Stumbling Thirteen Thousand Times in Frankfurt

Jews were five percent of the population of this city, and now – of course – there are pietre d’inciampo, special memorial cobblestones, on every street.

Versione Italiana


I arrived in Frankfurt almost nine years ago. I bought a German telephone number, I looked for Italian groceries and I signed up for the gym. I always have sunglasses and an umbrella in my bag, because here it is June in the morning and November in the evening. Vegetables are luxury goods, flavor is optional and they season vegetarian pizza with cucumbers and corn. The Germans queue, they are punctual (even at Tamar music concerts), they pay separately at the restaurant, they put spices and sauces everywhere, they love cream and puddings, they live on beer, meat and potatoes; they hold festivals for no reason and go there on heels. As soon as they see the sun they undress and anxiously await the moment when they can show off the muscles they’ve worked hard on all the endless winter. Everyone has their moments of glory…

But one thing has marked my long stay in Frankfurt more than anything else: walking through the streets of this strange and modern international city, I keep stumbling. Going to the office on the first day I tripped, and I tripped on the way home on a Friday evening: there was a candle on the sidewalk, I approached it and tripped. But it was nothing serious. Then it happened while I was walking and wandering, and when I went back to the market, in the shopping street, then next to the metro station, and in the chic neighborhood as well as in the radical chic neighborhood. So, I changed direction, and I stumbled again. Then I took the tram to go to the city center, but I stumbled there too.

Friedrichstraße, Frankfurt

I stumble. Always. Everywhere.

Yes, because no matter how careful I am about where I step, Frankfurt is full of Stolpersteine: Stumbling Stones, or Pietre di Inciampo, memorial cobblestones.

They are not complete, but in theory there should be about thirteen thousand, because in 1933 there were 26,158 Jews in Frankfurt, and half managed to escape, while the other half were deported.

They were collected in what was then the wholesale market, the Grossmarkthalle.

For years, I crossed that same place every morning to go to the office, to drink a coffee after lunch, to go to the gym, to borrow books from the library.

Every day, morning and evening, sitting or walking.

My office was twenty-six floors above the Grossmarkthalle.

Six hundred returned and in 1945 there were 160 left.

Oberlindau, Frankfurt.

Jews were five percent of Frankfurt’s population, and now – of course – there are pietre d’inciampo on every street. And then I stop, I read the name, I look at how old they were, and I try to guess what relationship they had, because the pietre d’inciampo rarely stand alone: often there are two or three together, one next to the other, just as they were probably carried away.

Once I found eight of them all together, tightly packed.

If someone comes out of the door in front of which they were placed, I look at them and ask myself every time “who knows if they actually live in Adelheid and Irma Krause’s house? who knows if they know what happened to them, if they think about it, if they light a light in their memory every November 25th. And if those who now live in their house don’t do it, who knows if there is still anyone who can remember Irma and Adelheid, or Selma and Gisela, or Aron, Rebecka, Breindal, Esther, Frieda, Johanna, Tscharka and Benzijan?”

Memory, yes. My cell phone memory is almost full, because I often photograph the stones and then search for the names on Google: I do it like this, to see if anyone remembers them, because nowadays, if you can’t be found on Google, you don’t exist.

But I rarely find anything.

On average six hundred times out of thirteen thousand.

Translation by Paul Rosenberg

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Stumbling Thirteen Thousand Times in Frankfurt ultima modifica: 2024-01-18T21:05:25+01:00 da SUSANNA CALIMANI
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