Ruins 4


This pen drawing, made by Svend Keller in 1949, is an illustration for a newspaper article. Below you can see the finished article, as it was probably published in a local newspaper of Chemnitz (yet to be identified, however I have no proof at the moment the article actually appeared in print, but it probably did). This is one of the very few examples where Svend Keller actually worked commercially in his newly learnt profession as a Graphics Designer. It looks like Svend Keller designed for himself a logo to be used for such purposes (probably a stylized “K”, above the name) but I have not seen it anywhere else yet. I don’t know if other newspaper illustrations by Svend Keller exist. To find out, one would have to screen the old papers from Chemnitz, if they still exist in some library or archive, probably as microfilm. As you can see, in the printed version of the drawing, the top part of the drawing was sacrificed. Perhaps drawings played a greater role in newspapers and magazines in those days than they did later when they where largely replaced by photography.

The author of the article signed “Knudsen”. This is a pseudonym of Svend Keller, so he wrote the text himself. The article is a reportage describing efforts to remove the ruins at one place in Chemnitz where a new square (“Kollwitzplatz” was being built).

A rough translation is following below. I can only give an idea of the text here, I don’t know how to capture the subtleties of the slightly propagandistic language of some sections. Remember we are here in eastern Germany, in the Soviet occupation zone, a few months before the foundation of the GDR (DDR). For example, an expression like “das schaffende Chemnitz” (literally “the working Chemnitz”, where the word “schaffen” has a connotation of “to bring into being”) seems to be communist jargon. I have translated it here simply “the workers of Chemnitz”. Probably a native speaker of English with some knowledge of Soviet jargon could come up with a better translation.




28th of March 1949.


Where the Kollwitz-square is forming

Once again, spring is coming into our city, accompanied by many hopes and wishes. With strengthened effort, people work on the rebuilding of the heavily destroyed Chemnitz.

Behind the museum as well, callused worker’s fists are clenching harder. Here, the new Käthe-Kollwitz-Square is forming that is supposed to unite the workers of Chemnitz on Mai 1st into a tremendous peace rally. Ruins are being blasted; a steam shovel is loading the narrow-gauge railway removing the debris.

In the evening the colossus is still digging its giant shovel into the debris. The day’s planned target has to be accomplished. The machine is screeching and making noise. Enormous chunks of debris are thudding into the trolleys. Suddenly, a heavy, elongate steel object is clamped between the digging teeth. A bomb! – For four years, the unexploded bomb had been lying in the ruins, witness of a night of horror. Now, one push is forwarding it into the light of the day. In an instant, the square is deserted. But the operator is keeping his nerve. Gently, he lets the 250 kg chunk glide to the ground.

On the next day, the removal of debris is continued as if nothing has happened. Even an American bomb cannot stop the work!

At noon, two blasts are to be conducted. To prevent a mishap, the unexploded bomb is “screened” by T-beams and boulders. A contingent of the People’s Police closes off the surrounding streets. Two explosions – the walls are collapsing -, work can continue. But now the bomb has to be removed. Defusing it is impossible, the detonator is seized up by rust and such old explosive devices are treacherous things. The power shovel must load the chunk into a trolley. “Well, you can sit inside it!” the machinist is saying.

But then he is doing I nevertheless. Four venturous men are clasping the bomb with a chain and fix it to the giant. It is lifted more gently than a raw egg and loaded into one trolley ready for it. Carefully, it is taken away. At the street, the unexploded bomb is loaded onto a police truck allocated for it, gazed at by many passersby, to be exploded in Rabensteiner forest.

On the Käthe-Kollwitz-square, people are already working again to remove the remains of the war.