Exploring 200 years of hatred in German history | Culture | Arts, musi…

“We have loved long enough and want to hate at last!” wrote the 24-year-old German poet Georg Herwegh in 1841. He called for love to be replaced by hate, for “tyranny on Earth” to be fought for, and for “the chains of oppression to be broken.”

Herwegh was one of the most important political poets of the Young Germany movement, who were active during the period before the dramatical change that began in March 1848.

He and his like-minded contemporaries wanted to overthrow the rule of the princes in the German Confederation by force. At the time, there was not in addition a united German Empire, but instead, a loose confederation of states and four “free cities,” most of which were ruled by princes. 

‘We have loved long enough’: Georg Herwegh was at the spotlight of the Vormärz revolutionary movement

The hatred felt by Herwegh and his comrades-in-arms was directed against the aristocratic rulers and the existing order. All method were permissible to the drastic democratic insurgents. But the dramatical change failed, and the democratic forces were permanently weakened.

The lyrics of Herwegh’s “Song of Hate” and the German revolutions of 1848/49 are just a few of the themes in the exhibition “Hatred. What Moves Us” at the Haus der Geschichte Baden-Württemberg (House of History in the southwestern German state of Baden-Württemberg).

The characterize encompasses 200 objects from 200 years that portray hatred in all its forms and manifestations. From hatred of women to hatred of Jews, to hatred of “infidels” or “foreigners,” the shows reflects our society up to the present day.

Hatred is not a new occurrence

“I have seen too much hate to want to hate, myself,” civil rights leader Martin Luther King is quoted as saying. And in addition, over 50 years after his assassination, hatred remains one of the most central occurrences of our society.

A symbol of that hatred that runs by society are the green-blue ropes that are strung by the museum’s exhibition spaces and which characterize “society’s entanglement in hate,” says Sebastian Dörfler, who is part of the curatorial team.

Green and blues ropes symbolize society’s ‘entanglement in hate,’ says one of the curators

The deadly attack in Hanau, Germany in 2020, motivated by racism and antisemitism; the murder of the Kassel district president Walter Lübcke in 2019; the NSU attacks on Turkish-Germans in the early 2000s are just few examples giving the impression that the number of hate-motivated violence is increasing. “As a historian, I would question that concept. Yes, the internet has dramatically facilitated the spread of hate-filled messages, but of course, they existed much earlier. The occurrence is certainly not new, but it is more noticeable,” says Dörfler.

The exhibition in the House of History consequently not only looks at the present, but sheds light on 200 years of aversion and hostility, fear, envy and contempt.

The show begins with the 19th-century German Empire and a look at the assassination attempt on chancellor and chief minister Otto von Bismarck.

On May 7, 1866, Ferdinand Cohen-Blind attempted to shoot the Prussian chief minister on an open street, because for the man from Mannheim, the politician was considered an enemy and a traitor to Germany. Cohen-Blind fired five shots, two of which hit Bismarck, but the small bullets were slowed down by thick clothing. The assassin committed suicide the following day.

Hatred from the far right

One focus of the exhibition is a section dealing with hatred stemming from the far right. “Right-wing extremism is a basic evil of our society that goes hand-in-hand with democracy,” says Dörfler, who is also a historian who studies the occurrence.

Several current examples are shown in the exhibition, but past far-right attacks are also recalled, such as attacks carried out by the neo-Nazi organization Deutsche Aktionsgruppen (“German Action Groups”) in 1980.

On June 2, 2019, politician Walter Lübcke was shot dead by a right-wing extremist

“This group was not secluded; they truly did all the things that we also see today,” said Dörfler. “They attacked a local politician; they targeted the culture of remembrance and, of course, ‘foreigners.'”

“In the time of action, they murdered two Vietnamese. This shows that there are long strands that exist everywhere,” said Dörfler.

“We must not make the mistake of believing that everything we are experiencing now has come out of nowhere,” Dörfler additional.

Hatred of women

A showcase in the characterize with red women’s shoes is intended to commemorate murdered women who are victims of femicide. Every third day in Germany, a woman is murdered by her (ex-)partner.

situations of femicide are often referred to as “jealousy dramas” or “family tragedies,” which often only serves to minimize their impact.

On the contrary, they are societal problems. According to statistics from the German state of Baden-Württemberg alone, kits for medical examination and evidence recovery after a sexual offense were recorded for 13,066 situations in 2019. More than 80% of those affected were women. Perpetrators and victims come from all social classes.

Hope on the horizon?

The exhibition also counters all this hatred with a section that offers hope: People who have fought against hate and advocate an open, tolerant and democratic order.

One such person is Irmela Mensah-Schramm, who has been removing stickers with racist messages from building walls, lampposts and other urban spots since 1986.

The first sticker she removed demanded freedom for Hitler’s “deputy” Rudolf Hess, who was sentenced to life imprisonment during the Nuremberg trial.

The 76-year-old has meanwhile removed more than 90,000 stickers and over 10,000 bits of graffiti. “We want to show that you can take action. Irmela Mensah-Schramm shows that very impressively. Often you pass by some messages, mostly you ignore them or you shake your head and you move on. But she has taken action,” says Dörfler.

The exhibition looks at the abysses of the human soul, with a view to society and history. Hate is part of the substance of a democratic society. It flares up when people stand up for rights, when they speak out for democracy. Only if people are determined and loud in confronting hatred can this anomaly be stopped.

The exhibition runs by July 27, 2022. It is part two of a trilogy exhibition at the House of History, that looks at greed, hatred and love.

This article was originally written in German.

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