Public Memory in Charlottesville and Weimar


Frances Montevilla reflects on public memory in Charlottesville and Weimar

Part of the monument at Buchenwald Concentration Camp

One of the activities that the group participated in was the walking tour of Weimar. There were several moments during the tour where I found myself drawing connections to my experience as a tour guide for the University Guide Service. The placement of the student dormitory Jakobsplan in front of the destroyed houses and the uncomfortableness that it gave students reminded me of the student life at the University of Virginia. Between the McCormick and Alderman Road residence areas there is a Confederate cemetery, with an even more hidden cemetery of enslaved African American laborers. I remember my current roommate would tell me how it gave a creepy ominous feeling to the rooms that could see the Confederate cemetery from the window. These burial sites are not something that many UVA students are aware of but it would create discomfort if it was better contextualized. This made me wonder how students are able to acknowledge the privilege of being in spaces with a terrible history, how should bodies be properly commemorated, or which lives deserve to be remembered the most.

Something else that I found interesting was the centering of arts and culture in the Weimar buildings, such as the Bauhaus Museum. Similarly, the Rotunda serves as a symbol of education as the core of UVA, rather than a religious building like a chapel that was commonly placed at the center of colleges. What this made me realize was how common architectural patterns are repeated but also the amount of intentionality and symbolism. When I discuss the architecture of UVA, I always make sure to tell my tourists that everything Thomas Jefferson designed was not a coincidence but rather purposely highlighted educated white excellency as the cover for the suffering of enslaved African American laborers. In the same way, German architecture in Weimar is meant to bring a cultural narrative that was not possible during the GDR.