My name is Thomas Zieringer. I am an artist and author. (Contact)
This is the story that led to the Jerusalem Peace Memorial: It was March 1998. I was driving the long way from Bensheim to Traunstein. The debate surrounding the construction of a Holocaust Memorial in Berlin was discussed on many different radio stations. I then asked myself: Why do people want to work through their history, or the history of their country, and still remain in the dark, instead of turning towards life as a reaction to this darkness? Why does a country that has brought so much guilt on itself throughout history burden its children with feelings of guilt, instead of using this guilt as a reason to educate them to become truly free and mature citizens? Why do we not want precisely because of the dark German past to construct, besides memorials of admonishment, monuments that can offer our commemorative culture also hope and new life? A culture defines itself through the symbols it establishes. To what extent are their monuments and symbols an encouragement to invest in peace and freedom, and wouldn’t that truly mean that we “learned a lesson from the past”?
That night in Traunstein, I had an unusual dream at the break of dawn, like a short movie. "This is the answer" was the message. I saw a detail of a monument, a circle of large stones that was broken open; the Peace Memorial. This was the first part of a puzzle that sparked a deep fascination. My subconsciousness must have wrestled quite a bit with this issue, which I kept distant until then. This was the start of an inner journey of discovery. On the journey, there was a lot that gave me new courage and so i could go on. I sent the drawing with my dream picture to the President of the International Auschwitz Committee, Privy Councilor Dr. Kurt Hacker, and simply asked him what he thought about it. I was surprised when an answer soon came back from him, that the monument design was one of the best solutions that have become known to him. He even wanted to write to the German federal politicians that they should examine my proposal so that it can be built. So I thought maybe there was something to it, because I was not an artist or an architect then.
This is the first model I made after my dream.
The next few months I spent writing texts with which I tried to find out what the meaning of the dream is. That's also how I found the name "
Only now did I understand what the dream image actually meant. I found out in the synagogue in Fulda. It made perfect sense: So it's "the Tree of Life" that breaks open a dark vicious circle of violence. The 33 stones in the circle stand for solidifications in the soul, which come into the light. Encouraged I continued my way with the development of the monument. It was also sometimes a wrong track. At first, I wanted to build the monument in Berlin. But I quickly realized that in this city one does not get attention with just sensible ideas, but only with contacts that I did not have. Then I wanted to build it because of my new contact to the Fulda synagogue in this city. At first, the city administration was open to this idea. But after the Hohmann scandal in Fulda there wasn't any interest any more. So I eventually built it where I live, in Bensheim. Here I had the necessary contacts, the people knew me and there was some hope that I would finally get a building permit here. A few years later I actually held the permit in my hand. On the way with the Peace Memorial there were always incidences, coincidences and strange twists, which gave me the courage to go on and that made me progress with my understanding. Fifteen years after the dream, with the Friedensmal (monument) and seventeen years later with the Jerusalem Peace Memorial (the Friedensmal within a Garden of Freedom), the idea of the monument had materialized in the outer world.
The courage necessary at the very beginning of the "journey", to even consider constructing this elaborate place of peace, was inspired by the first positive responses of Holocaust survivors, to whom I suggested this new approach in the way Germans commemorate their darkest chapters. Here, you can read a reaction by Kurt Hacker, President of the International Auschwitz Committee. On this Webpage, you can also find information about my book that I wrote back in 1998 about my understanding of the vision. It deals with a new approach for the German culture of remembrance with a reminder that focuses on life.
The next few months I spent writing texts with which I tried to find out what the meaning of the dream is. That's also how I found the name "Friedensmal". This German term refers to a Peace Memorial that is not static, but promotes the inner process to peace and life. When I was in Fulda a short time later at an event of the Catholic Church, I met Alfons Büttner there. He ran across the room with a large sign with the writing: Jesus was a Jew. I found that interesting and I approached him. We talked for a while and then I told him about my dream and my ideas about it. His interest was immediately sparked. I stayed overnight with him and the next day I also followed his suggestion to visit the Jewish community in Fulda. He wanted to introduce me to the chairman, Mrs. Weiland. Arriving at the synagogue, I met a very friendly, open and elegant woman who was very enthusiastic about what I told her of the Peace Memorial i saw in a dream. She sat at the desk and behind her was a picture on the wall. I was then very surprised, because the picture showed the inside of "my" monument! I asked the chairperson what the picture means. She said that it was the first Psalm that has been written in the shape of the "Tree of Life". Today, because of this incident, the First Psalm written on a rolled-up piece of paper lies in a steel capsule in the concrete of the foundation stone under the monument, under the center of the "Tree of Life."
A personal word
Life has incredible depth to offer. Personal development seems to be endless. The following holds especially true for our country, with its reasonably good living conditions: The greatest obstacle to happiness is oneself. So you often can and you should change what is causing the pain in yourself. We are offered fantastic riches but fail to see their value. To me, life appears to be a process that leads away from petty, egocentric thinking – towards freedom.The “free will” is a curious concept. You are seldom truly free. Decisions depend on past experiences and every decision that any person makes at a certain moment is the “right” decision, even if it seems like the fervent “creation of suffering” to someone from the outside. Freedom is created if I can free myself from my ossified perceptions with all their prejudice, fear, and expectations and seemingly unfounded follow my yearning.
What exactly is this passion? I want to dance, love, and sing through life, be in touch with my inner joy and express it. It is a marvellous philosophy. I consider it the greatest philosophy there is. Life must be studied to learn it. Above all, those moments in which one obstructs oneself must be studied. Jesus scolded the scribes; and they assumed power a few centuries later in his name... – the path we must walk is narrow. Are you acquainted with this joy, this inner glowing? What I mean to say is to continuously express this glowing in new ways, in love and gratitude and change the world by doing so, to charm her in love – by words and movement, with music, poetry, art… – what a philosophy! It should be full of life and a work of the heart. It can’t be studied, only expressed! Life! It is composed of the courage to assume responsibility for it, with dignity and fidelity.
This also means that people should stop expecting others to encounter them with fairness and retreating with their feelings hurt if this doesn’t happen. It requires a recognition of the current state of the world and the significance of the contribution people can make to this world in their daily lives, through love. It is your own responsibility to take mastery and - instead of expecting this from others - to have a positive impact.This leads away from victimization into a new awareness of one’s own dignity as a human.
Similar to the most influential philosopher of the classical antiquity, Plato, who already spoke of the “Theory of Ideas”, I adhere to the idea that the things of this world are subordinated to a realm of ideas. As such, each attempt to effect long-term change in the world through mere political actionism without any vision becomes puerile. In order to change the world in the sense of a spiritual progress that becomes visible, one has to focus on the level of ideas – addressing the causes of suffering, instead of the symptoms (similar to a good doctor). The same holds true for this Peace and Freedom Monument, this “vision of a new humanity”. Its about an idea that is introduced to the world, efforts that take place in the “realm of ideas”. It is to be understood that the ideas and joint visions pursued by a society outweigh the importance of everyday politics in the long-term, as also everyday politics merely follows the etiologic ideas. “States can only flourish if philosophers rule or the rulers philosophise.” (Plato)
This work belongs to the realm of Judeo-Christian mysticism. Because it represents a process of the soul, which follows its own yearning for light and love, this work is closely related to the lives of people: It is concerned with the question of healing our pasts in the recollections of personal experiences and in the collective consciousness of a nation. This provides us with an answer that at the same time contributes to a peaceful organization of the “global village” – which is also situated right in front of one’s own door now – with its many different cultures and religions.
Christian mysticism flourished in the Late Middle Ages. One can only hope that it experiences a revival, a revival this project might contribute to. Karl Rahner, one of the most important Catholic theologists and religious philosophers of our modern times wrote: “The devout Christian of the future will either be a ‘mystic’, one who has ‘experienced’ something, or he will cease to be anything at all”. This work was created in all spiritual freedom and is wholeheartedly committed to a search for truth and wisdom, trusting in God.
Thomas Zieringer, January 14th, 2007
PS: The picture was taken in January 2015. The butterfly was real. He was in my house and landed on me. :-)
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