Notes on a bronze

An enlarged bronze cast of Käthe Kollwitz’s sculpture, Mother with her Dead Son, in a humble version of mourning pietà common to Christian martyrdom art, is housed in Berlin’s Neue Wache (New Guardhouse), a structure located on Unter den Linden, a few minutes’ walk from both the Reichstag and Brandenburger Tor, and originally designed by Karl Friedrich Shinkel during the reign of Friedrich Wilhelm III. During the early years of the Third Reich, Heinrich Tessenow repurposed the building to serve as a “Memorial for the Fallen of the War.” Later, after the conclusion of the second such so-called world war, in which the building sustained damage, Heinz Mehlan repaired the edifice, once again rededicating it a “Memorial for the Victims of Fascism and Militarism.” Without irony, or anyhow without concern for the appearance of such, Lothar Kwasnitza installed, upon the creation of the Soviet-backed East German state, a glass prism with an eternal flame in the center of the building’s single room. The “monumentally void” space currently rests empty but for the Kollwitz replica, seated directly below an oculus in the roof, which lets in air, and rain, and snow, and light.

The point? Power changes hands. The same old wars commence. Pause, continue. The new guard is the old guard with new statues, flags, salutes.

The point? Clemency is irrelevant. Dedications have shelf-lives. This is not a statement of advocacy, or of nihilism, but of deep, sensuous lament.

The point? The dead are dead, and the living exposed to everything they throw into the wind, cradling the lost beneath a changeable, unfeeling sky.


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