By SCOTT SMITH, Associated Press
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — A massive stone considered sacred by an indigenous community in Venezuela returned home Thursday resolving simmering international tension after a German artist shipped it to Berlin over two decades ago as part of a public exhibition symbolizing peace.
Artist Wolfgang Kraker von Schwarzenfeld took the stone in 1998, saying he had permission from Venezuela’s government at the time and only later learned that members of the nation’s Pemon community were upset.
It had been displayed among five large stones in Tiergarten Park in Berlin near the Brandenburg Gate and Holocaust Memorial.
The so-called Kueka stone from Venezuela represented love, according to the artist’s webpage. Other hulking stones collected from around the world in the Global Stones Project symbolized awakening, hope, forgiveness and peace.
The Pemons believe it represents the story of star-cross lovers, each turned to stone by a deity as punishment for marrying a member of another tribe.
Images on Venezuelan state TV Thursday showed a large crate containing the 30-ton stone being lifted by crane from an ocean freighter at a Venezuelan port. It originated from the grasslands region known as the Gran Sabana, also famous for dramatic flat-top mountains and the world’s tallest waterfall.
The stone’s removal stirred strain between Germany and Venezuela, including protests by tribal members outside the German embassy in Caracas.
President Nicolás Maduro in a nightly TV broadcast welcomed it home, calling it a “spiritual and cultural treasure” at a time when Venezuela and the world battle the coronavirus pandemic. He said the stone will next be trucked to the remote corner of southern Venezuela where it originated.
“The Kueka stone begins its its journey back to the place it had always been for thousands of years,” Maduro said.
Venezuelan officials said Germany returned it in a “friendly agreement,” as a sign of “goodwill and willingness to respect the peoples’ cultural rights.”
Von Schwarzenfeld’s website recounts embarking on a journey to circumnavigate the globe, setting sail from Europe to across the Atlantic Ocean. He eventually landed in Venezuela.
“I spoke with ministers, indigenous people, managers and the man on the street, and learned about Venezuelans’ ambitions and problems,” he wrote. “I filed an application and started the project. South of the Orinoco River I found a red granite boulder to be the first stone for my project.”
The AP did not receive an immediate response to a request for comment emailed to the website. It says he respects those who believe the stone “would have been better if the stone had stayed in Venezuela.”
But he added that “There will always be a special place in my heart for all of them!” Leaving Venezuela, von Schwarzenfeld said he continued his journey, sailing more than 10,000 miles to find the other stones.
Associated Press writer Jorge Rueda contributed to this story.