Big fuss about a little thing

Jubiläumsbrunnen fountain, Wuppertal, Germany

In the German city of Wuppertal, birthplace of aspirin, the town hall, the splendid Rathaus, was opened in 1900 by Kaiser Wilhelm II on the same day as the celebrated Schwebebahn.

In front of it stands the jolly Jubiläumsbrunnen fountain, sculpted by the Düsseldorf sculptor Leo Müsch (1846-1911) to celebrate the silver jubilee of the Elberfelder Verschönerungsverein [the Elberfeld beautification club].

Müsch’s design, 11.5 metres high, carved in red sandstone, is a glorious riot of sea gods and monsters, tritons and mermaids, topped by the figure of Neptune.

Quite what this maritime composition has to do with a landlocked industrial valley in the heart of North Rhine-Westphalia escapes me.

According to the English translation of the Wikipedia article, the inauguration in 1901 caused a stir because “the figures were too much male distinctive”.   

The “form of the anatomically correctly modelled pubic region” caused great offence, and an unknown person or persons took a hammer and chisel to the sculpture.

The community was divided, and strong positions were taken.

The local writer Walter Bloem (1868-1951) wrote a four-act drama The Jubilee Fountain which provoked his pastor to ask him to leave the church.

The City Council eventually resolved to restore Neptune’s masculinity, after a vehement debate about acanthus leaves.

Nevertheless, as the English translation remarks, “the scars are still visible today”.

I didn’t notice anything outstanding when I photographed the fountain. 

When I looked closer at my photograph I recalled the lady who, when annoyed by a flasher in a Marks & Spencer elevator, remarked “Is that it, then?”

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