Postcard from... Berlin


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The Independent Online

Veronika Houboi watched as a man wielded a sledgehammer to smash up and remove a dozen small cobblestones from a Berlin pavement.

He quickly filled the resulting hole with two identical blocks of concrete capped with inscribed square brass plates. The blocks, called “stolpersteine” or “stumbling blocks,” read: “Here lived Dr Erich Blumenthal, born 1883, deported 29.11.1942, murdered in Auschwitz. Here lived Helene Blumenthal, born 1888, deported 29.11.1942, murdered in Auschwitz.”

Ms Houboi and her husband sponsored the Blumenthals’ blocks, travelling across Germany to see them laid in the Berlin neighbourhood where Ms Houboi, now 71, grew up in the 1940s.

The man behind the blocks is Cologne-based artist Gunter Demnig, who in 1996 illegally laid the first 41 in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district, having found names in a local  history book about the area’s Jewish population.

Three months later  the city granted him permission to legally proceed with the project. Today there are 45,000 “stolpersteine” in Germany and 16 other European countries. Berlin alone has 5,500 of  the stones, which cost 120 euros (£100) each, installed by  Mr Demnig’s team.  But he denies profiteering from them.