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‘Parthenon’ made of books built at site of Nazi book burning

A Greek-style temple made out of banned books hopes to stir debate about censorship at the site of Nazi book burning in central Germany.

'Parthenon' made of books built at site of Nazi book burning
"The Parthenon of Books" in Kassel. Photo: DPA.

It looks like the monumental temple standing imposingly at the Acropolis in Athens. But this replica in central Germany is not built with marble, but books that have been or remain banned.

“The Parthenon of Books” is the main showpiece at this year's Documenta – the cult contemporary art show held once every five years in the university town of Kassel.

The work by Argentine artist Marta Minujin is a plea against all forms of censorship.

Minujin, 74, a pop art icon in South America, has described it as “the most political” of her works.

In fact, the “Parthenon of Books” stands at the same site where, in 1933, Nazis set in flames books by Jewish or Marxist writers.

Fast forward eight decades and there is a team of volunteers wearing hard hats gathering at the foot of a crane, preparing to lift more books onto the installation.

In a few minutes, a copy of “The First Circle” by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn would find its place on one of the 46 columns formed by metal grills which are in turn covered with books.

The Russian writer's novel joins bestsellers including “The Bible”, “The Satanic Verses”, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “The Little Prince”. 

In all, 100,000 copies of 170 titles will cover the columns, each individually wrapped in a plastic bag to shield it from the capricious German weather.

“The work has exactly the same dimensions as the Parthenon – 70 metres (230 feet) in length, 31 metres in breadth and 10 metres in height,” one of Documenta's curators, Pierre Bal-Blanc, told AFP.

The Frenchman said the art installation at Friedrichsplatz also has a “slightly slanted orientation which gives a more impressive presence, because you get a side view of it rather than a frontal view.”

170 titles, 100,000 books

A close-up of the artwork being set up. Photo: DPA.

The showpiece's reference to ancient Greece is not pure chance.

This year's edition of Documenta, which attracted 905,000 people in 2012, is taking place simultaneously in another city – Athens.

Since April 8th, the Greek capital with its underground emerging art scene has been busy with the exhibitions, concerts, films and performances linked to Documenta.

And from June 10th, the show, known for rejecting commercialism in favour of the quirky and groundbreaking, returns to its birth place, Kassel, where it will feature works from 160 artists until September 17th.

Preparations for the “Parthenon of Books” began last year, when Minujin launched an appeal to collect up to 100,000 books.

Nineteen students at Kassel University had also helped to draw up an inventory of banned books, listing some 70,000 that span “the Protestant Reformation 500 years ago to apartheid South Africa,” said art historian Florian Gassner.

The process of picking which titles would be featured was at times complicated.

“In communist East Germany, there wasn't a list of banned books drawn up by the authorities,” said Gassner.

“What happened was that at the moment when a writer wanted to get his work published, suddenly there was no more paper for the job,” he said. 

Finally, Minujin and the Documenta team shortlisted 170 titles.

Handed out

Photo: DPA.

But what is perhaps Germany's most controversial work, banned in several countries, will not figure on the Parthenon – Adolf Hitler's “Mein Kampf”.

The book outlines Hitler's ideology that formed the basis for Nazism, but, like pornographic works, has been deliberately left out of the exhibition. 

Meanwhile, some art experts have also decried the key showpiece of this year's Documenta as a copy of a work that already exists.

In fact, some 34 years ago, after the fall of the Argentine junta, Minujin had already set up a similar installation of books to condemn censorship imposed by the military dictatorship.

In Kassel, Minujin will keep collecting copies of the banned titles until Documenta closes its doors.

After that, the books will be redistributed to the public.

The “Parthenon of Books” is “a monumental project but an immaterial one,” said Bal-Blanc. “It will disappear just as quickly as it has appeared.”

By Yannick Pasquet

For members

FOOD&DRINK

Five German drinks to try this summer

There’s nothing quite like a cold drink on a hot summer’s day and the Germans know it well. That’s why they’ve got a variety of tasty alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages to cool them down in the hottest months. Here are five you should try.

Five German drinks to try this summer

Summertime in Germany can get pretty hot, but thankfully there are plenty of popular drinks which can help you cool down, as well as tickle the tastebuds.

In Germany, fizzy water is wildly popular, so it’s not surprising that Sprudel is a key ingredient in most of the drinks on this list.

Hugo

A Hugo cocktail. Photo: Greta Farnedi/Unsplash

The Hugo is a cocktail made of Prosecco, elderflower syrup, mint leaves, a shot of mineral water and a slice of lime.

This refreshing alcoholic drink was invented by Roland Gruber, a bartender in South Tyrol, the mainly German-speaking region of northern Italy in 2005.

Though the drink wasn’t invented in Germany, it quickly spread across the borders of northern Italy and gained popularity here. Nowadays, you’ll be able to order a Hugo in pretty much any bar in the country.

Radler

A woman holds a pint of Radler. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Nicolas Armer

One of the best-known and most popular mixed beer drinks is the Radler: a concoction of beer and lemonade, a bit like a British shandy. In some areas of Germany – particularly in the south – the mixture is called Alster.

Usually, the ratio is 60 percent beer and 40 percent lemonade, but there are also some interesting variants. In some regions of Germany, a distinction is made between sweet (with lemonade) and sour (with water) Radler. Some foolhardy drinkers even mix their beer with cola (called a diesel).

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The German regions producing the most important beer ingredient

Apfelschorle

A woman pours apple spritz into plastic cups. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Soeren Stache

Apfelschorle is an absolute German classic.

The traditional mix of apple juice and fizzy water is a 1:1 ratio, but if you’re making the drink at home you can adjust the measurements to your liking. 

The concept of Saftschorle (fruit spritzer) has moved way beyond the plain old apple in Germany though. On Supermarket shelves, you’ll find major drinks chains offering a wide variety of fizzy fruit beverages, including  Rhabarbe-Schorle (Rhubarb spritz), Schwarze Johannisbeer-Schorle (Black currant spritz) and Holunderschorle (elderberry spritz).

Berliner Weiße mit Schuss

A woman drinks a Berliner Weiße in Berlin.

A woman drinks a Berliner Weiße in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Britta Pedersen

The Berliner Weiße (or Weisse) is an old, German beer, brewed with barley and wheat malt.

As the name suggests, it originates from the German capital, where it was extremely popular in the 19th century and was celebrated as the “Champagne of the North”.

But by the end of the 19th century, sour beer styles, including this one, became increasingly unpopular and they almost died out completely. 

READ ALSO: Five German foods that aren’t what you think they are

So people started mixing the drink with sweet syrup. This gave rise to the trend of drinking Berliner Weissbier with a shot (Schuss) of raspberry or woodruff syrup, which is still widely enjoyed today. Some breweries even ferment fruits such as raspberries or strawberries.

The drink is so well-known in Germany, that there was even a TV series named after it which ran for 10 years 1984 to 1995.

Weinschorle

Water and wine in equal parts and both well chilled – a light summer drink. Photo: picture alliance / dpa-tmn | DWI

Another fizzy-water-based German classic is the white wine spritz. 

A wine spritzer is a refreshing drink on warm summer days which has the advantage of not going to your head as quickly as a regular glass of wine. With equal parts fizzy water and wine, the drink has only about 5-6 percent alcohol, compared to glass of pure white wine, which has about 9-14 percent. 

For optimum German-ness when making this drink at home, choose a German white wine such as Müller-Thurgau, Silvaner or Riesling.

Enjoy and drink responsibly!

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