The Hi Vis
The built legacy of the Nazi occupation lives on outside of Germany, albeit usually in covert ways that seek to muzzle their appearence for fear of rekindling the wrong kinds of allegences. In one particular park, located centrally within the Belgium city of Antwerp, this legacy is literally hidden in the bushes... or used to be until very recently.
I first encountered Elke Thuy and Bruno Herzeele’s artwork named ‘Hunker’ during a 3 month stay in Antwerp in an Airbnb located near the corner of Stadspark. [^1] It’s referred to as the city’s central park although this seems to be an honour bestowed on the place through time rather than being a central focal point for the city. Previously the site and surrounds of a once grand manor house, it’s a curiously formed parcel of public space—feeling small and cosy, yet containing many winding tracks and paths through unkempt shrubbery. [^2]
Locating a shortcut from my stay to Antwerpen-Centraal station meant I began passing through Stadspark semi-regularly. As I rushed through I would spot flashes of fluorescent colours through the bushes and thickets. Pledging to take time to investigate what these were, I later discovered that the park harboured several large concrete bunkers which were very freshly painted in various unmissable fluorescent colours to expose their forms and locations and therefore legacy. [^3]
Commissioned as part of 2019’s Liberation Day, a day celebrating the city’s liberation from Nazi occupation [^4], artists Elke & Bruno aimed to highlight the previously hidden or near invisible legacy. As a person of European origin not born in Europe (in fact, I had grandparents who were Polish refugees who eventually fled to the U.K. because of these events) the effect was startling, particularly as the park buts up against the predominantly Jewish section of the city.
This being the first time I’d been able to explore the city in any sort of depth I initally assumed this was a permanent install so it was suprising to learn the meticulous steps that had been taken to perserve the condition of the bunkers. For a start paint wasn’t permitted to be applied directly to the concrete surface of the structures so a (very convincing) protective layer had to applied first which meant that after a year (after which time the orignial vibrance of the flourescent paints would, no doubt have faded) the colour could be removed to allow the bunkers to receed once again into their muniplcal camoflage. [^5]
On a personal note the project signified a weighty footnote, and one that confirmed experiences traversing between neighbouring cities and countries: that wherever you may be in Europe, the legacy of war and it’s costly reminders are always close by whether immediately visible or not.︎︎
[^1]: See Elke Thuy and Bruno Herzeele‘s site [elke-bruno.be] for documentation.
[^2]: For a comprehensive history of Stadspark Antwerpen (in Flemish) see [stadspark.net]
[^3]: Antwerp's Bunker Museum site has a recport on the event from the bunker enthusiasts point-of-view via [bunkervliegtuigarcheo.com]
[^4]: The City of Antwerp put together a programme of events and information relating to Liberation Day which can still be found via [antwerpcommemorates.be]
[^5]: A news article reporting on the launch of the project provides more detail: [vrt.be]