Address by Elizabeth Beéry , 8th June 2009, about the renaming of the “Krügerstrasse” into the “Dürrenmattstrasse”

Elisabeth Beéry, Stadträtin, Direktion Bau und Planung

Time and again, since the 1980s, petitions to rename the “Krügerstrasse” have been made at regular intervals. As for example, on 19th November 1986, when the street sign with the inscription “Krügerstrasse” was replaced for a short time by the sign, “Mandelastrasse”. This innocent, yet still a heavily symbolic political “happening” took place with the involvement of Dulcie September, who was representative for the African National Congress for France, Switzerland and Luxemburg and who was murdered in Paris almost one and a half years later after this action.

Whoever has been involved in the renaming of the “Krügerstrasse” over the last 20 years, has done so with the same argument: It is scandalous, that a street in St. Gallen is honoured by a man, whose name is closely associated with colonial rule and the oppression of the black peoples of South Africa.

In his meeting of 9th September 2008, the City Councillor, decided to rename the “Krügerstraase” to “Dürrenmattstrasse”. Principally, the City Council tries to avoid such name changing. The thoughtless replacement of street names is contradictive to the desirable duration of district names and not least of all to the administrative and financial costs.

Nevertheless the City Councillor has made an exception in this case. Historians of today, when making a judgement of the politician Kruger, put an emphasis on his role with the establishment of the social system which eventually led to Apartheid. The City Councillor has repeatedly reaffirmed to reject every form of racism and to endeavour to achieve successful integration. Therefore, he fully supports the efforts not to continue to honour a Saint Gallen street name with Paul Krüger.

Evidence has recently been found in the city archives, the minutes of a meeting regarding the renaming of “Krügerstrasse”. The Building Committee of the former independent county council of “Straubenzell” decided in their meeting from 28th March 1904 the following:

“The street north of “Stärkle’schen” building area and the soap factory will be named “Krügerstrasse” in memory of the honoured, aged republican “Ohm Paul”, the ex- president of the Republic of Transvaal. A member of the Building Committee was happy to see the houses of the old Boers on the “Riviera”. Now he has  memories of “Ohm Paul”  (Uncle Paul) , in the otherwise bare inner area of “Straubenzell”

With respect, the decision is in three ways remarkable:

1.     With the “Krügerstrasse”, the Building Committee honours a republican, who as leading representative of a small Boer country has struggled against the world’s leading power of Great Britain. Such a political situation was and is always favoured in a small country like Switzerland. The fact that Krüger has been mentioned in the minutes of the meeting as the kind name “Ohm Paul” (Uncle Paul) , also shows how the sympathies have been shared. It never came into the speech of the Building Committee that the Boers rejected the rights of the Black African People. Likewise, they never defended their inherited country, but merely the rest of the Dutch Cape Colony. In this respect, the Boer Wars are to be understood as a conflict between the two colonial powers, Great Britain and The Netherlands.

2.     The “Straubenzeller” Building Commission’s decision took place three and a half months before Krüger’s death in Clarens, Canton Waadt, Switzerland. Krüger settled there after the defeat of the Boers against the British in the second Boer War (1899-1902) became apparent. Unlike the Building Committee at that time, the city council of today only considers naming streets after deceased personalities. Who will know how a living person will develop and what thoughts they will have?

3.     It is an astounding sentimental argument that a member of the Building Committee would have memories of old Boer houses on the Riviera when they read the road sign “Krügerstraase”. Certainly, the requirements of street  names at that time were enormous. “Straubenzell” grew up in the wake of the “Sankt Gallen” embroidery industry, between 1900 - 1920, when the population exploded from 8,000 -15,000 people. Understandably, the romantic feelings of a member of the Building Committee could have influenced the renaming.

With regards to the third point, Friedrich Dürrenmatt, would have perhaps been especially delighted with the honour of a certain touch of grotesque, in his world wide, well-know tragic comedies. It has been planned for a long time to find a suitable occasion to name a street after a distinguished Swiss Theatrical writer and artist. Now this opportunity has arisen. The City Council is convinced that a good choice has been met and a doubtful historical burden has been shed.