Sunday, 9 November 2014

Der Schwebende–The Hovering

barlach-angel  1
It is a few weeks yet till we start singing carols, but one particular carol has been in my head since I heard a superb piece on Radio 4 on Thursday evening, all about a sculpture of an angel which is suspended over a baptismal font in Güstrow, a town in Germany. It is called Der Schwebende–The Hovering, and was made by the German expressionist sculptor, Ernst Barlach. The carol is…
It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold:
"Peace on the earth, goodwill to men,
From heaven's all-gracious King."
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.
Still through the cloven skies they come,
With peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heavenly music floats
O’er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains,
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever o'er its Babel sounds
The blessèd angels sing.
The bronze figure was made in 1926 to commemorate the victims of the First World War. Barlach himself fought in this war and returned a pacifist. This memorial is unusual and unique. Detached from earth and time, with folded arms and closed eyes, the hovering figure expresses an internalized vision of the grief and sufferings of war. When the Nazis came to power in the 1930s, Barlach’s works were among the first to be declared Entartete Kunst (‘degenerate art’) and confiscated. Sadly, Barlach died in 1938, knowing that his masterwork had been taken down to be melted and probably made into war munitions.
barlach-schwebende 2
However, some courageous friends had managed to find the plaster mould from which the sculpture was created – and they made, and hid, a second cast, which was then hung in the Antoniter Church in Cologne after the end of WW2. This time, the sculpture commemorated two World Wars.
During the time of the Cold War in the 1950s, the parish of Cologne [West Germany] made another cast of the Angel and presented it in a gesture of friendship to the parish of Güstrow cathedral [in East Germany]. In 1981 Helmut Schmidt, the Chancellor of West Germany, met Erich Honecker in East Germany, and they visited Barlach’s Angel in Güstrow cathedral. Schmidt said ‘Barlach is indeed part of our common memory of the past. May I add, that Barlach could also stand as a representative of our shared and common future.’ Schmidt was right. Eight years later, in peaceful demonstrations, East Germans brought the wall between East and West down – there was reconciliation - on 9th November 1989
Today is Remembrance Sunday – 100 years since the start of WW1, 75 years since WW2. And still the wars go on…We remember all those who have died in conflict, and their bereaved families, we pray for those who have been injured, both physically and mentally - and above all we pray for peace and reconciliation.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing.

[This sculpture is currently on loan to the British Museum, and can be seen there until the end of January, as part of the Germany, Memories of A Nation exhibition]


  1. What a lovely story of reconciliation. I love the idea of the angel hovering over the font, too. Thanks for sharing that xx

    1. It seemed an appropriate post for the 25th anniversary.

  2. I wish I'd seen that. I was thinking of this statue when I saw it on the Radio 4 ad. I was telling the boys that despite the fact that Germany lost twice as many people as Britain, they have no national remembrance day. Why they asked. Because they didn't win, I wondered. To the victor the spoils, even of mourning?

    1. Germany has their national day of mourning after armistice day. It commemorates not just soldiers killed in war, but civilians, victims of the Holocaust, and people who were killed during the Cold War. More info here:

    2. thank you for this link, Liz!

  3. A lovely story and thank you for sharing it.

  4. You learn something new every day!
    Love the sculpture. Thanks for sharing.xx

  5. Thank you for this wonderful post!


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