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What Is Rosa Parks' House Doing In Berlin?

Detroit planned to demolish the home, so now it's in an artist's yard in Germany.

If you want to visit the home where civil rights legend Rosa Parks lived, you have a trip ahead of you — all the way across the Atlantic Ocean. That’s because her home is in the backyard of an American artist living in Germany.

It seems like back-of-the-bus treatment for the black woman who had the guts in 1955 to refuse to give up her seat to a white man in Alabama and go to the back of the bus. Instead, she gave birth to the civil rights movement.

Why is her home in Berlin? The short answer is that Detroit planned to destroy it.

When Parks’ niece Rhea McCauley found out, she paid $500 for the home, which Parks moved to in 1957, and cast around for ways to save it. She reached out to artist Ryan Mendoza, who happened to be in Detroit at the time and had previously moved a house from the city to Europe for an art project.

Though they both appealed to Detroit’s mayor to protect the building, they said the mayor had no interest. So Mendoza and volunteers disassembled the home, packed it in shipping containers, transported it to Germany, and put it back together in an expensive operation that took several months, reported Deutsche Welle.

“It is something that is precious,” McCauley told The Associated Press. “It is priceless, yet it is being mistreated. That’s what I saw and that’s how it felt. So when I met Ryan and he said, ‘Let’s bring it to Berlin and restore it,’ I said yes.”

Mendoza, who was born in New York, is stunned that Germany ended up with what he considers a treasure. “The Rosa Parks house should actually be a national monument and not a demolition project,” he told Deutsche Welle.

“The basic question, the fundamental question I ask myself: ‘Is the house worthless or is the house  priceless?’ For the American institutions so far the house has been deemed worthless,” he told Agence France-Presse. “It was put on a demolition list; that’s not a detail.”

Mendoza believes it’s apt that the house now stands in a country that tore down a wall and was removed from a nation that plans to build a wall.

Rosa Parks' niece Rhea McCauley (right) stands outside her aunt's home, now in Berlin.
Rosa Parks' niece Rhea McCauley (right) stands outside her aunt's home, now in Berlin.

Hundreds of people turned out to see the official unveiling of the home in Berlin last week. The interior still needs some work, but Mendoza has installed a sound exhibit for the home including a telephone interview with Parks.

McCauley said she hopes one day the U.S. will “grow up” and ask for its treasure back.

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