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Diffusing Red - Anti-Monument for the Red Ruhr Army


The march revolution in the ruhr area - the revolt of the workers of the Red Ruhr Army 1920 - is the largest uprising in German History since the peasants war. But the memories of the events are erased, the monuments have been razed, history had been distorted and rewritten

In the crack of dawn of March 13, 1920 a spooky troupe marches into Berlin: Marinesoldiers of the "Brigade Ehrhardt" force the government to flee. The reactionary rebels have painted swastikas on their helmets.

As an answer to the coup strikes and demonstrations are organized everywhere in the Reich. When the paramilitary group "Freikorps Lichtschlag" invades the Ruhr area, the workers take up arms. The reactionary squad is defeated, the workers proceed to social revolution. They fight for the worker's council. Independent social democrats (USP), syndicalists and spartacists form the Red Ruhr Army, Starting from Dortmund, they seize the whole insdustrial zone at the Ruhr river.

In Essen the fights culminate at the water tower Steeler Strasse. Two paramilitary bands, the reactionary "Resident's Defence" (Einwohnerwehr) and the "Security Police" (Sipo) have occupied the building. Even after the whole town of Essen has been captured by the workers, the troupe refuses to give up. When the occupants finally hoist the white flag, the worker's leave their defilade. But parts of the tower's occupying forces don't realize what's going on - or refuse to capitulate. They throw handgranades into the approaching crowd.

Finally the workers manage to conquer the tower. 11 of the 46 occupants die as in and after the fights. The losses on the side of the workers are unknown till today.

In the following years the "Water Tower Myth" is developed: "Make the test and ask for the battle at the Essen water tower - and most of the time you will hear the story, how some dozens of brave policemen and Essen citizens have been "bestially slaughtered" by the "reds"..." writes Erhard Lucas 1970 in the introduction of his Standard work on the March revolution in the Ruhr district. And not much has changed since then: the local newspaper "WAZ" writes in it's reports about "Auslaufendes Rot / Diffusing Red" about "atrocities" (Gräueltaten), "falsification of history" (Geschichtsklitterung) and "uncritical glorification of the Red Ruhr Army".

The narrative of the "crimes of the Red Ruhr Army" is invented to denounce the worker's revolt - and to justify the massacres that Reichswehr and Freikorps committed against the population in April 1920 - a mass slaughter that as a matter of fact costs thousands of lives.



The monument situation in the Ruhr area

Already in the twenties a misleading plate is attached to the water tower. On it all 40 dead persons are listed, that paramilitaries and policeforces had to mourn in the whole fight with the workers. The plate suggest all 40 had been killed in the water tower.

The falsification of history is initiated by the right and instrumentalised: In the Nazi-era clebrations to commemorate the "heroes of the movement" are organized here: Hermann Goering takes part in a rememberance service on March 19, 1934. Uninterrupted the celebrations continue deep into the nineties...

But not only at the water tower history is rewritten: The graves of the victims on the cemetries Südfriedhof and Nordfriedhof are razed to the ground by the Nazis. In Essen the putschists from the Freikorps even get a monument of their own: built in the Nazi-era, initiated by General von Watter, responsable commander for the massacres committed by Reichswehr and Freikorps in the Ruhr 1920.

Close to "Haus Horst", the "memorial" after the war half heartedly is renamed into a "memorial for the victims of fascism". The fascists aesthetic of the monument, evertheless, prevails. Rumours say, that Nazis have met their on April 20, 2010 to celebrate Adolf Hitler's birthday with a torchlight procession.

A cautious correction of the forged history writing in the Ruhr slowly starts with the soreading of critical theory in the wake of the anti-authoritarian movement : Erhard Lucas standardwork "Märzrevolution" is published in 1970. Not without giving a hint to the forces responsible for the loss of memory: the powerful Industry at the Ruhr, that from the beginning stood at the side of the Freikorps (and financed them partly), the socialdemocratic party SPD, that, after having been saved by the revolutionary workers from the putschists - lets off just the same putschist troops shortly afterwards, in April, against the worlers.

In the early eighties the City of Essen has a number of plates mounted, that inform at the places of the events about the history of the places, and about the disguising character of the memorials and plates. At the memorial / Ehrenmal in Essen-Horst it says correctly:

"This building has been errected by the Nationalsocialists in1934 as a memorial for the fallen members of Freikorps, Einwohernwehren, Reichswehr and police units, that fought in 1918 - 1920 against the revolutionary workers at the Ruhr.
The Nationalsocialists did this to enforce their view of the revolutionary era 1918 - 1920 in a propagandistic fashion - most notably
- to degrade the Weimar Republic - the result of the Novemberrevolution 1918.
- to denounce the workers of the Red Ruhr Army , who took up arms in march 1920 to defeat the reactionary Kapp-Putsch and against the rebellious Freikorps-troupes; and who, after the coup was defeated, also fought for revolutionary goals (worker's council) ,
- to celebrate the members of the Freikorps, many of whom were right wing extemists already in 1918 and later fought as Nationalsocialists against the Weimar Republic, as national heroes and forerunners of Nationalsocialism,
- to denounce the violent struggle of the revolutionary workers in the civil war like fights 1918 - 1920 as "red terror" - but to conceal the "white terror" committed by the Freikorps, who after occupying the Ruhr district in April 1920 killed more then 1000 workers,
- to depict the elimination of democracy and the erection of the nationalsocialist dictatorship 1933 as "Germany's salvation."

But on an aesthetic level the sober explanation-boards can't break the dominance of the right wing memorial landscape. The memory of the victims on the side of the workers is nearly invisible. The heroic actions of the radical workers are completely unrepresented in public space. Also the culture capital RUHR.2010 didn't change anything about that.

A strange situation: Is the march revolution / the Ruhr rebellion not as important for the history of the Ruhr - as the discovery of the charcoalor the invention of the seamless railway-wheel? The important industrial zone in 1920 had the potential to stop Germany from moving to the right. More then that: to give the development of socialism a different direction. 

Organised Amnesia in Essen. To correct the arguable memory- and oblivion situation, artist Christoph Schaefer marked several places with artistic installations - the Westfalendamm, where Freikorps Lichtschlag was defeated, the Wasserturm Steeler Strasse, and a tram, in Dortmund.

Schaefer works with the means of urban marketing, a test, if flags and coloured lights, usually used to decontextualize old industrial buildings and investor's architecture alike by transforming them into contentfree, depoliticised, aesthetic objects, - could als be used for the opposing end:
The recontextualization of the Essen water tower, the actualisation of it's history, from which the place been cut off since the victory of the Nazis, and by a politics of forgetting in the post war area, till today.


Diffusing Red - Anti-Monument for the Red Ruhr Army

Installation by Christoph Schäfer

12.06. - 08.08.2010

Watertower Steeler Strasse and Cinema Eulenspiegel | Essen Westfalendamm and Tram | Dortmund

With a multipart work in the Ruhr area,, Hamburg artist Christoph Schaefer marks places linked with the forgotten story of the Red Ruhr Army. Between Essen and Dortmund an "Anti-Monument" develops, connecting the revolutionary struggles of the year 1920 with the postindustrial reality.

Conception: Christoph Schäfer

Realization: Jürgen Findeisen

In the frame of B1|A40 - Die Schönheit der grossen Strasse curated by Markus Ambach

In cooperation with Hartware Medienkunstverein

Culturecapital RUHR.2010


Orte: Essen: Wasserturm Steeler Strasse, Tram: 109 and 103 to Wasserturm | Videoinstallation in the cinema Eulenspiegel Filmtheater, Tram: 109 and 103 to Wörthstrasse Dortmund: B1, Alley on Westfalendamm, U 47 to Vosskuhle | Tram goes through the whole city


Reviews (sorry, all in German):

Interview mit Johannes Springer in der österreichischen Musikzeitschrift SKUG

Justin Hoffmann im Kunstmagazin Springerin (hier mit Bild)

Werner Sarbok in der UZ

Video von KI-TV


An interesting page on the situation of monuments around the revolt at the Ruhr in Essen and the Ruhrdistrict: Ruhr1920


"We don't want to creep in the dust in front of those who, by luck of birth, arrogate to look down on us. We don't want to continue to be proletarians without means, we demand co-ownership-rights at the means of production. We demand ownership of the treasures found on and underneath the earth. We demand the paradise on earth and will no longer resign ourselfes with the hope for a better hereafter.Wir verlangen das Paradies auf Erden und lassen uns nicht länger mit der Hoffnung auf ein besseres Jenseits abfinden."

Executive Council of the Miners Colony Lohberg in Dinslaken, March 1920

"Announcement: The publication of nationalist, monarchist, anti-socialist articles or notes, contesting the character of the dictatorship of the councils, is not allowed."

Essen, March 20., 1920 - The Executive Council of the Workers Council, Essen.

„The educational idea has to replace the idea to punish. The thoughtless imprisonment of poor, weak people, who didn't kno the right way or couldn't stick with it, to jails and prisons contradicts human dignity, as does capital punishment."

People's commissoner for the socialisation of Justice, Elberfeld, March 1920

Christoph Schäfer lives and works in Hamburg. Born and raised in Essen, the artist works on and with urban space as a product from stories and social struggles, from everyday practice and the inhabitant's imagination. Schäfer is part of the "Park Fiction" project, a public park developed in a process of "collective production of desires" in St. Pauli harbour. With Park Fiction Schaefer participated in Documenta 11. Schaefers first book "The City is Our Factory" is published by Spector Books in Leipzig 2010.  

"Red Army" in the Ruhr area - if you ask residents of the Ruhr about the exiting events in the year 1920, you get from those who have heard something generally answers, that turn the truth upside down. Make the test and ask for the battle at the Essen water tower - and most of the time you will hear the story, how some dozens of brave policemen and Essen citizens have been "bestially slaughtered" by the "reds". (...) The 12 years of nationalsocialist rule (...) have destroyed the histircal consciousness of the german workingclass so thoroughly, that it is arguable, if it can be revitalised ever again.

Erhard Lucas, Märzrevolution im Ruhrgebiet (March Revolt in the Ruhr District), Band 1, S. 7ff, März Verlag 1970