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Berlin university outrages poet by erasing his 'sexist' lyrics from wall

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The poem "avenidas" on the wall of the Alice Salomon University. Photo: DPA
12:38 CET+01:00
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.

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.

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