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Gabbi WernerGirl Friday – the Book of Bad 34. Give Me Immortality

Von | 04.04.2014, 9:01 | Kein Kommentar

There is something weird about buildings. I mean, the big ones. From churches to fitness centres, it is all about wanting the impossible.

Welcome. To the stories I told in many hotelrooms. To a man who had trouble falling asleep. A business deal. He paid for my words.

Here they are.


The chapel, in all its eeriness, is of a strange and sinister beauty.  I tried counting all the busts and heads, but there were just too many of them, probably 11 thousand. There is no historic evidence to the legend of Ursula, but this church does a good job in making the story tangible. Bones in circles, in triangles, in squares. Latin words made out of bones. Skulls. Golden showcases with yet more bones in them. Gilded hands with the bones of the martyresses encased in them, the shape of a heart, a sun, all bones.
Throughout the centuries, different fashionable paraphernalia were added, the crude medieval shapes are joined by baroque cherubs, which makes the sunlit chamber with its black and white chequered marble floor all together more lugubrious. That whole day I was the only person in there. The days when people would come to pray here for salvation of the soul are over.
There is something weird about buildings. The big ones, I mean. They are the ones to tell us where the true powers lie in societies. The achievement of immortality has somehow always been intertwined with buildings of power.
In Europe, the very old big buildings are churches and cathedrals. The Catholic churches´ regime held the people in its inexorable grasp. True devotion was demanded. Wandering off that path could mean torture by that same church. But the true punishment lay in the afterlife: hell. Only by being an ardent and virtuous believer one could rest reasonably assured of a place in heaven. The quest of immortality was ever present in those days. The Catholic church offered us immortality of the soul. Having been good, we would be rewarded by going to heaven and become nice little angels. Sinners and unbaptised children had the choice of hell and limbo. Saints were immortal, their bones cast in gold, relics to be kept until Judgement Day, when they would guide the true believers into kingdom come, like the poor Ursula and her maidens. No matter how hard life was, if good, you could earn yourself a little spot in heaven.
And though this idea of immortality seems to be rather philosophical on the surface, the belief in medieval times was most definitely a very physical one. The bodies of every man and woman that had once lived on earth would rise from their graves. Those of the saints would be without blemish, youthful and strong. This is why many relics of saints were used so often in the churches, a smithereen of a single bone of a saint would be enough to conjure him back to life when the end of time would arrive. The sinners would be festered and worm ridden, ready to be taken to the devil. The church held its stronghold long enough, but slowly the powers shifted.
After the Renaissance, the time of kings and emperors entered. They used the architectonical vocabulary of ancient Roman empires and that of the church. The droit divine was translated in the palaces they had designed for themselves. Look at Versailles, where the Sun King ruled. The emperors just wanted themselves to become immortal, the people should remember them forever. Their palaces should reflect the death-defying omnipotence of the rulers. Heaven had become a place on earth. Being around the emperor was being around the closest thing you could get to god.
in the 20th Century, the totalitarian regimes liked to go big: Hitler, with the neo neo classicist style of Albert Speer, sampling Greek and Roman architecture to emphasise a fake historical evidence for the validation of the 1000 year rule of the Third Reich. Had the national socialist architecture followed a logical historic path, the buildings would have had to have the looks of the huts of the ancient Germanic tribes. This would of course have undermined the image of grandeur and wisdom the ideology needed.
Kim il Sung, who also claimed an godlike status for himself, and had a national religion made up for him, the Kim il Sungism, which is still taught in North Korean schools to date, had a design made for a tower that should literary reach for the skies. However, it was never built. Ceausescu in Rumania, the African dictators. Bigger was better to them. Their buildings were often just meagre copies of other dictators: Ceausescu had become inspired to build his „Palace of the people“ when visiting North Korea in the beginning of the Seventies. The Palace in Bucharest is the second largest building on earth, after the Pentagon.
Idi Amin in Uganda, who never tried to deny the rumours about himself being a cannibal, saying the blood he bathed in made him immortal and would protect him against any injury;  for his palaces he happily mixed and matched Roman, Greek and Stalinist styles.
At the end of the Millennium, an altogether different power emerged: the New Money. No longer were it legislative or governmental buildings that rose in over-dimensional proportions. It was banks and global corporations who built their temples of money and consumer driven greed. High, sleek, semi transparent molochs emerged in every cosmopolitan city around the globe. Within a couple of years, the new money was  where the power had transferred to. Look at most governmental buildings these days. So often do you see worn out carpets and dilapidated office furniture. There is no power in the governments anymore.
The churches and palaces of previous centuries have become museums. Whenever I would go into a church on my travels, I only met tourists, and an occasional old man or woman in desperate prayer.
With the new power of the multinationals a matching religion has emanated. Although, when looking closely it does echo the same desire for immortality: the worship of an eternally youthful body Decay is considered a crime, a flaw, a sign of deficiency, a sin.  Not fitting in the image of nouveau capitalism.
Plastic surgeons have become the new father confessors, fitness centres the new holy mass: „Worship your body in its youthfulness! Deny the devil called atrophy, or you will pay for your weakness!“  The holy mass of the devotion to eternal youth seems like a very lonely one to me. Trying to achieve the impossible: to look like the photoshopped images that are fed into their minds on a daily basis by advertisements. All these people in the  „Health clubs“ treading on fitness machines like rats in cages. Sad.
I wonder where the next revolution will take us to. I know one thing for sure, look closely at which institutions build big. That is were the power will have shifted.

To be Continued. Next Friday. Every Friday. From 09.00h.

Link to German Translation: click  Girl Friday – Buch des Bösen 34. Gib mir Unsterblichkeit

Artwork: Gabbi Werner

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