Speaking Germany

2004–08

One Wednesday afternoon in April 2005 I met a man who had responded to my advert at the Café Am Eisbach in Munich for lunch and the project began. Over the course of the next few months, I ended up meeting some 45 people from all parts of Germany. Having conversations and listening to people’s stories, drawing close and then pulling away, is an emotional process that stretches and increases one’s capacity for empathy. It forced me to open up, in real time, to thepeople I met and, indeed, enabled me to withhold easy conclusions and instead find common ground.

In 2004, Lifschitz won a competition organized by the municipality to create a work of public art to accompany the opening of the Jewish Museum Munich. Lifschitz began the project by placing the following advertisement in several German newspapers: “Young Jewish woman visiting Germany would like to have a conversation about nothing in particular with anyone reading this.” She subsequently traveled throughout Germany meeting people who had responded, documenting the various encounters with photographs of the tables where they shared a drink or a meal, and with transcriptions of their conversations. These conversations provided the raw material for posters and billboards that Lifschitz produced and that were placed like advertisements within the public transportation network and in prominent locations throughout Munich during the months preceding the new Museum’s opening in March 2007. This citywide intervention culminated in extracts from the conversations being placed on the glass facades of the Jewish Museum’s exterior. A dedicated website, a photographic series, and a video documenting the stages of the project and the reactions it engendered completed the work.
 

Commissioned by Quivid the Art in Public Space Program of the City of Munich.

The original website created for the project can be found here:

http://www.speaking-germany.de
 

Just after Christmas and before the New Year, the project launched as the tram started its rounds. Its advertising panels asked questions, requiring the viewer to figure out the context of the texts. A few weeks later, another moving medium, the ‘Deckenflächen’ (overhead adverts in carriages), came into operation on the U-Bahn. Both media were perpetually moving, so you were never quite sure if they were truly there. Then, the Vorspeise (first course) came, again without any frame of reference, in the form of quotes from emails in which people introduced themselves, asked questions, greeted others and told stories. They were responding to something, but to whom and about what?


In early March, the Hauptgericht (main course) was served up in stages and with it the website www.speaking-germany.de was referenced for the first time in the adverts and posters. By then, it was everywhere, like a wave that was now washing over the city, replicating and amplifying the multiplicity of a 1:1 conversation on an urban scale. Like Sleeping Germany, Speaking Germany is an attempt to experience plurality through the personal and it too, like Sleeping Germany, places memory within daily conversations and then expands the scale of a 1:1 conversation to an urban proportion.

 

In its reiteration of the monumental as bodiless, Speaking Germany undermined the scale of the monumental and instead gestured to the sense of counter monuments and their ‘presence of absence’ physicality. It shifted the location of the ‘bodiless’ from its protagonist to the fabric of the city, participating in the discourse of memory within public spaces through the absent bodies of its textual entities. Yet, while it undermined the monument, it also concurrently monumentalised human exchanges, chance encounters and their ephemerality, and highlighted our shared capacity for empathy, humour and friendship.