Prose as Hybrid Calligraphy in the Public Space of Berlin

Among Refugees Generation Y @ ZK/U is part of a series of multilingual calligraphy murals in the public spaces of Berlin, based on the short story "Among Refugees" (1923), written by the Jewish author David Bergelson in Berlin in the 1920s. 

Bergelson’s text offers a study of the different forms of existential crisis precipitated by exile. In the story, the author projects his own fears on the protagonist, namely of one day slipping from his hard-won status as a successful professional author to the level of a mad vagabond who invents stories that he foolishly believes to be useful to people. He thus metaphorically describes an artist’s fear of loosing ones culture and language.

As in the original text, the project aspires to integrate the inner conflict between an old identity and a new culture. The struggle for integration while preserving one’s cultural roots. At the core of the project lies the attempt of creating a symmetry between Weimar’s capital and contemporary Berlin as a creative production centre. Verses in multiple languages are used as a tool to create a dialogue between different migrant and refugee communities in the contemporary Berlin. The result is depicted on a series of murals, visually integrating different languages to reach a harmonious visual manifestation of Berlin’s cultural hybridity. 

The mural at Z/KU implies a connection between the historical traces of the site as a key point of mobility and its contemporary function as a cultural exchange center, with the project's conceptual aspect, which focuses on transition and temporality. Murals on the opposite sides of the building will create a circular experience around it. The loop will be manifested on each wall separately by repeating the same two questions over and over in 3 languages (Yiddish, Arabic & German): "Where from?" and "Where to?“.  

The calligraphy will be painted in Lime paint that fades away after a few years, highlighting the sense of temporality faced by so many migrants.

The Author & the Artist
David Bergelson is considered to be one of the leading Yiddish writers of the twentieth century. He moved to Berlin as an already well-known author in 1921 as part of a massive refugee wave that included many Yiddish authors, poets and scholars. In 1934, Bergelson was one of the last of his group to leave Berlin and relocate to Moscow. Ultimately, after two decades of fruitful artistic and political activity, Bergelson and his colleagues were falsely charged with treason for their membership in the "Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee" during Stalin’s antisemitic campaign against "rootless Cosmopolitans“. They were executed during "The Night of The Murdered Poets“ in 1952. 

Ella Ponizovsky Bergelson (1984, Moscow), David Bergelson's great granddaughter, born exactly 100 years after Bergelson's birth, is a calligraphy artist with a migrant background of her own (Russia-Jerusalem-Tel Aviv Yafo-Berlin). She uses the visualisation of language as a tool to manifest multi-cultural identities by integrating different languages into one unified visual outcome. She claims: "Language and typography are defining elements of a culture. By using a strict set of rules, they claim superiority and inviolability, both by content and visual form. Hybrid calligraphy is a contradiction to that assumption“.