Hearing Isolation – Listening Channel Bautzen II
After the end of the GDR, says Moritz von Rappard, the Saxon city of Bautzen tried to give itself a new image as quickly as possible and cast off the memory of the Stasi prison with which its name was closely connected. The city map published by the Office of Tourism focused on the medieval picture of the town, the old “capital of Upper Lusatia”. The two prisons, on the other hand, which are not located in the Old Town and because of which the name “Bautzen” has since at least 1990 borne a particularly dark historical association for the public, were no longer to be seen on the map. It took a long time, says Rappard, before people understood (and accepted) that the large prison Bautzen I (“The Yellow Misery”), which by the end of GDR was overcrowded by up to 40 percent with 2,100 prisoners, and the smaller special detention facility Bautzen II (the “Stasi Prison”), are the chief reasons that many visitors have come to the city after 1990.
The Berlin-based dramaturge and curator von Rappard has extensively studied the history of the buildings, which were opened in 1906 as the court jail, served the Nazi regime from 1935 to 1945 and the Soviet Union from 1945 to 1949 as a remand prison, and finally furnished a place for the Stasi from 1956 to 1989 for the detention of 200 dissidents, spies and prisoners from West Germany. On behalf of the Saxon Memorial Foundation, von Rappard, together with the Erfurt religion teacher Thomas Ritschel, has developed a new concept for Bautzen II for purposes of education and remembrance – with remarkable results.
Sound and silence as instruments of tortrure
The prison has been left in its state of construction as of 1989/90 and conveys alone in this way an authentic impression of the external conditions of solitary confinement. Inspired by this atmosphere, von Rappard and Ritschel have created an installation that is entirely focused on the imagination of the visitor and, in addition to the external conditions, makes the inner world of the prisoners tangible. In collaboration with the Berlin-based musician Frank Bretschneider and in cooperation with the radio play editorial department of Deutschlandradio Kultur, they developed the work Zwei Zellen (Two Cells), in which in each of these two cells, in addition to the sparse furnishings, a pair of headphones lie on the bed. In each case an audio loop, the first one 15 minutes long, the second 40 minutes, conveys impressively the emotional and mental states into which the prisoners in solitary confinement were deliberately driven. According to its makers, it shoul only be the first section of the exhibition “Listening Channel Bautzen II”.
The visitor experiences so to say first-hand how the Stasi used sound and silence in Bautzen II. Sometimes the guards shut the cell door gently and quietly; sometimes with a resounding clang. Or sometimes they shifted the cover of the peephole with a discreet click, and sometimes suddenly with a bang while they jingled their keys. And of course the prisoners had always to expect that their talking to themselves in the cell was overheard by cleverly concealed bugs, as were undoubtedly the conversations in the visiting room.
Isolation and delirium
The chess game, which was carried on with figures modeled out of bread crumbs and via the acoustically conductive toilet pipes from cell to cell, was one of the very few opportunities that prisoners had somehow to make contact with each other. In order to find such stories of detention, von Rappard and Ritschel conducted numerous interviews with former prisoners.
As an acoustic device for conveying the isolation and surveillance, however, they did not use these “chess” noises or the like, but rather produced, for the one loop, a collection of monologue shreds and, for the other, asked Bretschneider, known to some as the protagonist of “click-&-cut” music, to develop a composition with electronically generated sound that interprets the effects bound up with isolation such as perceptual disorder and tinnitus noise.
The reproduced monologue loop (“A bed, a table, a chair, a toilet, a sink and a mirror” or “Go! Hate! Silence!”) and the composition (now a delirium-like slow, now an abruptly alternating pulsing, thudding, vibrating, whooshing and whistling shifting between almost inaudible to nearly unbearably loud) are both aurally convincing in the context of the visually spare cell. That Listening Channel Bautzen II in fact works in the sensuous sphere of the memorial concept is because it carefully both intervenes and integrates.
is a freelance writer based in Berlin and teaches visual communication at the Berlin University of the Arts.
Translation: Jonathan Uhlaner
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
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