Yuri Kalendarev

Kathrin Becker.

Submarine pen, memorial, art in public places.
On the “Project For Kilian” by Yuri Kalendarev

“Memorials have some features of protective magic, they are apotropaic symbols nourished by our fear that misfortune is more likely to repeat itself than good fortune. ”l


I. The “Kilian ” submarine pen in Kiel harbour was built during the period from winter 1941/42 to November 1943. Its chief function was that of a defensive construction; it was intended as protection for newly-furbished boats during final work, training boats and boats from the front in need of repair. It was one of a number of building projects by the Todt Group, an organization led by the engineer Fritz Todt, that had taken on the construction of the “western ramparts’’ on Germany’s border in the West, and which had been given colossal building projects on commission during the course of the Second World War. Forced labour prisoners from nearby labour camps were engaged to construct the “Kilian” submarine pen. The prisoners - then derogatorily referred to as “working material” - used c. 1000 m3 of ferroconcrete in the construction per day, working around the clock in two shifts: “A 4.8 m thick ceiling made out of reinforced steel protected the pen from bombs. The exterior walls were 3.3 ms. thick. The unusual thing about this pen was the length of both wet boxes. From the fagade to the back wall they were 150 ms. long. ”2

During heavy air raids on the Reich’s naval port at Kiel, the pen was bombed too. On April 9th 1945, the British airforce attacked Kiel’s shipyard installations, and work in the submarine pen Kilian came to a standstill as a result.

During the German capitulation, the disarmament of Germany was the primary aim of the allied forces, and so the English Royal Engineers began to dismantle the pen. On October 25th, 1946, a powerful charge of “107 German 250 kg aircraft bombs and 808 special explosives”3 was ignited, causing the roof to collapse. In September 1959, a German firm was commissioned to destroy more of the pen. Today the ruins are still standing in Kiel harbour: the necessary financial outlay made it impossible to dismantle what remained of the pen.

At the same time, the pen has experienced an entirely new social interpretation during the last decade: in opposition to a planned extension to Kiel harbour in 1988, the Kilian submarine pen was given the status of an historical monument by the state of Schleswig-Holstein. The state reasoned that as a remaining contemporary documentation of Kiel’s decline as a naval base of the Reich, the pen was an appropriate reminder of the eventful history of the city and its destruction during the Second World War and that, as a memorial, it would counteract any glorification of the III Reich.

This is a rough summary of essential information about the history of the German Kilian submarine pen. What stands out is the alteration in its significance - from a utilitarian construction to one with a primarily politico- historical, symbolic function, culminating in its classification as a protected building. It has been subject to processes which Assmann subsumes under the term “cultural shaping”4: the politico-historical consciousness of a society and this society’s conflict with its own history is manifest in it. The continuing preservation of the submarine pen and its elevation to the status of a memorial prevents one coming to terms with history by radically erasing all traces of an (infamous) past in the dismantling of an object: “a damnatio memoriae”.

II. Narrowly speaking, a memorial may be defined as “an autonomous artwork, erected in a public place with a view to permanence. It is intended as a reminder of persons or events which in turn furnishes and historically justifies its authors’ claim to teach or appeal to society. ”5 Of course, in the case of the Kilian submarine pen there is no “autonomous artwork, ’’since originally - as a functional building - it had a clearly strategic purpose.

Besides its purely utilitarian function, the submarine pen was not only a committed statement of power and technical potential during its construction period, it was also an admission of the failure of anti-aircraft fire; this determined the very existence of the submarine pen, since the German airforce was not able to secure the protection of submarines in any other way. Kilian’s partial destruction dates from the post-war period of German disarmament.

The plausibility of the pen’s memorial status presupposes a certain form of ritual reception. As is noted in the preservation order, its significance can only be a result of its function as a ruin - it does not lie in the object itself. Visible historical sites which can be associated with the events of the Second World War are rare in the cityscape of Kiel after Germany’s “recovery, ” as if all traces of the aggressive German terror regime and the subsequent destruction of the city had been glossed over by cosmetic surgery. The ruins of the pen, as an authentic historical megalomania costing hundreds of lives amongst forced-labour prisoners and the end of the war and disarmament, “the passage of time”, are preserved in these ruins.

III. The starting point of Yuri Kalendarev’s “Project For Kilian” is a concrete historical object which - as a result of its physical presence as the ruin of an archaic technology - is a visible instant of this time, of its development, from the construction of the object to its zenith, its destruction, and to the period which followed. Only this passage of time presents a motivation for the preservation of the pen as a memorial, which releases it from transience into duration. In this way, the continuing preservation of the object is directly linked to its ruinous condition. Kalendarev’s project is limited to the elements of light, sound and air; it does not - so to speak - touch upon the ruinous character of the object.

The “Project For Kilian” envisages the appearance at twilight of a blue circle of light 15 metres in diameter, out of the sea’s depths to the surface of the water in front of the pen. A wave will emerge at regular intervals in its centre, caused by a huge bubble of air from the sea bed. Impulses of red light counter the main blue colour of the project. The names of the prisoners involved in the building of the pen, and of the German seamen, the names of their places of origin and the names of aeroplanes from the RAF and USAF, of ships and submarines and the code numbers of bombing raids will be projected onto the (still standing) east wall of the pen. The light symbols will pass over the surface of the wall in slow, sweeping movements, partially blending with each other and finally disappearing. Within the pen, the air will vibrate with an irradiation of sound, recalling the roar of the sea, sirens and human voices. The same sounds will accompany the second part of the “Project For Kilian, ” in the city of Kiel. At the place where the journal by the Berlin publisher and journalist Friedrich Nicolai, the “Universal German Library, ” was published just over 200 years ago in the then Danish city of Kiel, Kaléndarev will place a metal plaque dedicated to Nicolai’s work - also illuminated by a blue circle of light.

The critical journal, the “Universal German Library, ” intended to present and analyze German literature as a whole, and it represents a decisive contribution to the spread and evolution of Enlightenment ideas. Originally, Friedrich Nicolai (1733-1811) began to publish the journal in Berlin, but due to increasingly strict censorship regulations in Prussia, he found himself compelled to sell the publication to the Hamburg bookseller Carl Ernst Bohn in 1792.

Issues 107 to 118 of the “Universal German Library” appeared under Nicolai’s editorship in Bohn’s publishing house in the Danish city of ’Kiel. After limitations on free speech and opinion were introduced in Prussia under Friedrich Wilhelm II with his 1788 edicts on religion and censorship and with the foundation of a religious examination commission in 1791, all the previously published volumes of the “Universal German Library” were in fact banned in 1794. In 1795 this ban was revoked, enabling Nicolai to buy back the publication in 1800 and continue his work in Berlin.

The “Universal German Library” is dedicated to reporting all fields of knowledge: science and technology, jurisprudence and medicine, theology and philosophy, pedagogics and philology, the fine arts, history and geography. According to Kant’s terminology of 1784, the Enlightenment was “man’s maturing from a minority of his own making,” and Nicolai understood this as a process within human society which had to be constantly continued afresh.

In his 40 years of publishing, Nicolai was dedicated to this basic principle, summing it up in the preface to volume 105 of the “New Universal German Library”:  “(...) that this work has had a positive influence on the development of the sciences in Germany, that it has reduced heterodoxy and superstition, shallow writing, pedantry and erudite arrogance whilst increasing a judicious freedom of ideas and the culture of human thought”.

IV. The “Project For Kilian” is primarily dedicated to an allegorical projection of events, which are apt to involve the viewer directly and to activate the “collective memory” (Assmann). “Only that which does not stop causing pain remains in our memory” (Friedrich Nietzsche), and so today Kaléndarev brings to mind the explosion of a submarine and the subsequent shock wave;

the explosion of that vessel which - as a vehicle of the armaments industry - is designed to conquer the depths and to hold out against the extreme pressure conditions under a mass of water, which - thanks to its periscope - can point the way to its own crew and set its sights on the enemy6, but which - like any technology - is not ultimately indestructible and so takes its toll.

Kaléndarev makes the uncanny depth of the sea visible from below, so pointing to the occurrences beneath the surface. The expression “to shed light on the matter” has a direct parallel here. The projection of light onto the east wall of the pen functions like a signpost through history, and it focuses on the people whose fate was bound up with the submarine pen and its attendant machinery. The names of those forced to work appear simultaneously with those of submarine crews, in two rows opposite to one another. Kaléndarev does not raise the question of victims and perpetrators, nor does he attempt any moral judgement, but he stimulates viewers to question historical details and to reconstruct events.

The constant increase in temporal distance from the historical object, the ruin, means that human consciousness runs the risk of selecting only those aspects which are largely determined by a positivist, romantic view of history. Kaléndarev meets the possible danger of intolerable euphemism with the individualization of the people involved - giving their names and places of origin. The projection of these names and their disapperance corresponds to the process of human existence and passing away, whilst the anonymity of the masses involved in war gives way to the identification of the individual.

At the same time, light is a symbol of enlightenment for Kaléndarev, leading him to the work of the journalist Nicolai. The passage of time makes it obvious that one and the same place can be associated with both the rule of terror and the liberal spirit of the Enlightenment; Kaléndarev releases the passage of time from anonymity, drawing our attention to the fact that history is not simply a series of automatic events, but that it is made. The self-determined commitment of the Enlightenment scholar Nicolai and the fate of participants in the war - as perhaps determined by others - combine to create an original, supertemporal metaphor.

Recollections of Nicolai’s work serve Kalen- darev as a visualization and vehicle of socially accepted democratic values. For if art in public places - by comparison with the vehicles of ideological expression in 19th century memorial sculpture, which it frequently replaces - is not to decline into an arbitrariness of content and assumed aesthetics, it must not evade the need to “teach or appeal to society. "8 Art in public places should be capable of developing a certain dimension of utility and functionalism (for the viewer). The “Project For Kilian” does so by elevating the ruins of the submarine pen to a place of remembrance.



(1)  Walter Grasskamp, Die Behaglichkeit des Gedenkens (The comfort of remembrance), in: Die Zeit, 18.11.1994, p. 61f

(2)  Sänke Neitzel, Die deutschen U-bootbunker und Bunkerwerften. Bau, Verwendung und Bedeutung ver- bunkerter U-bootstützpunkte in beiden Weltkriegen (German submarine pens and submarine shipyards. The construction and significance of sheltered submarine bases in both world wars), Coblenz 1991, p. 89.

(3)   Sänke Neitzel, ibid., p. 92

(4)  Jan Assmann, Kollektives Gedächtnis und kulturelle Identität (Collective memory and cultural identity), Frankfurt/Main 1988

(5)  Hans-Ernst Mittig, Das Denkmal (The memorial), in: Funkkolleg Kunst/voi. 8, Weinheim and Basle 1985, p. 54

(6)  See Paul Virilio, Das irreale Monument (The irreal monument), Berlin 1992, p. 17

(7)  See Jean-Christoph Ammann, Kunst im öffentlichen Raum (Art in public places), in: Das Denkmal und seine Zeit. Alfred Schmidt zum 70. Geburstag. (The memorial and its age. Publication to mark the 70th birthday of Alfred Schmidt), ed. B. Anderes, G. Carlen, and others. Lucerne 1990, pp. 298-309; see also the “Notes" by Siah Armajani on art in public places

(8)   see note 5

Translation: Lucinda Rennison, Berlin.