I was walking along a back street, Luisenstraße, in the little German town of Wuppertal on a bright spring morning when I first stumbled, as the artist intended, upon an example of a Stolperstein, which literally translates as “stumbling stone”.
The expression metaphorically refers to a “stumbling block”
– one of Gunter Demnig’s many brass pavement setts installed across Europe to
commemorate victims of the Holocaust, memorialised at their last freely chosen
place of residence.
Here are four together, stating simply “Hier wohnte…” [Here lived…] Emil and Henriette Hirschberg, ermordet [murdered] in Minsk, and Samuel
and Sophie Zuckermann, ermordet
respectively in Chelmno and Auschwitz.
There are now over seventy thousand of these poignant reminders,
deliberately designed to trip up the unthinking passer-by, from Spain to Greece
and from Poland to Sicily.
There were two outside my 1950s Berlin hotel in the heavily
bombed area of Friedrichshain, and I found another on a pavement in the modern
development that replaces the bombed wastes of Potsdamer Platz, where the
course of the Berlin Wall created a dead zone that lasted a generation after
the war ended.
I spotted another, in Budapest, embedded in the pavement of
what had been the Jewish Quarter but which became, at the end of 1944, the
ghetto. Here the last fragment of the
ghetto wall was dismantled in 2006 but a reproduction, using some original
stone, was erected as a memorial two years later.
Gunter Demnig’s work is much less likely to be obliterated, even if a few setts are discarded, and there can never be too many reminders of the mass murders of 1933-45.
It’s idle to believe that such a crime could never happen
I carry with me the last line of Bertholt Brecht’s 1941
play, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui: “The bitch that bore him is in heat again.”
magnificent former Manchester headquarters of the Refuge Assurance Company is a fitting symbol of the city’s
nineteenth-century prestige and prosperity, an extravagant temple to the
virtues of thrift and frugality.
The Refuge Friend in Deed Life Assurance & Sick Fund Friendly Society was founded in 1858 by James Proctor and George Robins of Dukinfield, near Stalybridge, east of Manchester. By the late nineteenth century their society based on saving for the future had expanded to the extent that it needed a prominent headquarters in Manchester city centre.
For commercial buildings the architect, Alfred Waterhouse (1830-1905), favoured the use of moulded glazed or unglazed brick to create rich decorative effects at less expense than ashlar and carved stonework. Some of his best public buildings in Manchester were built in stone – the Assize Courts (1859-64, demolished) and the Town Hall (1868-77) – though Strangeways Prison (1868) is brick with stone dressings.
Elsewhere, his attachment to terracotta, and its tin-glazed derivative, faience, gained prominence after he designed the Natural History Museum, South Kensington (1873-80) and became widely recognised by his work for the Prudential Assurance Company at their London headquarters at Holborn Bars (1895-1901) and at instantly recognisable branch offices across the nation.
These terracotta buildings were satirised as “slaughterhouse Gothic”, which is unfair, partly because most of them are in other styles than Gothic, but furthermore because, though the outside elevations were deep red, the interiors were invariably varied and colourful, and could be kept bright because they were practically washable.
Waterhouse’s original building for the Refuge Assurance Company in central
Manchester, on the corner of Oxford Street and Whitworth Street, was started in
1891 and completed in 1895.
The architect’s son, Paul Waterhouse, continued the Oxford Street elevation, including the 217-foot clock tower, in 1910-12. Both designs are an eclectic mix of French Renaissance style with baroque features, liberally embellished with emblems such as the bee, symbolising Manchester’s industry, and the initial ‘R’ for ‘Refuge’.
owned the land further along Whitworth Street, where India House (1906), Lancaster
House (1905-10) and Asia House,
Princess Street (1906-9) were built, leaving room on Whitworth Street for a
further extension of the Refuge headquarters, designed in harmony with the
existing building by Stanley Birkett (1884-1959) in 1932.
Assurance Company left Manchester in 1987 for a purpose-built site at Fulshaw
Hall, Cheshire. The Manchester building
was considered as a replacement home for the Hallé Orchestra but instead the
orchestra moved directly from the Free Trade Hall to the Bridgewater Hall in 1996.
Refuge building was converted into a 271-room hotel which also opened in
1996. It was named the Palace after the
theatre on the opposite corner of Whitworth Street. The hotel was reconfigured, with conference
facilities separated in the 1932 Excalibur Building, and rebranded the
Principal in 2016.
features of the Waterhouse buildings of 1891-95 and 1910-12 are the porte-cochère,
originally open until the dome was inserted in 1996, the open-plan office space and the clock
tower, its faces embellished with the Manchester bee.
private directors’ staircase, decorated
with Cararra marble and a bronze balustrade and embellished with stained-glass
coats of arms of the cities and boroughs where the company did business, leads
to the director’s boardroom.
Birkett building respects its older neighbour, but the interior colour-palette
is toned down to white, and the decorative features tend towards moderne in style.