The Fourth Reich?

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They’re small, organized, but are they out for world domination? I am talking of course, about a new art display in Southern Germany depicting garden gnomes saluting the way Nazi officers used to do during the WWII era.

In an article I found in the Local, an English website about German news and pop-culture, 1,250 fascist garden gnomes found their way to the Bavarian town of Straubing. They were put there by artist, Ottmar Hörl, who put the 15 inch figurines there to

“deal with a serious topic in a not so serious fashion and without accusation.”

There was also a few blogs about Hörl’s exhibit. I found a group blog that surfs the web looking for funny or outrageous stories, pictures and videos.

The saluting gnomes received some negative attention after prosecutors in Nuremberg launched an investigation to determine whether or not the gnomes were breaking the law. At the end of WWII Nazi symbols and salutes were made illegal in Germany. In response to this Hörl was quoted as saying:

“It is a work that is meant to get people to think, to react,” he said. “I want to show that we all have far-right thoughts in our heads.

The choice of garden gnomes as a personification of political protest may seem a strange one for those in the United States, but the gnome is a prominent figure in European folklore and is said to have originated in Thuringia, Germany in the mid-1800’s. There are an estimated 25 million gnomes in Germany, and Der Spiegel reports that Hörl’s characters are part of a larger trend towards more obscene gnomes including suicidal and sexually-explicit sculptures that have required courts to intervene for their removal.

Eventually, prosecutors accepted Hörl’s argument that the figurines were ridiculing the Nazis, and not promoting them. Hörl, who has designed other, less controversial, public art exhibitions and permanent installations, explained he hoped to draw attention to the rise of right-wing extremism in Europe.

The Mayor of Straubing,Hans Lohmeier, said he will have a protective around-the-clock watch on the public exhibit after threats were made on the work. The art work is publicly displayed in the city’s town square

Many people did not like the art and thought it was harmful. Others enjoyed it and understood what Hörl was trying to get at.

Did Hörl go too far with his art? Or is he right on track and allowing Germany to critically reflect on its past?

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2 thoughts on “The Fourth Reich?

  1. I find the exhibit by Ottmar Hörl rather interesting and I completely understand the perspective that he is coming from. I find it rather bizarre to be using garden gnomes but I believe this idea is sound, especially within German culture. I say this because of the idea that after the end of the war and the cultural revolutions of the 60s and 70s, Germans shifted their perspective on the war from not speaking of it, to questioning the generation that lived through it. They also vowed to never forget. I believe that this exhibit is a good, non-threatening, way to approach this subject. Especially with the growing strength of the right wing in eastern Germany and Europe in general.

  2. Although this art exhibit, in my opinion, is a bit strange for my taste, I do agree that Hörl should have the right to erect this artwork of “Nazi-gnomes.” In Germany, Nazi symbols and salutes are indeed illegal, but they are allowed in academic environments such as the classroom or universities. They can be presented to think about, examine, and anaylse the Nazi era in Germany. Because this artwok was created for that specific purpose, it poses no threat or causes no harm.

    However, that does not mean that anyone citing academic purposes should be allowed to display Nazi symbols or perform Nazi salutes. There needs to be a process to obtain permission from city or state officials to do such things.

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