Westwall – Der Denkmalwert des Unerfreulichen

Extensive military defenses were dug into the landscape of central Europe in the first half of the 20th century. The cost was enormous: the lives of forced labourers, a huge proportion of economic output expended and scars many 100s of miles long. These defenses might have been useful as a propaganda tool. Militarily, they were outdated before their completion. A useless exercise in the face of the military technology of the day, making the sacrifices even more poignant. What to do with the material evidence of a past, which one would rather forget? In Germany, ‘the value for remembrance of the unpleasant’ is still being grappled with in discourse and in everyday life. Some traces are removed, when they are in the way of the present. Some traces are being covered up to stop people entering dangerous structures. Other parts are protected and documented within their historical context to prevent the installations being misused for political purposes. Large stretches of it are simply being reclaimed by nature. This project documents the remaining traces in the landscape of a small section of the Westwall (Siegfried Line), covering bunkers, trenches and tank barriers located in the Bienwald, near Schaidt in south-western Germany. This section was used as a staging post for the German attacks against France in 1940. It saw fighting again in late 1944 and until March 1945, when it delayed but did not stop the advances of the US and French armies. I am capturing the ambiguity with which society sees these traces by shrouding them in the picturesque. Enhancing the reality of the natural surroundings and presenting the work with extensive detail makes the captured evidence recede into the background even more, while at the same time documenting and publicising its existence.