On the corner of Maximilianstraße and Königsstraße in the Altstadt, I stumbled across nine gold colored blocks on the ground with names and dates. They’re obviously a memorial of some sort, and I’ve taken pictures of them on several occasions with the intent to find out the story behind them.
Today, I found five more at the place where Pfarrergasse intersects Neupfarrplatz, and in a fit of amazingly coincidental timing, I’ve also found an explanation and a history of these blocks.
The blocks are called Stolpersteine. The German word Stolperstein literally means “stumbling block” or “obstacle” and Stolpersteine is the plural. They were created by artist Gunter Demnig in 1993 and the first installation was in Cologne, Germany, in 1994.
Today, there are more than thirty thousand Stolpersteine in at least ten countries. I first learned what they are because of a blog entry about them on andBerlin.com. That post led led me to the official site about them as well as http://stolpersteine-regensburg.de/.
(Edited to add: Fiona was able to witness the installation of some Stolpersteine and posted about it on her own blog recently.)
The Stolpersteine blocks are designed as memorials to commemorate individuals who were sent by the Nazis to prisons and concentration camps, as well as those who emigrated or committed suicide to escape the Nazis. Some of the blocks represent those killed by the Nazis and some represent survivors. The Stolpersteine are not limited to Jews, either. The vast majority were Jews, but there have also been blocks placed for various other types of people, including Romani people, homosexuals, blacks, and even Christians who opposed the Nazis.
The actual block is a ten centimeter concrete cube covered with a sheet of brass. Demnig then stamps the details of the individual, the name, year of birth, and the fate as well as the dates of deportation and death, if known. Each block begins with “Hier wohnte,” which is German for “Here lived.” Most are set at the last residence of the victim, but some are set near workplaces.
These tiny little memorials are an amazing idea. Since I started researching this, I’ve seen countless instances of people commenting, “so that’s what those are. I was wondering.” That’s how the Stolpersteine got me curious, and I’m sure I won’t be the last person to hunt down this information.
More importantly, though, people are still visiting the memorials and remembering. One evening, while I was walking through the Altstadt, I noticed that someone had left flowers and a Yartzeit (bereavement) candle at the first set of Stolpersteine I had stumbled across.
When I walked home a few hours later, the candle was still burning. I think that’s kind of fitting.