The Memorial in Karavan’s Own Words

1 Tunnel, 1 Stairway, 1 Seat = Passages. The Memorial in Karavan’s Own Words

The text below, ‘1 tunnel, 1 Scale, 1 Seat = Passages’ is from Dani Karavan’s project sketchbook and was included in Ingrid and Konrad Scheurmann’s book Dani Karavan. Hommage an Walter Benjamin. Der Gedenkort ‘Passagen’ in Portbou (Mainz: Verlag Philipp von Zabern, 1995).

I had never thought of erecting a monument to Walter Benjamin. Nor had I ever had the idea of proposing anyone anywhere any project. I never start working without someone commissioning a project for a specific site. In fact, the idea had never crossed my mind of proposing the creation of a monument to anyone. […] But in 1989 the phone rang. In that call from Bonn, Konrad Scheurmann, director of the AsKI, asked me to design a monument in memory of Walter Benjamin. Right at the start he warned me that he only had a small amount of money. This is not about money, I replied. I myself have a great debt to Walter Benjamin.

I knew right away that I could not design a memorial to Walter Benjamin. But perhaps a tribute to the man, the philosopher, the chronicler, the critic, the partisan of new ideas.

 

The cemetery

The first time I came to Portbou, it immediately became clear to me that that place up there where Walter Benjamin is buried would be the site for my project. All of the other possibilities were crossed out. From a distance, from the west, came the sound of trains arriving and departing from the border station, and these were mixed with the sounds coming from the east, from the sea. In the north I saw the old border.

 

The whirlpool

From above, on the rocks, I look at the sea. The churned-up water swirls noisily, it suddenly foams white, rushes down, then everything is calm. The sea does not move. Then again: swirl, foam, roar, calm.

Here nature tells the tragedy of this man. Nobody could present it better. All that remains to be done is to bring the pilgrim to see what nature says.

 

The olive tree 

Among the stones and rocks, in the dry dusty soil, scorched by the sun and dried out by the wind, a little old olive tree that fights for its life.

 

The fence

On the steep hill, above the boulders that have to be clambered over to walk around the cemetery, a wall, a fence, a barrier, the graves behind. A long way away, below the horizon, framed by the high dark and mountains of the Pyrenees, the blue sea, the clear sky, freedom.

I decided to construct a platform with a seat from where, through the fence, beyond the cemetery, freedom could be seen.

 

Pathways

From very far away I heard the noise of the station, the border, the railways, the voices of the locomotives and the rattling of the carriages of the trains that lead to the death camps.