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by Inge Müller - Public Relations Officer for the Women’s Memorial Labyrinth

The form of the Labyrinth is not, as is frequently assumed, a maze with numerous dead ends but corresponds to the model of the classical labyrinth found all over the world, whether engraved in stone or made up of stones; whether as mosaic as in numerous French cathedrals or as grass labyrinths in England or here in Germany. The classical labyrinth consists of an entrance from which a path follows many circuitous turns to lead reliably to the centre in the end. There the visitor turns around and equally reliably is led to the exit.

* A variety of approaches to discover the essential meaning of the labyrinth have been attempted. We discover a quite simple and yet profound interpretation when we simply enter and walk through the labyrinth, and allow it to work on us. The feeling on entering it may best be described as “deepening”, “inwards”, “back into the past or to some origin”, “to the core of things and the essence of it all”. Leaving the labyrinth gives rise to sensations somehow more concerned with “upwards”, “outward, towards others”, “future- and purpose-oriented”. Such impressions are really best gathered with one’s feet.
In the course of history the labyrinth has been interpreted from a purely human point of view: as an image of our life from its source, aim, and search for its meaning. The care of labyrinths may have been in the hands of women from the beginning. This is hinted at by the figure of Greek Ariadne who – contrary to the hero, Theseus – was in possession of the red thread of orientation within the labyrinth. The labyrinth was also used in worship, e.g. in the French cathedrals mentioned previously. The ancient labyrinths still existing today and many of the new creations are traversed with essentially two aims. One is an individual one – for purposes of self-discovery and orientation, also experienced in a pedagogical and therapeutic way. Many experience a real pleasure that, in their walking it, the labyrinth effectively explains itself, with impulses at very deep levels, in the absence of any words or any ideological stipulation. A second aim of the labyrinth is a distinctly political and social one, and the WOMAN’s MEMORIAL LABYRINTH follows that line. The labyrinth is meant to stimulate, using the language of symbols but also many peripheral activities, to abandon the short traditional paths from A to B, the easy answer, prejudice and standard solutions. The labyrinth postulates a fundamental openness with regard to new forms of encounter, communication and joint commitment right across all fields of our political and social life, whether in regard to culture or science, basic or higher education, industry or the public health system, or the handling of power and helplessness in our society.

In the WOMEN’s MEMORAIL LABYRINTH this new orientation and way of thinking is set against the background of the life histories of great women of the past. The women to whom the labyrinth is dedicated, and those who have worked together to make it a reality – and there have been thousands of them, in a network spreading across Europe and into the US and beyond, and across the centuries – all show a characteristic labyrinth-like turning point in their lives. Frequently very deliberately, sometimes prompted by circumstances or from existential need – a turning point, for example in their professional or private domain that nobody had reckoned with, and which disconcerted people, sometimes to the point of giving rise to violent opposition – a turning point which ultimately led them to achieve more, in greater depth, breadth, at a more fundamental and authentic level. Such a turning point proved relevant for themselves, the women of their generation and/or their daughters and granddaughters.
Another aim of the WOMEN’s-MEMORIAL-LABYRINTH is concerned with establishing positive supportive links between women (of a kind which Italian women philosophers had called “affidamento”) – networks which draw their strength from their roots and long history and are able to project it into the future.

* The WOMENS’S-MEMORIAL-LABYRINTH is part of an international network created in Zürich in the nineties by a group of outstanding women artists. It was important to the founders of this “Labyrinth-Project-Zürich”, which was supported by the town council, that together with the revival of this complex symbol it should also provide an impulse for the creation and maintenance of public places by women. The Frankfort artist and women’s historian, Dagmar von Garnier, took up this concept in her WOMEN’s-MEMORIAL-LABYRINTH and gave it even more emphasis. The Labyrinth as laid out here is essentially her creation and that of the Zurich artist and ethnologist, Agnes Barmettler, who also set up the Zurich Labyrinth.

Its open-ended character is characteristic for the WOMEN’s-MEMORIAL-LABYRINTH. So far, in the year 2005 485 of the 1000 memorial stones have been dedicated to a woman of the past by a woman of the present, a so-called sponsor who is frequently supported by a group regarding selection and finance. The sponsor then becomes a much sought-after authority on “her” historical woman. A first network is thus formed around each individual stone. This variety became visible in an impressive way when the labyrinth was inaugurated and used for the first procession on the first of June 2000. It took place in front of the Old Opera in Frankfort, when 1000 women and many spectators took part. Numerous additional and invisible networks are forming around stones not inscribed so far. Many women in Germany are busy searching for traces of known or almost forgotten women who, in their life time, made significant contributions and who deserve to be honoured by a memorial stone in the labyrinth. Women are looking for such traces within their home towns, and in the context of their own professional and private spheres. Any woman is free to participate in this unique and live quest into history, and their subsequent personal involvement. The labyrinth catalogue shows it to be of a high standard and to act as an immense source of ideas for schools, universities, and institutions for adult education. One can only hope that many more women will, in the not too distant future, find a place in the WOMEN’s MEMORIAL LABYRINTH, and that this work of art will in time become a mirror for past centuries. It would also become a mobile traversable “history book” of women, particularly relating to Germany.

Ultimately, this work of art itself continuously produces new links by being mobile and being shown in different locations: connections between groups, associations and initiatives in the towns hosting the labyrinth, which then in turn adopt its aims which they subsequently translate into their own here-and-now. Relationships are also established between the various towns in Germany and ultimately in Europe, which have acted as host to the labyrinth since its creation.

Translation Dr.Marlene Binggeli, Wien, March 2005

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© Das Erbe der Frauen e.V., Dagmar von Garnier, Frankfurt a.M.,2006