Stolpersteine – Remembering

With the Stolpersteine, literally “stumbling stones”, artist Gunter Demnig tells the stories of people who fell victim to the Nazi terror. The stones can be found in numerous European countries.

Fußgänger gehen an einem Stolperstein vorbeiOriginal Source: WDR / Matthias Ehring

The world's largest decentralized memorial 

The Stolpersteine by the German artist Gunter Demnig can be found in various cities, from Sweden to Serbia and from Ukraine to France. By now there are more than 80,000 – spread across various countries in Europe.

Especially in Germany and its largest state, North Rhine-Westphalia, you can discover Stolpersteine embedded in the pavement in many places.

Ein Stolperstein für Martha Piel in NeussOriginal Source: WDR / Claus Langer

One stone, one name, one life story

Each stone tells a very personal story; of people of the Jewish faith, of Sint and Roma people, of homosexuals, forced labourers, those politically persecuted as well as victims of the Euthanasia program, who were all persecuted, deported, murdered or driven to suicide during the National Socialism era

Die WDR-App des Projekts "Stolpersteine NRW - gegen das Vergessen"Western Broadcasting Corporation (North Rhine-Westphalia)

Stolpersteine in NRW

Who was Martha Piel, what was her everyday life like, and what happened to her? You will find out by using an app while you’re out and about, or at home on your computer. The digital WDR project "Stolpersteine NRW – For Remembering" focuses on the biographies of people from NRW

Gunter und Katja DemnigOriginal Source: Gunter Demnig

Gunter and Katja Demnig support the project

The basic data of the digital WDR project is based on the files of the artist Gunter Demnig, which are up to 30 years old. Together with his wife Katja, he has supported the WDR project from the beginning, since the Stolpersteine have already become his life's work long ago.

Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier paid tribute to the work of Gunter Demnig on his 75th birthday on October 27, 2022, saying in a letter of congratulations that Demnig had created a "unique and globally exemplary memorial to the victims of Nazi terror".

Gunter Demnig has dedicated himself to the Stolpersteine project since the 1990s. At the age of 75, he would like to take it a little easier. But he will continue to travel and place stones, says Gunter Demnig, who lives in Alsfeld-Elbenrod in Hesse. There, in August 2022, the artist opened the permanent exhibition "Gunter Demnig: Traces and Works" on a former farmstead, which led to the idea of the Stolpersteine.

Der Künstler Gunter Demnig hält Stolpersteinen in seinen HändenOriginal Source: WDR / Claus Langer

Giving the NS victims a name

"A person is only forgotten when his or her name is forgotten". Artist Gunter Demnig likes to quote this sentence when he talks about his multi-award-winning Stolpersteine project.

Der Künstler Gunter Demnig verlegt in Neuss einen StolpersteinOriginal Source: WDR / Claus Langer

This use to be the home of ...

His idea: taking the names of the victims back to where the horror of the Nazi terror regime once began. Not in Auschwitz or Buchenwald, but at their own front door and in their neighborhood. Gunter Demnig developed the idea for the Stolpersteine from his earlier art campaigns.

Gunter Demnig, who studied art education and fine arts in Berlin and Kassel, considers himself a person with political consciousness. Someone who wants to make a difference with art and leave his mark. Already while studying art, he painted an American flag onto the shop window of his Berlin studio, protesting the Vietnam War. At the time, he replaced the stars with skulls. For this campaign he was imprisoned for half a day.

Color trail to Paris, Trail of Blood to London

Art in museums have never been his thing. Gunter Demnig is drawn to the streets – and to people. In 1980, with the project "Scent Marks Cassel-Paris ", he inked the German word "Duftmarken" in chalk onto the road with an ink roller for over 800 kilometers – from the Kassel Art Academy to the Centre Pompidou.

One year later, the "Trail of Blood" to London ensues. He walks 680 kilometers from Kassel via Cologne and Amsterdam to the London Tate Gallery. This time, however, Demnig doesn’t use chalk, but animal blood which he procures in slaughterhouses. In 1982, he spins the "Ariadne thread" from the documenta in Kassel to the Venice Biennale, and thus makes it into the Guinness Book of Records. In 1985, he eventually moves to Cologne and establishes a studio where he continues to leave his marks.

Künstler Gunter Demnig steht vor seinem Werk "Schwarze Wand No. 1"Original Source: ddp / Hennig Kaiser

Installations, performances and tracks

As an artist, Gunter Demnig also experiments with monumental sound sculptures. The central theme of his work, however, is the leaving and securing of traces. Without the earlier works, the Stolpersteine would not exist, says the sculptor in an Interview with the Westdeutscher Rundfunk.

Ein Rad mit dem Schriftzug "Mai 1940 - 1000 Sinti und Roma"Original Source: WDR / Axel Joerrs

 A trail through Cologne

On 6 May 1990, Gunter Demnig prints the writing "May 1940 - 1000 Sinti and Roma" on the streets in Cologne. It marks the death trail of the Sinti and Roma people to the deportation station in Deutz in 1940. A  conversation with a Cologne woman gives him the idea of the Stolpersteine. 

A conversation with consequences. The sculptor, born in Berlin in 1947, wants to fight repression. He steadily develops the concept for the Stolpersteine in the following years. In December 1992, Gunter Demnig lays a square stone for the first time. The occasion was the 50th anniversary of Heinrich Himmler's Auschwitz decree. He ordered the deportation of Sinti and Roma people and initiated their genocide.

Gunter Demnig in seinem Atelier 2005Original Source: laif / Jung

Every stone is an artwork

For many years, Gunter Demnig has been making the Stumbling Stones in his studio. In 2006, he entrusts the production of the memorial stones with a sculptor in Berlin. The reason is the great demand for Stolpersteine – also abroad.

Gunter Demnig fertigt eine Stolperstein in seinem Atelier anOriginal Source: laif / Jung

The surface of the memorial stones is ornamented with a brass plate. Embossing tools are used for their processing. The inscription on the Stolpersteine is inscribed  by hand.

Gunter Demnig bearbeitet eine MessingplatteOriginal Source: laif / Jung

The brass plate reads "This used to be the home of", the victims’ name and year of birth, the date of deportation and death (if known), and the reason for persecution by the National Socialists. To get the typical square shape, the plate is cast in concrete.

The first Stolpersteine in Cologne and Berlin

Gunter Demnig installs the first Stolpersteine – initially without a municipal permit – in January 1995 in Cologne, his home of choice. What’s near and dear to the artist, however, was the laying of the stones in 1996 in Berlin, the city of his birth – also without a permit.

On the road across Europe

Since 1996, Gunter Demnig has been travelling through Germany, later also overseas. To this day, he installs most of the Stolpersteine himself. There are now way over 80,000 stones in 27 European countries.

Gunter Demnig hält einen Stolperstein in der HandOriginal Source: imago / Eduard Bopp

Commemoration and reflection

With the stumbling stones, he wants to encourage commemoration, but also reflection. Entirely in the sense of Joseph Beuys' theory of social sculpture, in which not only the art object, but also the reaction of the people and the initiated social discussion are important.

Besides support, there are also critical voices

In some places, the Stolpersteine project is also met with refusal. For instance, homeowners who worry about the value of the property and those who still block out the darkest chapter in German history to this day. A few years ago, an AfD member of the Baden-Württemberg state parliament publicly demanded an end to the Stolperstein campaigns commemorating the victims of the Nazis

An appropriate way of commemorating?

Among the most prominent critics is Charlotte Knobloch, Holocaust survivor and president of the Israelite Cultural Community in Munich. She rejects Demnig's way of commemorating because the memory of the victims is "trampled underfoot". Therefore, the city of Munich has not approved any Stolpersteine on public property until today. Instead, the victims are commemorated with steles and memorial plaques.

Bowing to the people

The number of Stumbling Stones is growing – despite criticism. With the establishment of his foundation "Spuren" (traces), the artist Gunter Demnig has set the course for the future.

Weiße Rosen werden zum Gedenken an Stolpersteinen abgelegtOriginal Source: Geissler Fotopress / Christoph Hardt

Social Commitment

School classes and local sponsors are already taking on sponsorships for Stolpersteine in towns and municipalities. Volunteers research data related to the victims and provide a festive setting for the installation – this has an impact on the relatives, as Gunter Demnig knows.

Emotional moments with relatives

Some of the stone installations strike a chord, especially when meeting the relatives. This touches artist Gunter Demnig and fuels his passion.

More information on the project "Stolpersteine NRW - For Remembering" on

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