I hope that last week’s blog about Spandau has encouraged you to visit this special part of Berlin. From now until the end of 2019, the wonderful Spandau Zitadelle has a stunning new exhibition. One of its huge neoclassical barrack buildings has been beautifully renovated to house a unique collection of Berlin monuments, ‘Unveiled – Berlin and its monuments.’ Statues that are symbols of the country’s turbulent past and yet have been removed from public view for years, have been rescued from neglect and despair and cleverly assembled to reveal a highly-charged political story from the 18th Century to the end of the 20th Century.
This exhibition has a real ‘wow factor’ from the moment you walk into the first vast room. Here you are greeted by the Prussian monarchy in the form of King Friedrich Wilhelm III, reunited with his Queen Louise who died so tragically young. The monuments erected in Berlin before the founding of the German Empire in 1871 were an expression of the military and political rise of the Prussian monarchy.
A royal couple reunited
King Friedrich II, ‘Frederick the Great’, was the first monarch in Europe to erect monuments to generals who did not come from the royal house, but who had distinguished themselves in war. There are scores of scarred heroes to admire in the next hall, many of them with limbs broken off or punctured with bullet-holes. Massed together in their spacious new surroundings, they make a commanding sight.
A particular highlight of the exhibition is the set of marble statues commissioned by Kaiser Wilhelm II to adorn the magnificent Siegesallee (‘Victory Avenue’) in Berlin’s central park, the Tiergarten. A whole summer’s day in the year 1907 is imitated acoustically by a sound installation, supported by a lighting choreography throwing shadows on to the park bench in the middle of the room. I stood there for a while, listening to the sound of people, carriages and birdsong and was transported back in time and place.
The Tiergarten in 1907
Germany’s defeat in World War I, which had cost the lives of over two million German soldiers, defined the erection of memorials during the post-war years of the Weimar Republic. The ‘Monument to the fallen Railwaymen,’ is especially touching. It depicts a strong man kneeling and bowing his head in mourning. There were many more such monuments erected all over the newly-created Greater Berlin, but the elected government of the day never realised a central ‘Reich Memorial’ in Berlin, something which would have certainly happened during the period of the Prussian monarchy.
The Railwaymen’s monument
During the period of National Socialism, it was architecture rather than monuments that played the major role as a means of demonstrating power and supporting the government’s claim to world domination. Adolf Hitler and his architect, Albert Speer, drew up plans to turn Berlin into the Reich Capital Germania. Statues were erected that conformed to classical Greek and Roman art, considered by Hitler to be art whose exterior form embodied an inner racial ideal and was both heroic and romantic. The one in the exhibition is a statue by Arno Breker, Hitler’s favorite sculptor. Also on display in this room is an eight-ton stone, whose purpose was to portray Germanic engineering prowess.
A rediscovered Breker bronze
In the National Socialism section of the exhibition there is a second sound installation, located in a small, empty, darkened room with a high ceiling. It symbolically depicts the Berlin Ruhmeshalle (‘Hall of Fame’) one of Hitler’s and Speer’s projects that was never realised. This cult hall was intended to hold 180,000 visitors and its purpose was to spread Nazi ideology. The inhumanity and incomprehensibility of this project is conveyed by an abstract sound installation and floor vibrations, which combine to induce feelings of anxiety and terror. It is a disorientating experience.
The grandiose design for Germania’s ‘Ruhmeshalle’
After World War II, the victorious powers divided Berlin into four sectors and East Berlin subsequently became the capital of the German Democratic Republic. In West Berlin, monuments were used to promote freedom and reunification in the ‘front-line city’ of the Cold War. They commemorated political events such as the blockade of 1948/1949, the people’s uprising in the GDR in 1953, and the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961. But it is mainly East Berlin monuments that are ‘unveiled’ in this exhibition, because so many were removed after reunification. On display is the memorial to the victims of ‘Fascism and Militarism’ from the Neue Wache on Unter den Linden, which I can recall from the 1980s. In the 1990s it was replaced by the more moving and less political Käthe Kollwitz sculpture of mourning mother.
The GDR’s memorial to the unknown soldier
There are many more monuments and statues in this last section of the exhibition, reflecting socialist ideology and German-Soviet friendship, as well as the struggle of the working classes against capitalism and fascism. But the show’s main attraction is undoubtedly one of its most colossal pieces – a granite head of Lenin, made famous by the 2003 film, ‘Goodbye Lenin!’ In a haunting scene, a piece of the torso of the gigantic statue of the Soviet leader is helicoptered along Stalinallee (now Karl-Marx-Allee), with hand outstretched.
The ‘Goodbye Lenin’ moment
The 1.7-metre-high Lenin head in the exhibition was part of a statue carved from Ukrainian pink granite that towered 19 metres above East Berlin. But after the fall of the Wall, amid considerable controversy, the first mayor of reunited Berlin ordered its removal to rid the city of an ‘unwanted icon’. The statue took months to disassemble, as Lenin was split into 120 parts, then transported to a secluded forest and buried in sandy earth.
According to the Director of the Spandau Zitadelle Museum, there were “endless debates” surrounding the decision to integrate the Lenin statue into this collection. There is also a widespread feeling that instead of dismantling and hiding the monuments, it would have been more appropriate to keep them up and publicly discuss their role and symbolism. But it is too late for regrets and this collection of rescued and scarred statues makes for a truly memorable exhibition in a unique setting. All the information is given clearly in English as well as German and you can reach out and touch the exhibits. Entrance costs €4.50 to include the Zitadelle Museum and the Juliusturm. The Zitadelle is open daily from 10.00 am until 5.00 pm.