When Don & Lori had a walking tour of Köln last week, the gracious tour guide let us non-cruise ship passengers tag along, having come up for the day to meet them. We got a very engaging tour of the Kölner Dom which I hadn’t visited since my stay there with a host family when I was 16. The tour guide also showed us several important landmarks around the church, and at the end of the tour, she pointed down at the sidewalk, and explained the brass “stumbling stones” (Stolpersteine) at our feet.
These small square brass squares were placed in the sidewalk by an artist to commemorate specific people lost in the Holocaust. They are in the sidewalk by design, for several reasons, but most notably so that you have to bow down to read them, a natural gesture of respect.
They are inscribed with the name, birthdate, date deported, and date murdered, if known. The stones are placed in the last-known residence of the person. The act of walking over them is meant to keep them shiny. In this way, the artist, who makes each stone individually (now, with help from another artisan), wants to keep them part of every day life, so that when you “stumble” over them you can remember that this exact person was once here.
There are more than 70,000 of these stones throughout Europe…and it turns out there are some on our street! I hadn’t noticed them, but Jeff had. I wanted to go visit them right away. He said beyond our street there were more scattered throughout our neighborhood. I thought this was such a great idea for pubic art and remembrance, and that I wanted to go visit them all!
In passing, Jeff had mentioned that the stones on our street were dull and discolored.
So…I got the idea to clean them.
Last Sunday, we set out with our somewhat unconventional brass cleaning material: ketchup. Yes, I had read online that ketchup worked better than any brass cleaner you might purchase at the hardware store. So I thought: why not? We’re not going make them any dirtier.
It felt a little weird squiring a blood-like substance on a commemorative stones but indeed it did the job, and quickly too.
As luck would have it, the church bells in the neighborhood happened to be ringing the whole time–totally unplanned by me–and so this act of cleaning the Steinberg’s stones, in front of their once-home at 74 Achenbachstraße, turned into a beautiful ceremony.
Here is a “before” picture of the Steinberg’s stones (far left). I love looking at these so included a couple more from the neighborhood that Jeff showed me.
And here is a video I took after I applied the ketchup, while we waited for it to work, and Jeff rubbing it off to shine them up…