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German cardinal sparks outrage with 'Nazi art term'
Sep 15, 2007
BERLIN (AFP) — A German archbishop was severely criticised on Saturday for referring to some modern art as "degenerate", the term used by the Nazis in their persecution of artists.
Cardinal Joachim Meisner, archbishop of Cologne, said art which had no link to religion was "entartete Kunst", a term that in German has strong connotations linked to the Third Reich and its ban on paintings and other culture.
"When culture becomes disconnected from religion, from the worship of God, religion becomes ritualism and the culture becomes degenerate," Cardinal Meisner said in a sermon in Cologne Cathedral on Friday.
Meisner, 73, defended his choice of words on a Catholic radio station on Saturday, saying he had wanted to illustrate "that when art and religion are separated, both are damaged."
A spokesman for the cardinal said he had not intended to pay tribute to "old ideologies."
Michael Vesper, a former culture minister for the state of North Rhine-Westphalia where Cologne is situated, said: "I thought this sort of thing was history in Germany. And yet here is a high-ranking member of the Catholic clergy using it."
The Central Council of Jews in Germany was outraged. Its secretary-general Stephan Kramer said Meisner, who has run into controversy for his conservative views in the past, was a "notoriously incendiary" figure.
Cologne-based artist Gerhard Richter, one of Germany's best-known artists, said the cardinal had been extremely foolish.
"To use the word 'degenerate' in relation to art, as Cardinal Meisner did, is a serious faux pas," Richter told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.
Other politicians and officials in North Rhine-Westphalia were appalled by the cardinal's words.
"It is frightening that Cardinal Meisner allows himself to use such terms. It shows that he understands nothing about art and culture," Hans-Heinrich Grosse-Brockhoff, the state's current minister for culture, told the Koelner-Stadt-Anzeiger newspaper.
The Nazis removed or banned an estimated 20,000 works of art, especially Expressionist art, from German museums after Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933.
Painters such as Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee and Edvard Munch were persecuted and stigmatised.
Praise of Germany's Nazi past is highly taboo.
A top German TV presenter was sacked last week after saying there was much to admire in the Nazis' approach to motherhood and families.
German Cleric Criticized for Nazi Phrase
Sep 15, 2007
BERLIN (AP) — A Roman Catholic cardinal used the term "degenerate" at the opening of an art museum on the ruins of a church, drawing criticism Saturday for employing a phrase strongly linked to the Nazi persecution of artists.
Joachim Meisner, the influential Cardinal of Cologne, warned in a sermon at the opening of a museum built on the ruins of Cologne's St. Kolumba church that it was dangerous to allow art to break away from religion.
"Let us not forget that there is an indisputable connection between culture and religion. Where culture is uncoupled from ... the worship of God, religion becomes moribund in rituals and culture degenerates," Meisner said Friday.
In German the phrase "degenerate art," or "Entartete Kunst," carries deep associations with the Nazis' attempts to ban artworks they deemed did not uphold their ideals. In 1937, they staged an exhibit in Munich called "Entartete Kunst," which included 650 artworks confiscated from museums and considered unacceptable, including many by Expressionist artists.
Germany's main Jewish group said the cardinal's remarks went too far.
"Meisner ... is a notorious spiritual firebrand who tries not just to test the boundaries of what is allowed, but to deliberately overstep them," said Stephan Kramer, a leader in Germany's Central Council of Jews said in a statement.
Meisner was one of three German bishops who made controversial comments comparing the separation barrier in the West Bank to the Berlin Wall. He also recently criticized the taste of a leading artist who designed stained glass windows for Cologne Cathedral.
Theodor Lemper, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats and responsible for culture in Cologne, said use of the word "entartete" should be taboo.
"In addition, culture does not grow only out of the worship of God," Lemper was quoted as saying by the Cologne daily Express. "The absolutism preached by Cardinal Meisner is false and inappropriate."
Readers: Why the Fuss About Cardinal's Use of "Nazi" Word?
When a German cardinal this week called a Cologne art exhibit "degenerate," he was heavily criticized for using what had become known as a "Nazi" word. What's all the fuss about, wrote some of our readers.
The following comments reflect the views of DW-WORLD.DE readers. Not all reader comments have been published. DW-WORLD.DE reserves the right to edit for length and appropriateness of content.
I could not believe the article regarding the uproar over Cardinal Meisner's use of the word "degenerate." I can understand Germany's determination to avoid things relating to Hitler and the Nazis, but to get upset over the use of a simple word, which is by no means exclusive to the Nazis, is obsessive. There is something seriously wrong with Germans' perspective when they get upset over a common word like "degenerate" but allow the NPD to exist. -- Todd Herman, Canada
The National Socialists do not own the term "degenerate" any more than they own the terms "Sie" or "bin." The cardinal was not talking about art per se. The cultural minister needs to (as we say in the US) "get a grip" and "chill out." -- Douglas Berg, US
I really cannot believe that the press is making such an issue over the cardinal using the word "degenerate." Are the German people paranoid about the Hitler period? Another example is how the media and public are treating talk show host Eva Herman. There was nothing wrong about saying that family values were nurtured in the Third Reich. I was born in 1940 in Cologne. We were not taught too much about World War II. But I do know that not everything was bad during the Third Reich. Please, Germany, use the good out of that time and discard the bad. And most of all, stop feeling guilty. What is in the past, leave in the past. Learn from it and do not repeat it. -- Doris Barrett, Canada
Given the association between the Nazis and the use of the word "degenerate" concerning art and culture, Cardinal Meisner's remarks show at least an unfortunate lack of sensitivity and understanding. Someone in his position should know and do better. Unfortunately I am not surprised at this by him. Anyway, who is he to say what is degenerate? -- Michael Grant, Denmark
Bildunterschrift: The Nazis rejected anything they said was "degenerate"
When will Germany allow itself to put the era of 1933-1945 behind it for good? Germany has proven itself to be a great nation. Please be proud of who and what you are and realize German history didn't begin and end during the National Socialist era. Every county has mistakes in its past (we had slavery in the US, for example) but should the future generations continually be made to feel guilty for the sins of their fathers or grandfathers? As an outsider looking in, this cardinal is being unfairly criticized as is the talk show host Eva Herman. -- William Pohle, US
If this story were not being portrayed as serious news, I would think it was a joke. The Cardinal can call art, music or anything else he wants to "degenerate." It is a word! Just because the National Socialists used it, it doesn't make it a bad word, or the Nazi's wrong for calling certain "art" degenerate garbage. Hitler liked to paint with water colors. Maybe Germany should make that a taboo hobby? -- John Marconi, US
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