment of reality with the masses and of the masses with reality is a process of immeasurable importance for both thinking and perception.  (254 – 256)

The uniqueness of the work of art is identical to its embeddedness in the context of tradition.  Of course, this tradition itself is thoroughly alive and extremely changeable…Originally the embeddedness of an artwork in the context of tradition found expression in a cult…[T]he earliest artworks originated in the service of rituals…it is highly significant that the artwork’s auratic mode of existence is never entirely severed from its ritual function…the unique value of the “authentic” work of art has its basis in ritual, the source of its original use value…The secular worship of beauty which developed during the Renaissance and prevailed for three centuries, clearly displayed that ritualistic basis in its subsequent decline…with the advent of the first truly revolutionary means of reproduction, art felt the approach of that crisis which a century later has become unmistakable, it reacted with the doctrine of l’art pour l’art—that is, with a theology of art. 

For the first time in world history, technological reproducibility emancipates the work of art from its parasitic subservience to ritual.  To an ever-increasing degree, the work reproduced becomes the reproduction of a work designed for reproducibility…But as soon as the criterion of authenticity ceases to be applied to artistic production, the whole social function of art is revolutionized.  Instead of being founded on ritual, it is based on a different practice: politics. (256 – 257)

(Part 2 to follow.  I have an interview with Dr. Siegfried Mattl in nine hours.)