Construction Process

The construction of Passages between 1990 and 1994 was beset by many difficulties. Jointly funded by the Catalan and German governments, the initiative came from the former President of the Federal Republic of Germany, Richard von Weizsäcker.

Karavan came to Portbou for the first time in October 1989. He had been commissioned by the publisher Konrad Scheurmann, one of the directors of the Arbeitskreis selbständiger Kultur-Institute (AsKI), acting on behalf of the Federal Republic of Germany’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Portbou Town Council offered him its wholehearted assistance, giving him complete freedom to choose the site and the materials. On his second visit to Portbou, in December of that year, Karavan found the location for his project. He sketched in the air, with his characteristically expressive gestures, a first draft of the Memorial. There were many other visits to Portbou (in fact he virtually lived in the town from 1990 to 1992) and many climbs up to the cemetery, guided always by the initial idea, now firmly embraced, which revolved around the whirlpool in the sea. The phenomenon of water, as he has often said, served as a metaphor for the life of the philosopher. Karavan framed with his hands the patch of stormy winter sea containing the vortex and began to give form to his project. Olive tree, stones, path, sea, horizon, fence, cemetery. Karavan saw that the philosopher’s fate could be read in the elemental signs with which the landscape expressed itself. His work would be to make it visible.

In the summer of 1990, Karavan marked out a first sketch on the chosen site with tape. He measured and oriented it a hundred times, shaping and refining its three passages: the tunnel and steps, the olive tree and the platform of meditation with the horizon. While the process had financial difficulties and interruptions to overcome, two exhibitions helped make the project known: Border Crossings and Passages, presented in Portbou, Germany and the Netherlands, generated the interest and dialogue that helped make it a reality. The first stone was placed in September 1990. Three years later, construction began. In the spring of 1992, just as the drilling and installing of the tunnel was due to start, the project was shelved after a political debate in Germany, on the grounds of cost. The support of Federal President Richard von Weizsäcker, in October 1992, was decisive. On 15 May 1994 the Memorial was inaugurated in the presence of Catalan and German dignitaries, emigrés, former exiles and the whole town of Portbou, and attracted considerable international interest.

The Memorial Passages was funded by the German federal states of Baden-Württemberg, Berlin, Bremen, Hamburg, Hesse, Lower Saxony, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland, Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein and the Generalitat de Catalunya.

 

Those attending the inauguration of the Memorial on 15 May 1994 included:

Emigrés and resistance fighters:

Lisa Fittko, active resistance fighter, emigrée. She guided Walter Benjamin across the border from Banyuls to Portbou in September 1940. Author of the book Escape Through the Pyrenees.

Princess Helga Maria zu Löwenstein-Wertheim-Freudenberg, emigrée and opponent of Nazism. She and her husband, Prince Hubertus, founded the German Academy of Arts and Sciences in exile in the United States in 1936.

Volkmar Zühlsdorff, emigré and opponent of Nazism. Director of the Germany Academy of Arts and Sciences in exile.

 

Politicians:

Richard von Weizsäcker, former President of the Federal Republic of Germany

Hans Eichel, Premier of Hesse

Erwin Teufel, Minister-President of Baden-Württemberg

Jordi Pujol, President of the Generalitat de Catalunya

Hans Heinert, Honorary Consul of the Federal Republic of Germany in the Empordà

Francisco Martínez, Mayor of Portbou

Josep Arribas, Portbou Town Councillor