A Bolt From the Blue: Gropius’ Weimar Memorial

When the time came to commemorate the war dead of World War One, most communities followed the pattern of earlier war memorials: strong, realistic real or allegorical figures that expressed local feelings of pride, loss, and respect. Some of the most notable memorials were those that broke that mold—Edward Lutyens’ unadorned Thiepval monument and Westminster cenotaph; Walter Allward’s impregnable bastion* at Vimy. Nothing, though, came close to the abstractness of what Bauhaus architect Walter Gropius erected in the central cemetery of Weimar, Germany in 1922. Gropius’ Weimar monument was technically a memorial to the dead of one of the war’s aftershocks, not the war itself. The Memorial for the Victims of the Kapp Putsch remembered those who died resisting a right-wing attempt to overthrow the young republic in 1920. Created during Gropius’ Expressionist phase, the jagged concrete sculpture is ambiguous. Is it a lighting bolt striking the ground to shatter the peace, or one blasting heavenward as an act defiance? Or something else entirely? Whatever the message, the Nazis took offence. When they took power, the dynamited the memorial. (It was rebuilt, slightly modified, after the war.)

*Not my phrase, but Jacqueline Hucker’s from “‘After the Agony in Stony Places’: The Meaning and Significance of the Vimy Monument.”

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