Every summer since 2008, the city of Weikersheim has hosted an outdoor sculpture exhibition of works by a prominent contemporary sculptor.
When I was in Weikersheim in the summer of 2009 they had an outdoor exhibition of eighteen works by the German sculptor Guido Messer (born 1941 in Buenos Aires), spread out all over the center of town.
The sculptures included Der Ausländer (The Foreigner) from the year 1989, which had earlier caused something of a controversy when it was displayed at the Cité nationale de l’histoire de l’immigration in Paris. Some people in Paris took offense (inexplicably) at the title L’étranger, saying it was offensive to foreigners, so eventually it was relabeled as Le voyageur (The Traveler).
The group in this sculpture, entitled Einigkeit — Persil bleibt Persil (‘Unity — Persil remains Persil’), might require a bit of explanation for those who don’t live in Germany. Persil is a popular German brand of washing powder that has been on the market here for over a century, since 1907, popular mainly because of their huge advertising budget. The five resolute ladies in the sculpture are in complete agreement that Persil remains Persil no matter what anybody else might say. They scornfully refuse to even look at someone like me who uses cheap discount washing powders at only one third the price and dares to assert that it’s all the same stuff.
Since Persil supposedly gets everything so clean, it was the origin of the German word Persilschein, meaning a clean bill of health or a denazification certificate. After the Second World War people in Germany had to have such a certificate to prove they had not been fanatical Nazis or committed any war crimes. It was widely thought that too many of these certificates were issued too quickly, even to ex-Nazis who didn’t deserve them.
One example of a controversial Persilschein was the one that was issued to Hitler’s favorite sculptor, Arno Breker (1900-1991). Despite having run an enormous atelier where dozens of sculptors produced thousands of Nazi statues and symbols, Breker got off easy after the war, in part because of the testimony of Dina Vierny. She credited Breker with securing her release from a Nazi prison in Paris in 1943, and for the rest of her life she was grateful to him. “Thanks to him I survived, I had two sons. After each birth I wrote him a touching letter thanking him for giving me this joy.” But she had no illusions about Breker’s character. “He was a charming man, with true charisma. But his brain was bizarrely empty of any sort of social, moral or political principles.” (See my post Dina Vierny and the Maillol Museum.)
This sculpture by Guido Messer probably doesn’t need any explanation. Or does it?
When I returned to Weikersheim ten years later, in 2019, they had a summer exhibition of works by another contemporary German sculptor, Robert Metzkes (born 1954 in Pirna, near Dresden).
My photos in this post are from 2009 and 2019. I revised the text in 2019.