Saturday, September 30, 2017

Fascinated by the word Kassel - and the city as well

Orangery near downtown Kassel
Kassel is a German city in northern Hesse. The geographic name “Kassel” derives from the Latin word “castellum”, which also is the source of the English word “castle”.

The history of Kassel begins with the ancient Castellum Cattorum, a castle of the Chatti [1]. The Chatti were an ancient Germanic tribe,  living in the upper Weser and Fulda river region since Roman times. In the tenth century the Franks took over the fortlet. They used the words “castella” and “cassela”. Before the current spelling “Kassel” was adopted in the late 1920s, the city name had been written in various letter combinations  including “Chassala”, “Chassela”, “Cassele” and “Cassel” [2].

Treppenstrasse in downtown Kassel

Antonia Baum recently shared her fascination with the word “Kassel” in a MERIAN essay [3]:

Kassel is a word where the K smashes into the double-S like a ladle slapping into a bowl of soup; or like careening down a hill wityh so much speed that the momentum takes you straight up to the other side. As a child, sitting in the backseat of our car while driving past Kassel on the autobahn, I always found it odd that this word existed and asked myself what on earth this Kassel was. What strange and wonderful things went on in Kassel that made it deserving of the name Kassel. I was fascinated by the word itself and would mumble “Kassel, Kassel, Kassel” to myself as I gazed out of the window.

Strange and wonderful things happen in Kassel every five years, when the documenta, the world's foremost art exhibition with avant-garde and often scandalous or grotesque displays and performances, is infiltrating the city's urban environment. Selected art objects from past documenta exhibitions keep staying in the city. Here are some snapshots of outdoor installations from documenta 14 in 2014 and from earlier exhibitions:  


Fulda river bank in Kassel with Claes Oldenborg's Pickaxe (Spitzhacke) 


[1] Kassel. Wikipedia:,_Germany.
[2]  Dieter Berger: Geographische Namen in Deutschland. Second Edition. Dudenverlag, Mannheim, 1999.
[3] Antonia Baum: The little lady in the black fur. Merian, English Edition, 2017

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Kassel's documenta 14 slogan “Being safe is scary”

The documenta 14 art exhibition, which took place from June 10 through September 17 in 2017 in the German city of  Kassel in northeast Hesse, was more political than ever [1]. The letters above the portal of the Fridericianum, arguably the world's first public museum, read “BEINGSAFEISSCARY.” Insert the missing spaces and you get: “Being safe is scary.”

Indeed, simply living a “feeling safe” life would be ignorant of the current state of our globe. The world around us was and, with growing frequency again, is stirred up by tensions and human rights violations. “When We Were Exhaling Images,” an installation by the Kurdish-Iraqi artist Hiwa K, was reminding us of refugee conditions at a Greek harbor. The Friedrichsplatz, the huge plaza in front of the Fridericianum, was dominated by Marta Minujín's “The Parthenon of Books,”protesting censorship of free speech.

Fridericianum on a documenta-14 day in 2017
The phrase “Being safe is scary” is a tribute by the Turkish artist Banu Cennetoǧlu to the Kurdish journalist Gurbetelli Ersöz, who died during Kurdish guerilla operations in 1977 when a Turkish-operated Leopard Tank blew off both of her legs [2]. Sadly and ironically, this tank may have manufactured in the documenta city Kassel.

When Arnold Bode established the documenta exhibition in Kaseel in 1955—ten years after the end of World War II—he was eager to showcase Nazi-censored art, Degenerate Art [2]: documenta was designed to grind the Nazi interlude with its bashing of modern art into dust. Therefore, the slogan that replaced the museum's name Fridericianum above the six entrance columns links Bode's animosity toward Kassel's Nazi past to Cennetoǧlu's tribute to his fellow citizen.

References and more to explore

[1] Stefan Dege: Documenta art exhibition more politacal than ever. June 9, 2017. Link:
[2] Vijay Prashad: Being safe is scary: At Germany's documenta 14, chilling reminders that history repeats itself., August 17, 2017. Link: