In 1983, at the height of Anselm Kiefer's deconstruction of Nazi themes, he created a series of works bearing the common title "Der Rhein", the romantic river that flows from south to north along the western border of Germany. In the context of the artist's work at the time, the simple reference to this famous river appears at first glance neutral and, indeed, quite harmless. In this series, of which the present book is one of the most fascinating examples, Kiefer frequently employs images of Nazi architecture, most specifically of Wilhelm Kreis' Hall of Soldiers, designed in 1939. The Hall of Soldiers, a monument to brave youths who gave their lives for Hitler's dream of a Thousand Year Reich, becomes transformed here into a kind of "Tomb to the Unknown Painter," a theme to which Kiefer returned time and again during the early 1980s. In doing so, Kiefer is obviously "conflating the most profound symbol of his country, the river Rhine, with an architectural manifestation of its lowest point in history and the memory, as well, of its lost artistic genius." (M. Rosenthal, "Anselm Kiefer", Philadelphia 1987, p. 106.)
The present book also pays testimony to the conflict between nature, represented by the river Rhine, and culture, represented by architecture. Here, the trees in the background obscure the view of the building, which we know is present only through the context of the other works in the series. The columns of the building are replaced by the enormous trunks of the trees that line the historical river. Seen in this way, Kiefer's imagery seems to embrace the same kind of theosophy, or religion of nature, that is present in the works of Caspar David Friedrich. In both cases, it is nature, not buildings, that is the true "house of god."