Courage for Europe: On 11 December 2015 the “new landmark of Bochum“ was handed over to the Public. 14,726 names on the square represent just as many promises, and each of them is different. What did those people from Bochum and all over Europe promise? What could my own promise be? Whoever passes the Square of the European Promise and pauses facing the “ocean of names” will hear the invitation to add his or her own contribution.
The engraving of the names is ongoing. The inauguration of the Square of the European Promise is planned for the end of 2015. For 6 months, over days and nights, 185,000 letters are engraved in the giant stone plaques to cover Europe’s new square in the city of Bochum. Even in a distant future when participants of the square will no longer be alive the names will remain in homage to the promise of living people.
What do we expect from Europe? What do we expect from ourselves? What would a square look like for something that does not yet exist, a square to remind us of our future? In December we will know.
Once again, the realisation of the Square of the European Promise is within reach. After ten years of debate, negotiation, a few setbacks and some imagination the new square will become reality. 14,726 people will have pledged a promise to Europe. Only they themselves will know their secret. Their names will be engraved into 21 giant basalt slabs, the pavement of the new Square of the European Promise in Bochum. The stones from Armenia have arrived in Germany.
A few months later the last hurdle has been resolved. During the winter months all of the involved (the land of North-Rhine-Westphalia, the artist, the city of Bochum and the protestant church) find a way to secure the grant for the remaining basalt plaques and the engraving of all of the 14,723 participants’ names. The city agrees on the completion of the Square of the European Promise.
The creative process is on hold. The Square of the European Promise seems to be lost in a dream. A square, best forgotten for some and for others an offence and an art ruin.
The year of the European Cultural Capital in the Ruhr area is over. More than 14,000 citizens have contributed, but the future of the Square of the European Promise remains elusive. Nobody knows how the stones, the names and the invisible promises can be paid for. Local papers ask that the artwork be abandoned.
During the summer of 2010 the diggers arrive. Despite the financial crisis and the budget freeze the city goes ahead with the construction of the new square. Even the light features of Laurent Fachard (Bridge of Avignon, Elysée Palace) are installed. Initially, the Square of the European Promise should have been inaugurated on the last day of the capital of culture year 2010, but the places for the stones and the names remain empty. The participatory concept of the square with its invisible promises from many countries seems to be a legacy of past and better times.
Europe day 2009. The foundation stone of the Square of the European Promise has been laid. Hundreds of visitors, among them the president of the EU-parliament Hans-Georg Pöttering and the president of the German parliament Norbert Lammert celebrate the future square. But at the fall of the year the municipal budget blockage, threatening Bochum for some time, becomes a reality. A few weeks before the start of the European Cultural capital year Ruhr.2010 the realisation of the artwork suddenly seems out of reach. The media, in large numbers, discuss the promises nobody knows and the stone plaques with thousands of names nobody can afford.
The first basalt stone plaque with 600 names is installed inside the spire of the church. Its floor is the matrix for the stone plaques to cover the future European square outside. The choice of the Armenian basalt is the result of many tests. The names are engraved 10mm deep into the stone and then filled with pale white epoxy resin.
Europe day 2008. Almost one thousand people gather on the future Square of the European Promise, among them many migrants from countries outside of the EU. The young goalie of the famed Schalke soccer team pledges a promise to Europe. Manuel Neuer explains: “Soccer is an example that Europe exists”. The European Cultural capital Ruhr.2010 features the public artwork as the official contribution of the city of Bochum.
The artistic process goes public. The invitation reaches out with the help of the media. The first participants are citizens of the city of Bochum, followed by inhabitants of the Ruhr area and later by people from many countries beyond the German borders. All pledge a promise. Give a promise to Europe that is the motto. The idea starts to circulate. Participants speak many languages and represent all social strata. The Square of the European Promise becomes European.
The city of Bochum invites Gerz to develop a concept for the square and later participates with the artist’s concept of the Square of the European promise in the urban development competition of the land of North-Rhine-Westphalia. The regional government awards the concept and provides the initial financial support. The city doubles the grant and secures the starting capital for the new square.
Inside the Christ church that lines the square, the artist was shown the names of 28 nations. He was surprised to hear that it was a so-called memorial hall, inaugurated in 1931, in which – in addition to the names of Bochum people died in the First World War – the names of Germany’s “enemy states” were listed. As if front lines were immortalized. Later Gerz said: This visit provided me with the idea for the square.
>> 49th City Talks: The Square of the European Promise
A speech by Jochen Gerz in Bochum Museum of Art
Can a square or rather a void in the urban landscape of the Ruhr region be a reason for an artwork? Can a post-war scar, an echo of WW2 between steelworks and a brewery at the centre of the destroyed city of Bochum, result in something other than a car park? And does a car park need a future?
A process, lasting ten years, started with the decision to organize an interdisciplinary symposium on this issue. A theatre-manager, an architect, a city councillor, a philosopher, a media scientist, a landscape planner, a priest, an art historian, an environmental psychologist and an artist try to find a solution together (Greek for non-place: utopia). The outcome was sobering: This place cannot be fixed. Jochen Gerz asks: Can a site like this convey a meaning?