Journal Article

The Luxemburg Legacy: Concretizing the Remembrance of a Controversial Heroine?

Anna Saunders

in German History

Volume 29, issue 1, pages 36-56
Published in print March 2011 | ISSN: 0266-3554
Published online March 2011 | e-ISSN: 1477-089X | DOI:
The Luxemburg Legacy: Concretizing the Remembrance of a Controversial Heroine?

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The legacy of the radical socialist revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg has been no less controversial than her life, and debates over her politics, publications and lifestyle have fascinated generations—especially on the political Left—since her death in 1919. Both in the FRG and in the GDR, remembrance of this figure remained contentious—albeit in different ways—and since German unification her legacy has continued to provoke controversy. This is demonstrated above all by the history of an initiative and subsequent competition to install a monument in her name, which finally resulted in the inauguration of a Denkzeichen (memory marker) by Hans Haacke on Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz in 2006. The competition triggered debates over her complex identity and difficult legacy, but also questioned the political backing given to the project by the SPD-PDS coalition in the Berlin Senate, and the suitability of traditional monumental form to facilitate multiple memories. By examining the history of this Denkzeichen within the broader context of preceding commemorative traditions, as well as the significance of its location, the demands of the interest groups involved and the relevance of artistic form, this article explores the legacy of socialism in unified Berlin and the role of contemporary monument projects in promoting and challenging ritualized forms of cultural memory. It argues that efforts to mark past events and personalities often emerge as a reaction to recent traditions of remembrance—in terms of both form and content—and in doing so, trigger a self-perpetuating ‘memory chain’.

Keywords: Rosa Luxemburg; monuments; memory; remembrance; GDR; East Germany

Journal Article.  10644 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: European History

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