The Other Side: Counter memorials - Germany’s post-WW2 culture of apology and atonement

The subject of Remembrance has been hugely topical in these years of World War anniversaries. With the recent protests against imperial statues, a fuller, more nuanced understanding of the past is being demanded, which includes Britain’s contentious colonial past.

Nazi atrocities have been studied in great detail but little is known in this country about Germany’s complex post-war process and its powerful culture of counter memorials. For decades after the end of WW2 Germany suppressed the horrors of its past but in the 1980s, certain artists resolved to create art forms that would both confront it and respond to questions of apology and atonement:

    • How does a nation of former persecutors mourn its victims?
    • How do you commemorate atrocity?
    • How do you remember what you would rather forget?

The counter memorials emerging all over Germany are fascinating, challenging and highly original. Some change or disappear over time; some demand interactive responses. All aim to keep the memories alive in the minds of the observers rather than in the memorial itself. They could not be more relevant to the debate about colonial history and monuments in Britain today.

Angela’s Anglo-German roots, artistic background and years of research put her in an ideal position to give insights into Germany’s on-going efforts to face and learn from its dark past.

As in all her talks, she asks ethical questions, challenges pre-conceptions and evokes empathy through understanding ‘the other side of more familiar narratives.

“The timing of the lecture, just a week before our trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau, was ideal. It gave students the sense of the gravity and significance of what they were about to see: a crime that defies ordinary memorialisation and that has led to a culture of counter-memorials that is so different to the British tradition of glorification and veneration of the past. As you put it, Germany’s counter were specifically intended not to console, but to provoke and remind us about the necessity to preserve an active and critical ‘memory’ of the past, rather than simply accepting the narratives that we receive.”

I received universally positive responses to the lecture from both pupils and staff…
Head of Critical Thinking, Brighton College

“Thank you so much for giving us such an outstanding insight into your subject on German WW2 memorials. I have rarely felt such intense attention to the speaker from an audience. You could tell from the atmosphere in the room at the end of your talk that it was exceptional. I have had comments from many members praising your presentation and the way in which you drew us into the subject with such clarity and honesty. You really opened our eyes and understanding to an aspect of German culture so different from that of the UK to the heritage of WW2.”
Chair, Sutton Coldfield DFAS

“Angela’s talk was utterly superb. The interesting contrast between military memorials here and in Germany was fascinating and something I had never really thought about, but the way she combined this with the psychology of it all on a national, and then personal, levels was just amazing – and also very moving. She showed enormous courage in confronting all this so honestly and directly and everyone hugely appreciated it – “the best ever talk” they all said.”
Meon Valley DFAS member

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Read my monthly blogs - relating to Criminal Justice, Germany’s and Britain’s differing cultures of World War 2 Remembrance, and art as a tool for change