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Darmstädter Echo, June 27, 2015 / travel

Distant views from the Tree of Life

Odenwald: On the hike from the Auerbacher Fürstenlager to Reichenbach, one also passes by the Friedensmal created by Thomas Zieringer – reflection and meditation in altitude

By Norbert Bartnik

This unusual installation that inspires visitors to reflect on the Jewish-German history and intercultural understanding has embellished the hiking route from Fürstenlager to Reichenbach for several years. Unfortunately, the fascinating project is still not signposted. Situated on a mount in the Odenwald that offers views that stretch towards the Rhine Plain, Bensheim artist Thomas Zieringer constructed a monument circle, that measures 26 meters, framed by boulders from Odenwald Quartz. A relief that symbolizes the Tree of Life is located at its heart – a bird’s-eye view of a stylized mesh of branches or roots. “It symbolizes the perception of oneself in an inner experience”, explains the artist. At the same time, the Peace Memorial inspires visitors to reflect on the Jewish-German history and the darkest chapters of German history. Occasionally, according to Jewish tradition, visitors place pebbles on top of the commemorative stones of the Peace Memorial.

Most hikers arrive by chance at this informative as well as meditative place, for the monument is not signposted in the region.
The Peace Memorial can be reached after an exciting hike with some seriously steep sections that demand good physical fitness. It starts at the Fürstenlager at the edge of Bensheim-Auerbach. The route first leads past Herrenhaus, after which it continues straight over the Apfelallee in the direction of Eremitage. Then, it leads right up the hill, after which hikers take a left at the “Hermann-Schäfer-Eiche”. Here, follow the signs for the Felsenmeer, then the signs of the Alemannenweg. The route is also suitable for cyclists with plenty of energy – either in their legs or in an additional battery. They will stay on the forest road, while hikers can also use the smaller paths that run parallel to it.

At a fork in the road, hikers follow the signs for Borstein to quickly reach the hill with the Peace Memorial
. Various information panels explain the idea behind the stone circle erected as a private initiative. At a short distance from the circle rests the Jerusalem memorial stone bearing the Hebrew inscription “Yerushalayim” as a representation of the “City of Peace”. The other side of the stone points westward, towards Hochstädten. Down there, where neat detached houses are being constructed, the Marmorit factory once stood. It’s mining galleries were used to produce weapons as the Second World War was drawing to a close. Greek forced labourers and concentration camp prisoners were used for the production; many of them (22 Persons) lost their lives.

An information panel refers to this dark episode of Bensheim’s history, largely pushed out of the local minds. It additionally features a somewhat dramatic appeal for intercultural understanding. “'This Peace Memorial strives to inspire visitors to reflect on their own lives and facilitate positive developments in themselves and others”, explains Zieringer.

One might think that such an initiative would be met with general approval. However, even though representatives of the Bergstraße district participated in the inauguration ceremony, several conflicts ensued that almost proved fatal to the project and the association that’s behind its realization. Zieringer did not have the necessary approvals to install the
Jerusalem memorial stone, which frustrated the district authorities. As a salient detail, the department head responsible for executing the removal order for the Jerusalem memorial stone, benches, and information tables was a politician of the Green Party, who used to be known for their rather unconventional mindset and procedures. The official report stated that the “unchecked building activity” couldn’t be accepted; moreover, the “vegetation didn’t fit the location”.

The district authority was met with great acclaim, albeit from a rather undesirable group: Neo-Nazis above all celebrated the decision to tear down the monument in Facebook comments. The association managed to, with the help of an attorney, clear the air and find a resolution with the district authority. By now, the installation has been modified to the satisfaction of both parties. “The demolition order was suspended in autumn 2014 and this issue is resolved”, explains Zieringer. “The idea to tear down a
Jerusalem memorial stone in Germany turned out to be unacceptable in the end.” After all this, the artist continues to construct his monument, planning to add two angel’s wings with a border of white marble pebbles and a rainbow made of glass mosaic.

After a hefty dose of inner reflection, hikers can continue to satisfy their bodily needs. The
Waldgasthaus am Borstein is situated behind the striking rock formations, with an inviting terrace and a menu of both light and heartier dishes. The ideal stop for a breather, after which the road leads steeply down into the center of the village of Reichenbach. From here, the monument site isn’t signposted yet either. Hanne Holuscha, deputy head of Odenwald Tourismus GmbH, has agreed to review the situation: “It is a gorgeous site; the images and texts that I read on the website gave me goosebumps.”

© Darmstädter Echo - This is a translation of the article published in the Darmstädter Echo on June, 27, 2015.

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