Perplexing legacy

With her works for our art vending machines, Deborah Wargon exposes things that got swept under the rug

portrait of Deborah Wargon

Portrait of Deborah Wargon © Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Gelia Eisert

A cordial welcome, the wafting flavors of a freshly-cooked meal, a light-drenched room with a high ceiling, full of brightly-colored books and pictures, and a piano with a sign-post ‘to Australia’ sitting on it… My first encounter with Deborah Wargon in her live-in atelier in Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood is a far cry from the rather severe, somber associations that the term ‘testament enforcer’ brings up for me. Wargon – a musician as well as visual and theater artist born in Melbourne in 1962 – describes herself this way on the package insert that comes with the small-scale artworks that she created for the art vending machine in our permanent exhibition. Those artworks bear the title “The Legacy of Friede Traurig” – where Friede Traurig doubles as a proper name and, in German, to mean peace sorrowful. And Deborah Wargon, who is best known for her paper cuttings inside former insect cases, says that she would rather be sorrowful.

With a little good luck, you may get one of her works from the vending machine: for instance, a little human figurine made of rail track ballast (gravel), wire, and newspaper. Aside from the expressive name Friede Traurig, the materials invoke woeful stories of train transports and barbed wire fences, particularly because the newspapers she used are from the Second World War. But for the artist, it’s clearly not only about the specific time the Nazis were in power and the Shoah. It’s also about the legacies, the inheritance, the stories that we all carry with us. She explains her choice of materials: “For me, wire is a fascinating material. It’s also used for cages. So you can use to suggest the ways that we’re all captive.” The rail track gravel, which normally lies on the ground, relates for Wargon to the ground that we all walk on, as descendants of the people who came before us. “Besides, in both German and English there’s the expression ‘to sweep something under the rug’”. The gravel, or grit, that we bring into the house on the soles of our shoes, and then sweep under the rug, stands for something that we don’t want to face and deal with.

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“Dispatch Prohibited on Account of the State of War”

A Letter from the Archive Tells of the Outbreak of War in 1914

A handwritten letter

Letter from Leo Roos to his family (first page), Frankfurt am Main, 31 July1914
Donated by Walter Roos
© Jewish Museum Berlin

“The situation is extremely serious; His Majesty the Emperor declared this afternoon that Germany is now at war.” Exactly one hundred years ago today, eighteen-year-old Leo Roos penned these lines to his parents and siblings back home in the West Palatine village of Brücken. But they were never to receive his letter, as the note on the envelope attests: Dispatch prohibited on account of the state of war. Return to sender.

Roos felt he was witnessing fateful times. He lived in Frankfurt, where he was apprenticed to a bank. He thought himself a city boy, much closer to momentous global events than his family was, off in its isolated village. He described the tense mood:  continue reading


Kıymet or: A Cinematic Tribute to My Grandmother

An elderly woman talks to a young woman

Canan Turan with her grandmother
© Adriana Uribe

In our series of events “New German Stories” we present different perspectives on the immigration country Germany. That immigrants from Turkey, Vietnam, Poland, India and Cameroon and their descendants have stories to tell is nothing new—the novel twist is, that they present them here as German stories. On Tuesday, 8 July, director Canan Turan will be a guest of the Academy of the Jewish Museum. In her film KIYMET, she tells the story of her grandmother, who migrated to Berlin from Turkey in the early 70s. We asked Canan three questions about her project:

How did the idea to make a film about your grandmother Kıymet come about?  continue reading