Critics take dim view of Berlin artists light-show plan

Light artist Gert Hof said at a news conference Monday that he was hurt by the comparison of his millennium show to light spectacles created by Speer in the 1930s. Those spectacles were memorialized in the film "Triumph of the Will," by Leni Riefenstahl.

According to a statement from the firm putting on the show, Art in Heaven, Hof could not possibly favor Nazi ideas because his own grandfather had died in a concentration camp and Hof himself had been jailed as a dissident in the former East Germany. "Light can't be fascist," said Hof.

Some have observed that Hof's original design, involving hundreds of thousands of people raising their arms to point their flashlights at the column, was reminiscent of the seas of Germans raising their arms in the Hitler salute. Today, it is illegal in Germany to make such a salute publicly.

Art or not, the medium carries a message, suggested Nobel Prize-winner Gunter Grass, who had criticized the original plan. He wrote that columns of light and torchlight marches were "the pseudo-sacred mass rituals of totalitarian systems."

Another critic, Peter Strieder, Berlin's city planning chief, met with the artist to discuss potential changes in the plan. Hof reported afterward that the meeting went well, saying, "Politics always helps art."