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Take home a quote from the Disappearing Wall in the Citizen’s Garden

19:55 25/06/2021

Who inspires you? Or more to the point: What phrase, quote or saying has always stuck with you? People across Europe were asked to submit their favourite quote, whether it was something they heard or read or an old proverb from their country. It could be anything, from literary text to a pop song to a phrase from a political speech. The only requirement was that it was said or sung or written by a European.

Thousands of quotes poured in. And the Goethe Institute whittled them down to 200. And then they built a wall.

This wall of quotes is now a participatory art installation, on view now in the Citizen’s Garden in the EU district. All the quotes are printed on long wooden blocks carefully slid into place in a Plexiglas frame. You have to pull the block out to see the quote printed on the side. It is in its original language, and on the other sides of the block you will find it translated into French, Dutch and German.

When you find a quote that particularly resonates with you, you don’t place it back into its cubbyhole. You take it with you. The installation is called ‘Disappearing Wall’.


 “We ask passers-by, here in this Citizen’s Garden, to approach the wall, to pick and choose, to linger, read the sayings, take the one that they like, take it home with them,” says Elke Kaschl Mohni, director of the Goethe Institute in Brussels. “It’s like a poetic greeting that someone somewhere else in Europe has written for them.”

And that is how the wall disappears, she says, “dissolving into poetry”.

The Goethe Institute is a German state organisation that promotes German culture and language around the world. As you might have guessed by now, the ‘Disappearing Wall’ was inspired by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany.

The installation was launched in Warsaw last August and has been to more than 20 countries since, popping up in multiple cities. It has delighted the people of Brussels twice already, including in Grand Place last October, on German Unity Day.

Goethe Institute director Elke Kaschl Mohni and German ambassador Martin Kotthaus in front of the Disappearing Wall in the Citizens’ Garden
Goethe Institute director Elke Kaschl Mohni and German ambassador Martin Kotthaus in front of the Disappearing Wall in the Citizens’ Garden  ©LB


And that is what the Disappearing Wall is supposed to do, explains Kaschl Mohni – bring people together. “The sayings can lead to reflection, to conversation, you can talk about this,” she says. “They are very inspirational, from the late pope Karol Wojtyla to authors to even Winnie the Pooh. So it’s something that anybody of any age can engage in, start talking about it, reflect. That’s how the wall disappears, but it’s also about connections, encounters are made possible. And that the idea behind Europe.”

In fact, one of Mohni’s favourite quotes from the wall comes from Winnie the Pooh. “What day is it? said Pooh. It’s today, squeaked Piglet. My favourite day, said Pooh.”

What else did the people of Europe choose to communicate to their fellow citizens? “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” So spoke Oscar Wilde. Or there’s this one from Indira Gandhi: “You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist.” Belgian author Leonard Pfeijffer has this to say: “Celui qui ne se souvient pas de tout ce qu’il souhalte oublier risque d’oublier d'oublier certaines choses.” (“One who does not remember everything he wants to forget may forget to forget things.”)

The Citizen’s Garden – behind the Wiertz Museum on Rue Vautier – is open to the public, so visitors can wander in any time to explore the wall. While the wooden blocks disappeared from Grand Place in two days last year – and from Rabin Square in Tel Aviv in two hours – they should last a bit longer here, hidden from street view behind the fence and lush foliage of the garden. Still, anyone keen to have a quote of their own best not wait too long.

What quote did this correspondent choose when she visited the Disappearing Wall?

So we can’t save the world by playing by the rules. Because the rules have to be changed. Everything needs to change. And it has to start today.
– Greta Thunberg

Photo top ©Lillo Mendola/Goethe Institute

Written by Lisa Bradshaw