Berlin university outrages poet by erasing his ‘sexist’ lyrics from wall

The Alice Salomon University in Berlin has decided to paint over a supposedly sexist poem that is currently emblazoned on its façade. In doing so it has been accused of “trampling” on artistic freedom.

Berlin university outrages poet by erasing his 'sexist' lyrics from wall
The poem "avenidas" on the wall of the Alice Salomon University. Photo: DPA

On Tuesday, the university’s executive committee decided by a majority vote to paint lyrics from a new poetry prize winner every five years instead of keeping the lyrics of the Swiss poet Eugen Gomringer.

Students at the university had complained that Gominger's Spanish poem “avenidas” was discriminatory against women since it uses the phrase “avenues and flowers and women and an admirer”. Students claimed that the line portrayed women as mere objects of male admiration.

Gomringer immediately criticized the university's decision, describing it as “an encroachment on the freedom of art and poetry.”

The 93-year-old told the German Press Agency (DPA) that he reserves the right to take legal action.

The German Cultural Council, an umbrella organization for 250 federal cultural associations, described itself as “shocked” by the decision.

Olaf Zimmermann, managing director of the Cultural Council, told DPA, “I would never have thought it possible for a university that is itself a beneficiary of freedom of art and science to trample on this right in such a way.”

The controversy first attracted international attention last year when the German PEN Centre and the Culture Council warned that erasing the poem amounted to censorship.

The university defended its decision on Tuesday. University rector Uwe Bettig said they were demonstrating “a clear commitment to art”.

During renovation in the autumn, a text by last year's prizewinner Barbara Köhler is to be painted onto the wall instead. In five years' time, there will be another change.

The university also announced that it would comply with Gomringer's request and would erect a “blackboard” in Spanish, German and English which would describe the poem and the debate about it.

Gomringer's poem was painted in large letters onto the southern façade of the university in 2011 as recognition of the fact that he won their Alice Salomon Poetic Prize that year.

In an online poll at the end of 2017, university students voted by a majority against the Gomringer poem.

The Alice Salomon University, with 3,700 students, is the largest state university for social work, health and education in Germany.

For members


EXPLAINED: Berlin’s latest Covid rules

In response to rapidly rising Covid-19 infection rates, the Berlin Senate has introduced stricter rules, which came into force on Saturday, November 27th. Here's what you need to know.

A sign in front of a waxing studio in Berlin indicates the rule of the 2G system
A sign in front of a waxing studio indicates the rule of the 2G system with access only for fully vaccinated people and those who can show proof of recovery from Covid-19 as restrictions tighten in Berlin. STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

The Senate agreed on the tougher restrictions on Tuesday, November 23rd with the goal of reducing contacts and mobility, according to State Secretary of Health Martin Matz (SPD).

He explained after the meeting that these measures should slow the increase in Covid-19 infection rates, which was important as “the situation had, unfortunately, deteriorated over the past weeks”, according to media reports.

READ ALSO: Tougher Covid measures needed to stop 100,000 more deaths, warns top German virologist

Essentially, the new rules exclude from much of public life anyone who cannot show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19. You’ll find more details of how different sectors are affected below.

If you haven’t been vaccinated or recovered (2G – geimpft (vaccinated) or genesen (recovered)) from Covid-19, then you can only go into shops for essential supplies, i.e. food shopping in supermarkets or to drugstores and pharmacies.

Many – but not all – of the rules for shopping are the same as those passed in the neighbouring state of Brandenburg in order to avoid promoting ‘shopping tourism’ with different restrictions in different states.

2G applies here, too, as well as the requirement to wear a mask with most places now no longer accepting a negative test for entry. Only minors are exempt from this requirement.

Sport, culture, clubs
Indoor sports halls will off-limits to anyone who hasn’t  been vaccinated or can’t show proof of recovery from Covid-19. 2G is also in force for cultural events, such as plays and concerts, where there’s also a requirement to wear a mask. 

In places where mask-wearing isn’t possible, such as dance clubs, then a negative test and social distancing are required (capacity is capped at 50 percent of the maximum).

Restaurants, bars, pubs (indoors)
You have to wear a mask in all of these places when you come in, leave or move around. You can only take your mask off while you’re sat down. 2G rules also apply here.

Hotels and other types of accommodation 
Restrictions are tougher here, too, with 2G now in force. This means that unvaccinated people can no longer get a room, even if they have a negative test.

For close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, it’s up to the service providers themselves to decide whether they require customers to wear masks or a negative test.

Football matches and other large-scale events
Rules have changed here, too. From December 1st, capacity will be limited to 5,000 people plus 50 percent of the total potential stadium or arena capacity. And only those who’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed in. Masks are also compulsory.

For the Olympic Stadium, this means capacity will be capped at 42,000 spectators and 16,000 for the Alte Försterei stadium. 

3G rules – ie vaccinated, recovered or a negative test – still apply on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses in Berlin. It was not possible to tighten restrictions, Matz said, as the regulations were issued at national level.

According to the German Act on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, people have to wear a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask  on public transport.

Christmas markets
The Senate currently has no plans to cancel the capital’s Christmas markets, some of which have been open since Monday. 

According to Matz, 2G rules apply and wearing a mask is compulsory.

Schools and day-care
Pupils will still have to take Covid tests three times a week and, in classes where there are at least two children who test positive in the rapid antigen tests, then tests should be carried out daily for a week.  

Unlike in Brandenburg, there are currently no plans to move away from face-to-face teaching. The child-friendly ‘lollipop’ Covid tests will be made compulsory in day-care centres and parents will be required to confirm that the tests have been carried out. Day-care staff have to document the results.

What about vaccination centres?
Berlin wants to expand these and set up new ones, according to Matz. A new vaccination centre should open in the Ring centre at the end of the week and 50 soldiers from the German army have been helping at the vaccination centre at the Exhibition Centre each day since last week.

The capacity in the new vaccination centre in the Lindencenter in Lichtenberg is expected to be doubled. There are also additional vaccination appointments so that people can get their jabs more quickly. Currently, all appointments are fully booked well into the new year.