Stiff opposition to town's tribute to condom pioneer

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The Independent Online

With an upstanding municipal fountain nicknamed "The Penis" and a place in history as the town in which the inventor of the modern condom was born, many might argue that Konin in provincial Poland was more or less asking for it to happen.

Last weekend it did: an artists' group stormed the fountain and covered the structure with a mammoth transparent plastic preservatif, causing moral outrage among some officials and conservative Catholics in the town of 80,000 inhabitants halfway between Berlin and Warsaw.

"This is not an advertisement for birth control," insisted Waldemar Duczmal, who carried out the sheathing with fellow members of the Action Konin group, which says it pulls off provocative stunts to encourage tolerance.

The group said yesterday that the condom was meant to be an "opposite number" to a 37-metre-high statue of Christ erected by the Catholic Church in the Polish town of Swiebodzin last year. The spokesman said television coverage of the Christ statue presented a clichéd image of Poland as a backward country where religious fundamentalism reigned – an image he thought needed correcting. But the group said the stunt was also a serious attempt to pay respect to Julius Fromm, Konin's former resident who invented the modern latex condom, which he patented in Germany in 1916.

"We found out about Fromm's links with Konin a year ago and tried to bring it to the town's attention," Mr Duczmal said. "When that failed we came up with this idea," he added, pointing out that the giant condom was stamped with Fromm's name and date of birth.

Dariusz Wilczewski, the deputy mayor, joined local religious leaders and complained in an interview with Poland's Rzeczpospolita newspaper that the condom had turned Konin into a laughing stock. In deeply Catholic Poland, the Church continues to take a dim view of contraception.

However Zbigniew Lew-Starowicz, a sex therapist, said that Konin should build a memorial to the condom's creator. "The town should be proud of him. There is nothing to be ashamed of," he told Poland's TVN24 channel.

Fromm, who was Jewish, was forced to sell off his booming condom business to Hermann Göring's godmother in 1938. He died penniless in London in 1945 – four days before Germany's capitulation.