Joseph Beuys Stassenbahnhaltestelle

Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, The Netherlands © DACS 2005

Tram Stop 1976

Tram Stop looks back to Beuys’s early childhood in Cleves. Every day, while waiting for the tram to go to school, he would sit on a local monument consisting of four seventeenth-century shell cases arranged around an upright cannon whose mouth was shaped like a dragon’s head. When the monument was originally constructed, a cherub had sprung from the mouth of the cannon, representing the triumph of love over war.

Beuys made the first version of Tram Stop when he was selected to represent Germany at the Venice Biennale in 1976. The German Pavilion had been built during the Nazi era, and Beuys would have been very conscious of its associations when he chose to make a monument to peace out of the discarded weapons of war. The installation consisted of a cast of the original monument in iron, as well as a stretch of tram-line. However, Beuys added a screaming head, a symbol of anguish that was perhaps closer to the sensibility of modern Europe than the original cherub. The head is thought to be based on Anacharsis Cloots, one of the most radical and eccentric figures of the French Revolution, who ultimately went to the guillotine himself. Cloots had lived near Cleves and, like the monument, belonged to the landscape of Beuys’s childhood.

When Tram Stop was acquired by a Dutch museum, Beuys indicated that it should henceforth be installed as a series of isolated elements placed on the floor, without any attempt to replicate the vertical appearance of the original monument.