On this sunny Monday I decided to get some fresh air and inspect the remains of a few empires which exist only in history books.
Many forget that the Soviet Union lost upwards of twenty-five million people during the Second World War, this including both soldiers and civilians. This accounted for more than 13% of the entire population of the country. More than one out of every ten people in this country died. Soviet losses also accounted for more than 40% of all losses in the entire War, with Germany in second place, having lost about seven million, or 8% of their population. The Soviets fought the German advance for a very long time over a vast expanse of land without help from the other Allies until the invasion of Sicily in 1943 to some degree and D-Day in 1944 to a much greater extent.
This nation made enormous sacrifices and, somewhat naturally, placed monuments everywhere to their achievements when the Nazi tide was reversed. Without getting into the obvious atrocities they themselves committed once in Berlin, and which they committed for the next fifty years, let’s just talk about these monuments to their dead.
For example, in Budapest, there is an obelisk in Russian in the very centre of the city dedicated to the Soviet soldiers who died to liberate the city. Somewhat humorously, there is now a statue of Ronald Reagan chuckling in its direction just next to it. Hungarian humour.
The Soviet memorial in Berlin, the main one, lies in Treptower Park.
The monument covers a large plot, and is approximately a kilometre in length. It was inaugurated in 1949 with great fanfare and attendance of many of the bigwigs of the communist echelons of Eastern Europe. The stones and granite were reused from a now demolished Reichskanzlei, Hitler’s government office in Berlin.
“Eternal glory to the warriors of the Soviet Army, having given their own lives in battle for the liberation of humanity from the fascist threat.”
The memorial features two large red granite structures at the entrance, with two kneeling soldiers at each side. This overlooks a series of grassy knolls and reliefs in limestone on both sides, leading up to a small hill with a statue of a soldier crushing a swastika at the end. The reliefs all depict, in socialist realist style, scenes from the War, namely idealised industrial workers producing arms, people suffering during bombings, people rising against the fascists, etc.
Each relief block has a quote from Stalin’s wartime speeches on it, with Russian on the reliefs on the left side and German translations on the reliefs going up the right side.
Sorry for the filters, they made the statue clearer. Underneath the statue is a large point of contemplation with a skilful mosaic, also in the socialist realist style, depicting people mourning for their fallen heroes.
It’s a very strange, quiet place. It is also almost hilariously representative of the socialist realist style, with strong and muscular people brandishing fists against the fascists everywhere you look. I found myself accidentally whistling some old Russian war songs, like “On The Hills Of Manchuria” and “Slavic Woman’s Farewell”. This is highly worth the visit for anyone interested in the Second World War and Russian history.
Because one monument to a no longer extant nation was not enough, I headed over to Kreuzberg to see the Prussian National Monument. This monument was constructed on a hill, something which I have almost never seen in this exceedingly flat city, and is meant to resemble a Gothic church forged from steel in a cannon foundry.
The monument itself commemorates victories against the forces of Napoleon, and was designed by Schinkel, a very important Prussian architect who was responsible for many of the monumental buildings in Berlin as well as elsewhere during the Prussian Empire’s existence. This particular monument’s materials reveal the dearth of building materials after the devastation of the Napoleonic Wars. Furthermore, it is a stark reminder of the military mentality of the Prussian nation, a bellicose country aiming to dominate all the German-speaking lands.
I accidentally happened across one more piece of interest while hopping out of the U-Bahn to see the Prussian National Monument: A building remaining from the Nazi era.
One of my tandem partners mentioned that there are still a few buildings from Hitler’s era remaining hidden round Berlin. One of them is the present Finance Ministry, which used to be the Air Defence Ministry under the Third Reich. He also mentioned a building by the Tempelhof Airport, and I accidentally ran into this building he had mentioned. I didn’t make the connection that it was the building he had mentioned until after I had noticed that it was, quite obviously, a remnant from the period.
People always remember that Hitler was a failed artist, but always forget that he was obsessed with architecture and would much rather have been an architect than an artist. This particular airport was used by the Nazis and survived relatively unscathed. It later was the central airfield for the Berlin Airlift in the 1950s and was operational until quite recently. But it’s very obvious the Nazis commissioned it from a certain Sagebiel.
It has all the typical hallmarks of Nazi architecture, with imposing squared-off windows, logical organisation, eagles everywhere, and limestone columns. These buildings were meant to last a thousand years, remember. I remember being impressed by no other city I have visited as much as I was by Milan, which was heavily redecorated by Mussolini in the futurist, fascist style. And it really shocks one to see such massive and monumental structures everywhere. The train station, even, was a representation of Italy’s imperial aspirations and was supposed to declare loudly her power. Berlin used to be covered in such buildings, but the War, destructive as it was, left much of the city in ruins and destroyed many of the buildings left from any time before 1945. It’s quite shocking that this building survived and that, what is more, it wasn’t demolished afterwards. As a history student it was quite a pleasure to see at least a bit of what it must have been like to walk the streets of Berlin seventy years ago.
Just outside this building, on a final note, stands the monument to the Berlin Airlift, a year-long endeavour to supply West Berlin solely by air after the land routes were blocked by the Soviet Union in an attempt to starve out the West. During this undertaking, one plane per minute landed with supplies at this airport in particular in order to feed and nourish West Berlin.
I got some strange looks from people as I took pictures of these things. Which is understandable, since it’s not everyday you see such a beautiful man, let alone one who is snapping photographs of nationalist monuments. If you have time I highly recommend you go to these sites, if nothing else for their historical value.