On the lawn opposite the gymnasium of Humboldt-Gymnasium in Weimar, orange flowers are growing. Upon closer inspection, it becomes apparent that there is no grass growing around, only a bit of weeds, creating an area that raises questions upon a second glance. Some students from class 9d think that the spot looks like a grave for a pet. A group of students remembers, “There was a foot here recently, broken, made of metal or something.” Their art teacher adds that for many years, the base plate and foot of a sculpture were on the school grounds until they were removed in April 2023. The school itself was unaware; no one knew anything when asked. The school grounds belong to Weimarer Wohnstätten, which likely prompted the removal of the base plate.
No material traces at the former location of the artwork, barely any clues about the appearance of the figure—the search for clues in Weimar began with many questions and an internet search. What do you type into the search bar when you know nothing? “statue humboldt-gymnasium weimar ddr.” Result: Thüringer Allgemeine from February 9, 2017: Where is “Die Bodenturnerin”? Weimar police are looking for the statue from Humboldt-Gymnasium. All research groups managed to find a picture of the missing artwork. Newspaper articles from the online archive of Thüringer Allgemeine explain why the artwork is no longer on the school grounds. The bronze figure was knocked off its pedestal in 2013, damaged, and stored by the city of Weimar. By early 2017, the sculpture was no longer to be found, and all traces were lost. The newspaper did not revisit the disappearance of the artwork later, and no more recent newspaper articles were found online. The initial internet search provided further clues for the investigation, including the name of the artist, various names for the artwork (“Sportlerin,” “Turnerin”), and the information that the sculpture was erected at the opening of the Lenin School in 1974. The research continued at the Weimar City Archives. There, a group discovered that the school building was only constructed from 1979 and opened in August 1980. Could 1974 be a typographical error in the newspaper? The other groups researched the artist Eberhard Reppold and Siegfriede Weber-Dempe, a successful athlete from Weimar depicted in the artwork. Some students went from the city archive to the office of Weimarer Wohnstätten, trying to find out where the foot and base plate had gone. A question that could not be answered by the end of the project period.
The next day, the class visited the memorial and educational site Andreasstraße and met a former gymnast from East Germany, who, as a 9-year-old, went to a sports boarding school in Halle, far from her family in Thuringia. The conversation illustrated the sports promotion system in East Germany and the tremendous pressure under which the athletes stood. Together with the eyewitness and expert on gymnastics, the class also looked at a photo of the bronze figure, which shows the Weimar athlete Siegfriede Weber-Dempe in a very typical pose from floor gymnastics but also with a highly aestheticizing gaze.
Sawing, drilling, screwing, gluing—following the search for clues, the young people created impressive artworks from wood on two afternoons, expressing various aspects of aesthetics, body images, and pressure in sports. In the confrontation with Eberhard Reppold’s original sculpture, they came up with their own interpretations.