A small former military cemetery in the centre of Berlin
, right on what used to be the border between East and West Berlin during the Cold War
. Several relics
of the Berlin Wall
survive here, while the cemetery as such was severely altered. Some sinister figures were buried here during the Nazi
era, whose headstones and grave markers were later removed. Some of the grandiose earlier military graves remain, however.
More background info:
In English the name Invalidenfriedhof means 'Invalid's Cemetery' and it was named after a former veterans' hostel (Invalidenhaus) that used to be nearby (which also gave its name to the street Invalidenstraße). It was founded in the mid-18th century as a military cemetery for those who died from wounds sustained in the War of the Austrian Succession. It is one of the oldest cemeteries in Berlin
Following the Napoleonic Wars the cemetery was designated a cemetery primarily for Prussian military, including a section set aside for 'special nobility' amongst the military, including most notably General von Scharnhorst. Soldiers who had fallen in the 1848 German Revolutions were also buried here.
The cemetery continued its military glorification role through World War One
and the Weimar Republic. Possibly the most famous “war hero” from WWI, the Red Baron
Manfred von Richthofen was reinterred here in 1925.
The rest of the more or less (in)famous names to join this military pantheon came during the Third Reich
, including for instance Werner von Fritsch
(a general killed early in WWII
), General Rudolf Schmundt
(who was killed in Stauffenberg
's July 20 bombing
plot that Hitler
himself survived) and Fritz Todt
, who was Reich Minister for Armaments and Munitions and founder of the infamous Reich Labour Service (Reichsarbeitsdienst) Organisation Todt
Surely the most sinister figure from the Nazi
period to have ended up here, however, was Reinhard Heydrich
, the key architect of the 'Final Solution' (hence aka “Operation Reinhard
”) in the Holocaust
(see also House of the Wannsee Conference
). He was also Chief of the Reich Security Main Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt), the SS
division which also included the Gestapo
, and acted as the so-called 'Reich Protector' of occupied Bohemia and Moravia. He was assassinated by Czech
resistance fighters in May 1942 in Prague
(see St Cyril crypt
) and then buried with great fanfare at Invalidenfriedhof.
Towards the end of WWII
the cemetery was damaged in the battle of Berlin
– and some graves still have visible bullet holes on them. After the war the cemetery fell into the Soviet
sector of the divided city and it was decreed that the tombstones and grave markers
of those prominent Nazi
figures be removed
. Hence the final resting places of Todt, Heydrich and others are still unmarked, even though their remains do remain buried here.
More wide-reaching destruction and alterations came with the building of the Berlin Wall
. Since the cemetery's western part was right on the border
strip, a large area of it was flattened to make way for the wall, watchtowers
and other parts of the border fortifications that characterized this 'death strip
During that period the border at this point was the scene of several incidents
resulting in actual deaths. This includes the very first person shot dead while trying to flee to the West by GDR
border police: Günter Litfin
. On 24 August 1961, shortly after the Berlin Wall was first erected, he attempted to swim to freedom across the canal that the cemetery borders on and that was officially part of GDR territory. Litfin is especially commemorated in the nearby memorial museum in the former Kieler Eck watchtower
, run by his brother Jürgen.
The next year another incident at this point ended in the first ever death of a GDR border soldier, Peter Göring, namely when he shot at another person trying to flee on 23 May 1962 (a 14-year old schoolkid!) and West Berlin police officers returned fire. Just over two years after that, in June 1964, another man who was trying to flee was shot dead right by the Invalidenfriedhof wall.
Two West Berliners were also killed here, both in 1966 and both after they got into the water of the canal at this border. One was a possibly drunk person who wanted to “cool off” in the water, another a mentally disturbed homeless person who swam across to the Eastern side and was shot there.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall
and the end of the division of Germany
, the Invalidenfriedhof became a listed
monument. Parts of the Berlin Wall (the 'Hinterlandmauer' that bisected the cemetery's area) were preserved too and integrated into the “Berliner Mauerweg
” memorial trail along the course of the former border.
Some of the graves that were destroyed in the preceding decades were reconstructed, others were refurbished. The grave sites of the infamous Nazi figures (see above), however, remain unmarked.
The remains of the Red Baron Manfred von Richthofen had already been moved to his family's grave in Wiesbaden in 1975, but now a memorial stone was placed at his former grave. More memorial plaques
were added elsewhere in the cemetery as well, including one commemorating the victims of aerial bombardments during WWII
and another one in honour of those killed and buried here in the wake of the failed 20 July assassination attempt on Hitler
The latest addition to the Invalidenfriedhof ensemble is the installation of the surviving bell of a church that was severely damaged by bombs in WWII
and later demolished by the GDR
. The historic church bell
now hangs from a specially constructed little bell tower in the centre of the cemetery. It was inaugurated in June 2013.
What there is to see:
Coming from the promenade that follows the banks of the Berlin-Spandau Ship Canal, the first noticeable element here is the refurbished original part of the Berlin Wall
, more precisely a stretch of the so-called 'Hinterlandmauer' (i.e. that bordering the GDR
-facing part of the border strip). Part of it has more recently been repainted in the typical grey-framed white rectangles (cf. also East Side Gallery
). Also still visible is the course of the former border patrol track that runs parallel to the wall.
A set of information panels tells the story of a couple of deadly incidents at this border stretch, in particular that of Günter Litfin – cf. 'Kieler Eck' watchtower
– as well as that of GDR border policeman Peter Göring (see above
). These cases are also illustrated through reproductions of documents and press reports both East and West about these incidents (all in German only – but the photos and drawings are rather self-explanatory).
Of the cemetery about 230 graves survive. The grandest of these has to be that of General Scharnhorst
, but there are also several other survivors of rather grandiose monuments for Prussian military figures and WWI
The most notable of these in terms of military fame is, however, represented not by a genuine grave any more but by a substitute memorial stone: that for Manfred von Richthofen, better known in the English-speaking world as the Red Baron (his remains were transferred to Wiesbaden in 1975).
An information panel at the entrance to the cemetery by the road that runs along its eastern side (Scharnhorststraße) gives an account of the cemetery's general history (in German only), and another panel is about the church bell tower in the centre of the western half of the cemetery.
Conspicuous through their absence are the grave markers for the final resting places of the set of high-ranking Nazis
who had been buried here during WWII
, most notably Reinhard Heydrich
. According to some sources on the Internet (including the usually reliable findagrave dot com) the location can still be traced and some stone foundation remains are shown on photos as illustration.
What is odd about this, however, is the fact that the story goes that both Fritz Todt's and Reinhard Heydrich's graves apparently only had temporary wooden crosses as markers, because it was planned to give both of these Nazi big shots grand mausoleums after the war, which obviously never happened. The reason that the locations of these Nazis were left unmarked after WWII was, of course, to prevent any neo-Nazi pilgrimages to their burial sites.
Once you know these aspects of the cemetery's history, it assumes an undercurrent of extra sinister atmosphere. It is certainly a place laden heavy with history, and thus a site of dark-tourism interest not only for military (and Nazi) history buffs but also as an important part of Berlin
's commemoration of the Berlin Wall
on the eastern banks of the Berlin-Spandau Ship Canal in the district of Mitte, a short distance north of Berlin
's central station and the Charité hospital.
Access and costs: slightly hidden but quite easy to locate; free.
Details: To get to the cemetery you can walk it from Berlin's central station (Hauptbahnhof), which has plenty of connections by regional metro train (S-Bahn). From outside the station's main entrance head north-east along Invalidenstraße and just after the bridge turn left and proceed north along the canal-side promenade until you come to the southern entrance to the cemetery.
The nearest U-Bahn (metro) station is Schwartzkopffstraße (U 6) on Chausseestraße. From here walk south-west towards Scharnhorststraße via Habersaathstraße and then head north to the street-side cemetery entrance. Or fiddle through via Boyenstraße and Kieler Straße
to get to the cemetery along the northern approach by the canal.
The cemetery's opening times are: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. from April to September, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the winter season.
Time required: not long, perhaps half an hour or so.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
The nearest and thematically most fitting combination is the Günter Litfin memorial site inside the former Berlin Wall
watchtower at Kieler Eck
, just a short walk north along the canal-side promenade and then right (the tower is a bit hidden behind post-reunification housing blocks).
A surviving relic of the Berlin Wall
of the iconic type 75 can be found less than a mile's walk (1.4 km) away to the north-east at Liesenstraße close to the old rusty railway bridge on the right.
The most commodified bit of the Berlin Wall is not much further away (1 mile, 1.6 km) at Bernauer Straße
, which also includes a stretch of reconstructed death strip and some genuine Wall. A more symbolic Wall-related site is the monument in Invalidenpark, south-east of the cemetery.
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
Heading south from Invalidenfriedhof you get to the very heart of Berlin
, with the government quarter's grand modernist architecture, the Reichstag
and the Brandenburg Gate.
- Invalidenfriedhof 1 - cemetery and wall
- Invalidenfriedhof 2 - Hinterlandmauer
- Invalidenfriedhof 3 - repainted
- Invalidenfriedhof 4 - former grave of the Red Baron
- Invalidenfriedhof 5 - historic bell
- Invalidenfriedhof 6 - angel
- Invalidenfriedhof 7 - empty
- Invalidenfriedhof 8 - military
- Invalidenfriedhof 9 - the border used to cut straight through the cemetery