Going through my old travel photos I noticed a similarity between memorials to tragedies on opposite sides of Europe, made by different people. In the summer of 2011 I was in Dublin where I photographed the Irish Famine Memorial, a collection of statues of immigrants walking to the ships carrying passengers to North America.
Last year when I was in Prague I came upon the Memorial to the Victims of Communism at the bottom of Petřín Hill. Again, the statues were thin, dark metallic figures, commemorating a tragic event in a nation’s past.
Rowan Gillespie, who made the Irish Famine memorial, had no connection to Olbram Zoubek, the sculptor of the communism memorial, as far as I can tell. I like to think they imagined similar concepts because the historic events they were memorializing were similar. There’s something chilling about the figures in Dublin and Prague. Their thinness, like walking ghosts, hopeless, desperate, among us but at the same time drawn in their own miserable worlds, as if they’re a time capsule in a transparent case, so we can all look inside.
Both are very democratic tributes to the nameless people who became victims of circumstances beyond their control. Their anonymity makes them more powerful, as if they could be anyone’s ancestor. Their metallic composition makes them strong but they’re thin and frail at the same time, like individuals who, despite the toughness of their spirit, can only overcome so much before breaking.
In Vienna there’s ten pretty women
There’s a shoulder where death comes to cry
There’s a lobby with 900 windows
There’s a tree where doves go to die
One of my favourite Leonard Cohen songs leads me to think to my time in Vienna and wonder if I saw the things he describes there. Pretty women were around, of course, like any European city, but I saw many more in Prague. A shoulder where death comes to cry is way too metaphoric, and I saw many trees, all of which could have been the last resting place of a dove.
The lobby with 900 windows could have been Schönbrunn Palace.
Sex. Death. Alcohol. Longing. The themes of that Cohen tune infiltrate the history of the Hapsburgs, who threw up this palace on the banks of Wein to humble the French Bourbons to the west and and the Turkish Ottomans to the east, their imperial rivals. The Hapsburgs’ greedy, jealous eyes roved over Europe, the Catholic hammer of Protestantism, marrying strategically, their spectacular triumphs and equally spectacular disasters filling the pages of history.
Nothing is left of the Hapsburgs past glory now. Their homeland is a humble little republic people associate with skiing and beer. Nothing remains except this palace which reminded me so much of Take this Waltz I couldn’t stop singing in my head as I walked through its gardens.
I found out this week Leonard Cohen is making another tour and coming to my city in April. The 78 year old just won’t quit and I won’t miss my chance to see him live for the first time. And if he plays that song in 3/4 time, I’ll think of Schönbrunn, and Vienna, and for a second I’ll be back there, surrounded by the old Hapsburg ghosts, 900 of them, each with its own window, staring out at the world of the living.
Mediaspree is a massive redevelopment of a part of Berlin that for years has been the home and workspace of artists, tramps, squatters, and general non-conformists to a profit driven culture that has already occupied 99% of western Europe and is quickly infesting the former Eastern Bloc.
In response groups have formed opposing the redevelopment which threatens to destroy that rebellious aspect of Berlin that makes this city unique.
In good Berlin fashion they’ve taken their protest to the walls, drawing protest slogans whereever they can find the space.
My personal favourite is the giant “fuck off mediaspree” message on top of an abandoned building.
They say Berlin is bankrupt. It is in the financial sense, but there are other forms of bankruptcy. A city where the poor and eccentric have to feel ashamed to walk down the street suffers from a moral bankruptcy, one which Berlin must fight to avoid.
Marching hammers, an anatomically obscene judge proclaiming the end of a wall and a war that was never fought. I could have predicted the parallels between Pink Floyd´s The Wall and the Berlin Wall would drive some artist to unite them on a few metres of German concrete. I could have, but I didn´t.
I went up to Brent Cross last week on a random errand and came across this graffiti on the wall of an industrial building. Oswald Mosley was the head of British Fascists before the Second World War and his lightning bolt symbol is the British equivalent of a swastika. Scary to see such a hateful symbol in this city but I doubt the little punk who drew it would have the nerve to speak his mind in public.