Two German Words in Czech Public Space (Petr Dub)

Commemorative Plaque of Hans KelsenAnnotation:

The commemorative plaque honoring Hans Kelsen, the iconic legal theorist born in Prague, was initiated by the Institute of State and Law of the Czech Academy of Sciences in 2014. The plaque is located at the base of the Máj commercial complex in Prague, at the intersection of Národní and Spálená streets, where Hans Kelsen’s birthplace once stood. The sculpture is based on Kelsen’s concepts of “SEIN” and “SOLLEN,” fundamental to 20th-century legal philosophy. The installation is made of raw steel and polished titanium, symbolizing the interdependence, opposition, and connection of these legal terms. On the left side of the sculpture are Kelsen’s key biographical data and legal works, and at the top is a vial of Pacific Ocean water collected near Berkeley, where Kelsen’s ashes were scattered in 1973, per his request.

About the Project
The new art sculpture titled Two German Words in Czech Public Space at the intersection of Národní and Spálená streets commemorates Hans Kelsen, a legal theorist born in Prague on October 11, 1881. The sculpture is by visual artist and current Academy of Fine Arts lecturer, Petr Dub.

On June 20, 2024, a permanent art sculpture will be unveiled at the base of the Máj building in Prague, commemorating the important Czech-born legal philosopher Hans Kelsen. Kelsen is considered the most significant legal philosopher of the 20th century, and his work remains crucial to international legal science. His personal life mirrors the tumultuous history of the 20th century. Born in Prague during the Austro-Hungarian Empire, he moved to Austria, contributing significantly to the Austrian constitution. He fled the Nazi regime to Switzerland and then to the USA, where he was a professor at the University of Berkeley and a legal advisor to the UN War Crimes Commission in Washington. He died in California on April 19, 1973. Kelsen is widely known for his timeless quote: “Democracy is the form of state that least defends itself against its opponents” (Verteidigung der Demokratie, 1934).

The sculpture, located on the building of today’s Máj department store, aims to honor Kelsen’s memory, draw attention to his work, and highlight the architecturally significant building designed by architects John Eisler, Miroslav Masák, and Martin Rajniš from the SIAL studio in Liberec. Therefore, the sculpture directly reinterprets parts of Kelsen’s work, opting for a visually minimalist form and rejecting the traditional figurative portrayal of historical figures.

The installation consists of two opposing inscriptions—”SEIN” and “SOLLEN”—key terms in Kelsen’s legal philosophy. These terms, from Kelsen’s book Pure Theory of Law, demonstrate the effort to define the relationship between “what is” and “what ought to be” in legal theory, reflecting broader societal conditions. The polished titanium inscriptions function as mirrors, creating a transit space for thousands of Prague residents and tourists daily. The sculpture references Czech history linked to the linguistic environment of the Habsburg monarchy and shows that human knowledge transcends geographical boundaries. It mirrors its surroundings, including historical architecture, contemporary city life, and advertising smog. Observant viewers will find a reference to Kelsen’s demolished birthplace within the larger inscription, allowing them to measure themselves against this legal giant.

Contact Information
Location: Národní 63/26, Prague 1, Nové Město, Czech Republic
Coordinates: 50°4′55.92″ N, 14°25′10.92″ E
Media Contact: Petr Agha (petr.agha@ilaw.cas.cz)