Visiting the Soviet War Memorial in the Tiergarten, Berlin, Germany: complex memories
Historical ironies and complexities
Actually, it is in the former British sector of West Berlin, situated in the Tiergarten, close to the street known as Strasse des 17. Juni . (More about this road shortly.) This is one of the ironies of the urban geography and history of Berlin. While the Brandenburg Gate was for decades regarded as a symbol of the boundary between East and West, yet the memorial, erected in 1945 to the west of the Brandenburg Gate, predates by a few years the establishment of the Soviet-backed German Democratic Republic (or East Germany) and the Federal Republic of Germany, often referred to simply as West Germany.
The Strasse des 17. Juni which runs through the Tiergarten is so named because of an uprising which occured in 1953 in East Berlin, on 17th June, in opposition to the Communist authorities. Brutally suppressed, the uprising became a symbol of the desire for freedom by the people of Berlin.
Thus the monument to the Communist Soviet Union's armed forces at the Tiergarten is situated close to a road, the name of which commemorates an uprising against communism by the people of Berlin: this is another irony, or, at least, evidence of the complexity of Berlin's 20th century history.
Built shortly after the end of World War Two, the Soviet War memorial, designed by architect Mikhail Gorvits, used stone from the former Reich Chancellery, which did not survive intact. Atop the monument is a statue of a Soviet soldier, sculpted by Vladimir Tsigal and Lev Kerbel (1).
Behind the monument proper is a display area which traces the history of the memorial in its stages of construction. Two Red Army ML-20 artillery guns and two Soviet T-34 tanks are on display beside the memorial.
In its English version, an inscription reads:
Eternal glory to heroes who fell in battle with the German fascist invaders for the freedom and independence of the Soviet Union .
Thus, ironies abound in relation to this Soviet War Memorial, but there was nothing inherently unreasonable in a desire to commemorate those who fell opposing the Nazi régime during its final battle. The approximately 20 million Soviet War dead are also a poignant background to any subsequent historical anomalies associated with this monument (2).
In fact, the Communist authorities also erected other, substantial monuments to the Red Army in Berlin. But this monument in the Tiergarten, being the first Soviet war memorial in the city, as well as the fact of its somewhat unusual location in the light of subsequent developments, has become one of the more well-known sights of Berlin.
(1) Interestingly, Kerbel, born in 1917, who was responsible for a number of works commemorating Communist themes, survived beyond the demise of Communism in both East Germany and the Soviet Union, living until 2003.
(2) Maybe one lesson of 20th century German history is suggestive that there was no, one Cold War ideology which had a monopoly of commemorative virtue. Despite the many unappetizing aspects of Communism, I still think this memorial is one of the more sincere, cultural monuments to have emerged in post-World War Two Germany.
Also worth seeing
A short distance from the Soviet War Memorial in the Tiergarten is the Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor ), the historically important structure which formerly marked the border between East Germany and Berlin-West, and which was opened by East Germany's authorities in December 1989. Also a short distance away is the beautifully restored Reichstag building, forming part of the Bundestag (Parliament complex). The inscription Dem Deutschen Volke (To the German people) is displayed prominently.
Humboldt University of Berlin (Humboldt-Universitaet zu Berlin ; distance: approx. 2.0 kilometres) is one of the world's great institutions of learning, founded in 1810. 40 Nobel prizewinners, including Albert Einstein (later forced to moved to Princeton, New Jersey) have been associated with the university. In recent years the pillared stonework of the No. 6, Unter den Linden entrance has been restored.
Berlin Cathedral (Berliner Dom ; distance: approx. 2.1 kilometres), an enormous, domed landmark, is situated just off Unter den Linden .
The TV Tower (Fernsehturm ; distance: approx. 2.7 kilometres) this is Germany's tallest structure, noted as architectural project of East German leader Walter Ulbricht .
Potsdam (distance: approx. 36 kilometres), possesses historic palaces; Potsdam was the scene of the Potsdam Conference, between American, Soviet and British leaders in 1945, with momentous consequences.
Frankfurt an der Oder (distance: approx. 103 kilometres); with a City Hall in Gothic style, its landmark Friedenskirche is a church with two spires. In 1631, this city witnessed a Swedish battle victory over troops of the Holy Roman Empire.
Slubice , Poland (distance: approx. 105 kilometres); among its features is the noted 'NMP Krolowej' church, with a distinctive tower.
How to get there: Continental Airlines flies from New York Newark to Berlin Tegel Airport (Flughafen Berlin-Tegel ), where car rental is available. Please note that some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Please refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.
Other of my hubpages may also be of interest
- Visiting Germany's Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, and the Pariser Platz: open gates, and open questions
- Visiting Berlin's Reichstag: Germany's history, past and future
- Visiting the city on the Spree River: waterway of Germany's capital, Berlin
- Visiting Berlin-Schoenefeld, Germany: memories of vanishing aviation heritage
- Visiting Bonn, Germany: quiet, university city with a now reduced, Federal vocation