Soviet war memorials in Berlin

  
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War memorials in the old Soviet style are often monuments that really do earn the description as 'monumental' to the fullest. Berlin, which at the end of WWII was defeated/liberated from the Nazis by the Soviet Red Army, has its share of such monuments. And even though they are not as gigantic as the Rodina Mat statues in Kiev or Volgograd some of them are still pretty impressive.  

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>What there is to see

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More background info: The style known as socialist realism is geared towards two things: political propaganda and glamorizing war heroism. The former mostly comes in the form of posters, the latter really comes into its own with monuments, esp. statues. It's not only because of the usual connection with death that such sites have, it's also the gross exaggeration and over-sized dimensions that such monuments often display that a few of these are listed here as overlapping with dark tourism (see also Rodina Mat or Transnistria).

In the case of the Soviet war memorials in Berlin there's the extra element of history: the fact that the city was the capital of Nazi Germany – and later East Berlin the capital of the GDR (and now capital of reunified Germany – as well as probably the dark tourism 'capital' of the world). When Germany was defeated in WWII, it was the Soviet Red Army that took Berlin – only later was Berlin divided amongst all four victorious Allied Powers. For the Soviets, the taking of Berlin was the pinnacle of their war efforts and the most significant battle victory since Stalingrad (now Volgograd). Little wonder, then, that they marked this – and their presence in Berlin – with numerous memorials, some on a grand scale.

The grandest of them all is the monument at Treptower Park – dominated by a giant bronze statue, which is actually the largest such Soviet statue in Germany. During the era of the GDR and the Eastern Bloc, this monument played a prominent role both in GDR education and reverence for the 'big brother' Soviet Union, but also in the USSR itself ... it featured on the one Rouble coin! A stop at this site was also part of the obligatory itinerary for Westerners on officially organized sightseeing excursions into the East. A noteworthy detail that isn't immediately apparent from looking at the various other monuments in the memorial complex is the fact that some parts of these were made from marble taken from the demolished New Chancellery, i.e. what used to be Hitler's very own hub of power in Berlin (more of this marble was also used in the building of the Mohrenstraße metro station – see Topography of Terror).  

The next grandest monument is that in the war cemetery at Schönholzer Heide – the central monument here is actually taller than the statue at Treptower Park, although it's a much less dramatic design.

The most peculiar Soviet war monument is the one in Tiergarten – or at least it must have been the most peculiar such monument during the era of the Cold War and the division of Berlin. That was so because it was located in the Western part of the city, just outside the Brandenburg Gate near the Reichstag, but it was still owned and maintained by the Soviets. Thus it was Soviet guard soldiers who used to stand and parade in front of it – on the Western Allies’ territory, as it were, as a small Eastern Bloc enclave within the big Western enclave that was West Berlin, more precisely the British sector of Berlin. Of course, it was only through Berlin's special Four Power Status that this was at all possible (see also Allied Museum.) Today the guards have disappeared, of course – together with the Soviet Union and the whole Eastern Bloc. When Germany regained sovereignty after reunification, agreements were reached, though, that made it the city of Berlin's duty to look after the memorial.

 
What there is to see: There are three separate sites of Soviet war memorials in Berlin: Treptower Park, Schönholzer Heide, and the one near the Reichstag and Brandenburg Gate in Tiergarten.

The Treptower Park complex of war memorials is dominated by a huge bronze statue, over 40 foot/12m tall, placed on a mound and a pedestal that contains a small memorial hall. Note the lavish mosaic inside, also the red star on the ceiling – usually you'll also find flowers, little bottles of vodka and other such contemporary "grave goods", which are evidence of people still coming here to pay their respect to the Soviets!

The statue itself is indeed impressive, not only for its size, but also for its symbolism: it depicts a Soviet soldier with a sword trampling on a smashed-up swastika – but on one arm he's carrying a small child! Whether this actually depicts a scene that had taken place in reality remains a controversial issue.

In front of the statue there's a large landscaped park and cemetery complex including various other, smaller but still noteworthy monuments, notably the mother statue at the opposite end of the big statue, the central 'gate' like monument consisting of stylized Soviet flags in red marble and two kneeling soldiers in front of them, and in particular the 16 white marble sarcophagi. These bear reliefs on different war-related themes as well as some Stalin quotes (in Russian and German) – enough to still cause controversy ... and in some cases damage by vandals. The place is also a cemetery proper – some 5000 Soviet soldiers who were killed in the battle for Berlin are buried here.

Even more, over 13,000, are buried at the large complex in Schönholzer Heide Park in the north of Berlin. This makes it the largest such cemetery in the city. The central monument, however, is somewhat more modest and much less dramatic than the one in Treptower Park, even though it is higher (108 feet / 33m). It consists of a tall obelisk and another 'mother' statue in front of it. This monument also faces a landscaped park/cemetery complex with various further monuments, of which the two marble turrets forming a kind of gate are perhaps the most noteworthy.

The memorial site in Tiergarten is much smaller in area, but probably the one that is seen most, thanks to its location bang in the centre of Berlin near the Reichstag and the Brandenburg Gate. It consists of a semi-circle of arches flanking a central column which is topped by a statue of a soldier. All much smaller-scale than at Treptower Park, but what distinguishes the memorial at Tiergarten is that it is not just symbolic but also features some real military gear, namely two cannons and two WWII T-34 tanks on pedestals at the sides of the memorial complex parallel to the road. Allegedly these two tanks were the first to reach Berlin.

During the days of the GDR this spot, in what was the British sector in divided Berlin, i.e. on Western Allied territory, was only a small distance from one of the most dramatic stretches of the Berlin Wall at the Brandenburg Gate, and it was guarded by Soviet soldiers … it was thus a much more spectacular sight then compared to now. These days, it's taken a back seat – the tourist routes mostly just pass by the monument en route to the nearby more prominent attractions and sights. With a heightened sense of historical significance, though, it's still eminently visitable. Along the buildings behind the central monument some panels with explanatory texts and photos have been put up, providing the visitor with some background information.


Locations: The monument at Treptower Park is located roughly in the centre of this park, which is in the district of Treptow-Köpenick to the south-east of the centre. The park is directly on the southern banks of the river Spree.

Google maps locator: [52.4881,13.4675]

The monument at Schönholzer Heide, in contrast, is in the north of Berlin, in the area of the same name which is wedged between the districts of Pankow to the east and Reinickendorf to the west. The monument is located in the north-western most corner of the park.

Google maps locator: [52.5805,13.3744]

The monument in Tiergarten is in the district and the wooded park area of the same name, directly on the Straße des 17. Juni thoroughfare that cuts right through the park, at its eastern end only a stone's throw from the Brandenburg Gate.

Google maps locator: [52.5165,13.3720]


Access and costs: free and more or less easy to access.
 
Details: all three of Berlin's soviet war memorials and the parks they are located in are open to the public for free.

To get to Treptower Park you can take the regional metro train S9 to Treptower Park station, which is best in that it connects to the central hub stations such as Alexanderplatz, Friedrichstraße and Zoologischer Garten. Treptower Park station is also served by the Ring lines and by the S8, which connects to Bornholmer Straße. From Treptower Park station walk east down Puschkinallee and then, after about 600 yards / 1.5 km head right, into the park. You can also take buses that run along the southern side of the park. Bus 265 connects to Schlesisches Tor near the Oberbaumbrücke bridge (near East Side Gallery).

To get to Schönholzer Heide take regional metro train S1 (which connects to Friedrichstraße and Potsdamer Platz) or S85 (which connects to Treptower Park!) to the stop Wilhelmsruh and walk up Kopenhagener Straße northwards, then first turn right (a road strangely named "street 33") to get to the park. Or take bus 155 to the roundabout at Germanenstraße which cuts through the park, the bus stop takes you closer to the actual proper entrance to the memorial area – you can get the bus from Pankow station (to connect with U2, S2, S8).

The memorial in Tiergarten is the most centrally located and as such the easiest to get to – most people will stumble by when exploring the area anyway. The most "appropriate" approach has to be this: from the regional metro train stop Unter den Linden (lines S1, S2) just walk through Brandenburg Gate and continue straight on along Straße des 17. Juni towards the Siegessäule column in the distance. The monument appears on the right-hand side.


Time required: as much as you'd require for a stroll in the park, both the memorials at Treptower Park and at Schönholzer Heide are actually part of larger parks. The monument in Tiergarten is smaller, so a quick look (for a couple of minutes) is enough – unless you also want to take in the museum-like panels on the buildings behind the memorial. Still, time-consuming it is not. And, better still, can easily be combined with seeing other things in the area.


Combinability with other dark destinations: Treptower Park combines best with one part of a walking tour exploring the remains of the Berlin Wall, namely at Schlesischer Busch with its surviving Wall watchtower, easily reached by walking Puschkinallee a bit further up towards the north-west; further in that direction you get to the Oberbaumbrücke across the river Spree – on the opposite bank you can find the lower end of the East Side Gallery. From Treptower Park you can also reach Bornholmer Straße quite easily (S8, S85) for more Wall remains.

The latter is also an option when going to the war memorial in Schönholzer Heide – otherwise there's nothing much there to combine with. Unless you do it en route to/from Sachsenhausen, which is reached by taking the S1 (passing through Wilhelmsruh for the memorial) to the end of the line.

The memorial in Tiergarten combines most easily with more central sights/sites – the Reichstag, for instance, is literally just around the corner. From there, walking north through the modern government district towards the river Spree, you can also take in a bit of Berlin Wall remains on the north bank, namely those incorporated into the monument "Parliament of Trees". In the other direction, south of the Brandenburg Gate Ebertstraße takes you to the Holocaust Memorial, and from there it's not far to Potsdamer Platz with more Wall remains and another watchtower.

Of course you could also combine all three Soviet war memorials with each other: either starting at Treptower Park, then getting the S85 to Wilhelmsruh (not very frequent, though, and only on weekdays – so plan ahead! or take the S8 and change to the S1 at Bornholmer Straße) for the Schönholzer Heide monument. From there get the S1 to Unter den Linden and finish at the monument in Tiergarten. Or do it the other way round.

Thematically, however, the Soviet memorials are most closely linked with the subject matter at the German-Russian Museum in Karlshorst.


Combinability with non-dark destinations: Both the monuments at Treptower Park and Schönholzer Heide don't easily combine with anything on the mainstream tourist's radar, apart from being pleasant parks as such, esp. Treptower Park, which also features a promenade along the banks of the river Spree (plus boat trips on the river) and is close to an amusement park and more greenery further south at Plänterwald. If you're into astronomy, the Archenhold Observatory at Treptower Park may be something for you – it features the world's longest refracting telescope.

Obviously, the war monument in Tiergarten can be most easily combined with all the mainstream sights that Berlin has to offer. Some of the main ones are just round the corner: the Brandenburg Gate (THE icon of the city), the Reichstag and the government quarter, Potsdamer Platz, and the central boulevard of Unter den Linden just beyond the Brandenburg Gate leads to the Museum Island in Mitte.  
 
 
  • Soviet memorial in TiergartenSoviet memorial in Tiergarten
  • Treptower Park 1Treptower Park 1
  • Treptower Park 1bTreptower Park 1b
  • Treptower Park 2 - socialist realist style sarcophagiTreptower Park 2 - socialist realist style sarcophagi
  • Treptower Park 3 - Stalin quotesTreptower Park 3 - Stalin quotes
  • Treptower Park 4 - vast areaTreptower Park 4 - vast area
  • Treptower Park 5 - main monumentTreptower Park 5 - main monument
  • Treptower Park 6 - soldier and child statueTreptower Park 6 - soldier and child statue
  • Treptower Park 7 - inside the memorial hallTreptower Park 7 - inside the memorial hall
  • Treptower Park 8 - memorial hall ceilingTreptower Park 8 - memorial hall ceiling
  • Treptower Park 9 - a 40 foot heroTreptower Park 9 - a 40 foot hero
  • Treptower Park 9b - grand-scale landscapingTreptower Park 9b - grand-scale landscaping
  • Treptower Park 9c - tree veilTreptower Park 9c - tree veil
  • tank at memorial near Brandenburg Gatetank at memorial near Brandenburg Gate
  • war memorial at Schönholzer Heidewar memorial at Schönholzer Heide

 
  

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