Berlin and Beyond: Mind-Wandering the Missing Memorials

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Monuments: Extant/Absent by Emma Roper-Evans

Berlin: Walking through, going up and down, sometimes dwarfed by towering grey dolmens entombing. Then, up a cobbled lane to look over a field of graves: Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Lying flat and grey reaching to the trees. Pick up a stone off the road, a small piece of gravel, pitted and angled, place it on a mausoleum, empty as the day. Tears come hot and hard, blinded by salt, wandering round in a labyrinth of mourning, Niobes all, hoods pulled low over faces. Traversing alleys of death.

Behind, in the Tiergarten [wonderfully onomatopoeic and appropriate in English], monuments, memorials to Sinti/Roma, disabled, handicapped, homosexuals, all killed. A pool of tears for Sinti, a concrete cuboid for LGBTQIA, a blue veil for handicapped and disabled, as a city owns up to its past, memorializes its victims, honours, remembers them. Visits to Berlin translate into pilgrimages, to place a stone, flowers, beads. Information on numbers massacred, beaten, tortured, unburied, gassed, in several languages. Neue Wache, further down the Unter den Linden, houses Käthe Kollwitz’ wMother with her Dead Sonw sitting under an oculus in the roof, exposed to all winds, rains, ice and bright, high light, that assail the city in a year. Dedicated to victims of trauma and war, people enter quietly to lay flowers, prayers, thanks, as they contemplate this sepulchral bronze.

London: Devoid of such monuments, no spaces to mourn Amritsar, manufactured Indian famines, Mau Mau executions, Boer concentration camps –the first in the world – and, of course, the longest running, most remunerative of all: Slavery. What monuments could we design for them? Would we place them next to the Palace of Westminster? Reminders to all inside of the evil done by their number! What materials to use?

The unravelling of a turban, to reveal strands of long, black shiny hair, tresses of improbable beauty, flaming around a head with a hole in it. A series of Kirpans glinting in the late light, scattered around wings of arms and legs akimbo, a pile of wrists banded by Karas.

A mother, holding an emaciated baby to an empty breast. She would feed it if she could, dying in the process, but she cannot: Her bones dangle in her skin, loose laces holding together barely. Baby strives to suckle, cannot, has not even the strength for suckling; there is nothing there anyway. She prays he dies first, so he will not be left in her cold arms mewling.

Strings of Mau Mau hang on a thousand gibbets, long, dark, thin, groaning in the wind. All storms sweeping up the Thames, causing them to swing once more: Creaking dishonour to the nation. Things done to their bodies so bad it is hard to set down: Anally raped, vaginally bottled, over and over, again and again until they split, leaked, fissured.

A cage of women, small children, starved until they cannot hold their heads up, riddled. Horribly familiar but the clothes aren’t right: Smocks, bonnets, buttoned shoes hang off them, while feet, slender as sticks, cling on, arms ballooned by textile, skulls drenched in cloth. South Africa 1902.

Regent Street, Oxford Street paved with slaves, every road in London testament to a trade in human beings. City of London, capitalism’s beating heart, a system designed for the transatlantic trade: How to borrow, insure, bet, compensate, endlessly gain, without compunction.  Throw them overboard if necessary, save the vessel not the humans. Perhaps a sinking ship then, anchored to the Thames before the Commons, that rises and dives with the tide, shrieks of wind calling to the chambers everyday: Specially designed portholes to emit sounds of total misery, summoning. Then, silenced by water, rising in the incoming tide, mapped in the river, so all traffic has to circle it. Ebbing and flowing, as human currency, all days of the year.


Writer, poet, working on expanded novel, making poetry with artists, putting work in unusual public places

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