On a crisp autumn afternoon I make my way through a graveyard that is of special importance to me. Various memorials line its uneven paths, punctuated by the occasional ancient mausoleum to a long dead aristocrat or member of the bourgeoisie. Chipped angels and cracked crowns smack of desperate attempts at permanence, but are already sullied by the ravages of entropy.
The memorials tell a tale as rich and as varied as the tumultuous history of the city itself. This is the Sophiengemeinde in Berlin, a cemetery named in memory of the mad third wife of King Frederik I of Prussia, and one that bears the permanent scar of ideological struggle. Upon construction of the Berlin Wall, this peaceful world was split in half: the local church remained in West Berlin, but its accompanying cemetery was taken into the East.
As I continue walking, I reach the last of the rows of memorials, beyond which is only a field of bare grass, and, further still, a worn but still standing segment of the Berlin Wall. This field indicates a part of the cemetery that was dug up – many hundreds of graves removed in order to build a segment of the ‘death strip’ that served to murder any ‘reactionaries’ who attempted to escape the supposed workers’ utopia.
In the very last row before the aforementioned former strip of death I find the stone that I have been looking for: the grave of one Johann Kaspar Schmidt, better known as Max Stirner. Unlike most of the other memorials of the site, this grave does not display ornate and symbolic designs but is instead a simple stone slab. With no iconography or special elements, it bears only the name Max Stirner, finely chiseled into the surface. The memorial distinguishes itself architecturally by not attempting to distinguish itself at all. In such an old section of a graveyard it is rare to find a grave that bears no sign of religious feeling, free of the guilt and anxieties of Judeo-Christian psychoses. In this absence – in what the gravestone’s design choose not communicate – is communicated everything.
What I find truly astounding is the symbolic accident of it all: the body of der Einzige, the demolisher of fixed ideology, buried beneath soil just metres from what was the most explicit material manifestation of Geist and the struggle betwixt ideologies the world has ever seen – the Berlin Wall. Johann Kaspar Schmidt lies directly facing the wall itself. For decades the grave was maintained by the German Democratic Republic, a state ideologically grounded in the theories of Stirner’s great ideological nemesis: Karl Marx. The collapse of this state, and the present unease bred by the crisis within the liberal capitalist system, blows the trumpet of a profound victory for Stirner beyond death, the thought of which warms the heart of this writer on a cold afternoon in Berlin. It would seem that only in a work of fiction could such poetic and symbolic justice be presented, yet somehow by pure chance one is confronted with it in glorious reality.
Next to the grave today is a brown tablet indicating it as an Ehrengrab, a ‘grave of honour’ selected and maintained by the local Berlin government, the irony of which is entirely lost upon a cultural department of statist philistines serving to construct an unintended air of humour for the philosophically aware, an in-joke for ontological anarchists. It is at this place – where a long dead corpse resides – that Stirner appears more alive and more dangerous than ever, juxtaposed and surrounded by a locale profoundly demonstrating the rotting paradigm that he raged against. With these thoughts buzzing I leave the place taking with me the ineffable that I came for. Johann Kaspar Schmidt is dead – long live Max Stirner!