After years of controversy, a monument to homosexual victims of the Holocaust is finally opening in Berlin.
Germany's federal commissioner for culture, Bernd Neumann, is to formally open the monument Tuesday together with Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit. The monument consists of a single stele or pillar, 3.6 meters (11.8 feet) high and 1.90 meters (6.2 feet) wide, located in Berlin's central Tiergarten park opposite the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.
According to the monument's designers, the Berlin-based Norwegian-Danish artist duo Ingar Dragset and Michael Elmgreen, the new monument refers to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, which consists of 2,711 concrete stelae, while simultaneously representing a different history of persecution. "We wanted to use the same visual language (as the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe) in order to make the connection between our monument and other victim groups," Dragset told the Berlin magazine Zitty in an interview. "It was the same suffering, the same history, but at the same time there were many differences."
A video screen set into the monument shows a one-and-a-half minute film loop of two men kissing. Visitors can watch the film, directed by the Danish director Thomas Vinterberg who is best known for his acclaimed 1998 drama "The Celebration," through a small window in the pillar. The film will be changed every two years, with the monument showing homosexuality-themed films by different directors.
A plaque on the monument explains the history of the Nazi persecution of homosexuals and draws the visitor's attention to the current persecution of homosexuals in many countries. "In many parts of the world people are still persecuted because of their sexual identity, homosexual love is a criminal offense and a kiss can spell danger," the text reads.
The German government commissioned the monument, which cost €600,000 ($950,000) to build, in 2003. Right from the start, the monument, which was an initiative of the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany (LSVD), attracted controversy. Some critics, warning of "monument inflation," questioned the need for a separate monument for gay victims of the Holocaust, while lesbian groups criticized the focus on male homosexual victims. In response to their concerns, the monument is likely to show a film featuring lesbians in the future.
Even the opening of the monument attracted controversy. Dragset and Elmgreen told Zitty that Neumann, the federal commissioner for culture, refused to allow an image from the video of the two men kissing to be put on the official invitation to the monument's opening. "(The decision) not to print the kiss shows that we still have a problem," Dragset said. "As long as people feel repulsed when they see homosexuals kissing, then something is missing," added Elmgreen, who called the kiss "the basis of the monument."
Observers have also been critical of the fact that the highest representative of the German government attending the opening will be the federal commissioner for culture. Germany's President Horst Köhler, who was present at the opening of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, will not be attending.
According to estimates, more than 50,000 homosexuals were arrested by the Nazis. It is not known how many were murdered in concentration camps, but estimates put the figure at several thousand at least. Gay rights activists have long complained that the persecution of homosexuals during the Third Reich has been overlooked. The Nazi-era law persecuting homosexuals remained on Germany's books until 1969.