In this toxic climate, the American artist Ken Aptekar is staging a show called Nachbarn, or Neighbours, using video, paintings and silverpoint drawings to explore what neighbourliness means. He was thinking about the theme long before Germany’s – and Europe’s – current refugee crisis. In 2006, he visited Lübeck and was struck by how the St Annen-Museum, a former Augustinian nunnery, was next door to one of the few German synagogues not to be burned down during Kristallnacht in 1938. How, Aptekar wondered, did these Christian and Jewish neighbours get along before and during the Holocaust?
“I wanted to do something that would speak to young Lübeckers,” says Aptekar. “I wanted to shift the Holocaust narrative from being about victimisation to otherness, immigration and community. Can people recognise and respect their profound differences and together build a vibrant community?”
He didn’t know 10 years ago how topical these questions would become, in a Europe still reeling after the Paris attacks. Strikingly, the names of the works have translations into German, English, Russian and Turkish. Why Russian and Turkish? Because Lübeck’s synagogue is now a thriving place of worship for a 900-strong community of Jews, mostly from Russia; while, within walking distance of the museum, there are three mosques, whose worshippers are mostly Turkish-speaking.