Zentralfriedhof Friedrichsfelde: a socialist heaven.

Gedenkstätte der Sozialisten, 2012. No © needed. Photo by Bram de Visser.

Each second Sunday of January, people of the (radical) left go to the Zentralfriedhof Friedrichsfelde – but why? What happened there and what is there to see nowadays?

The Gemeindehof Friedrichsfelde, as it was called by then, opened in 1881 – when Friedrichsfelde wasn’t even part of Berlin. The Gemeindehof was open for all religions and the poorest of the society were paid a grave as long as there was space for them. The graveyard became famous in 1900 when Wilhelm Liebknecht was burried here, who was a political activist in the 1848/9 revolutions and a prominent in socialist circles before he grounded the SPD in 1890. Liebknecht’s grave is still there.

Grave of Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919). No © needed. Photo by Bram de Visser

When 33 communists were shot during and after the Spartacus uprising in 1919, a mass demonstration made sure they were given a common grave. Among the burried were Rosa Luxemburg and Wilhelm Liebknecht’s son, Karl Liebknecht. The grave became a site of remembrance for communists – who also raised a monument in 1926. The experimental monument out of was developed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who was by then still quite unknown. Nazi thugs molestrated this monument in Febuary 1933 and the Gestapo arrested everyone who honoured the site with flowers – till the memorial site was demolished it in 1935.

Remembrance of fallen socialists. No © needed. Photo by Bram de Visser

Under pressure of GDR’s politicians filled up the lack an ancient national history with the history of communist groups and reconstructed the graves of their previous comrades. A new monument was built in 1951, called the Gedenkstätte vor Sozialisten. Herewith the Zentralfriedhof developed a function where state funerals were organized for ‘truely socialistic people’ – according to the SED-party. An inscription remembers all socialistic casualties from German descent who found death in the many civil wars during the Interbellum – among them the Russian civil war (1917-1922) and the Spanish civil war (1936-1939).

Gräberanlage für Verfolgte des Naziregimes, Revolutionäre und verdiente Persönlichkeiten. No © needed. Photo by Bram de Visser

Not only prosperous communists, such as political leaders and party membered scientists – also regular citizens and GDR’s poorest and homeless are resting here. From 1978 onwards, the graveyeard expanded with a monument which for the people who were prosecuted by the nazi’s – but who survived the terror, with their post-war graves around it. Even now there are around 900 graves – this part of the graveyard is still in progress. Another monument is made in 1983, to remember the demolished monument from 1926. The 1983 monument is a much smaller replica of Mies van der Rohe’s monument – and designed by Günther Stahn, who later developed GDR’s Nikolaikirche.

In 2006, a new monument is erected to remember the victims of Stalinism – revealed by a former SED-politician who worked for the PDS (now: Die Linke) who explained that the monument is not contrasting the other monuments. Still, it’s slightly confusing that also Erich Mielke, the former head of the Stasi, rests here since his death in 2000…

Zentralfriedhof Friedrichsfelde. Gudrunstraße 20, Lichtenberg, U+S-Bhf Lichtenberg + a 15 minute walk. Monday till Sunday from 8 till dusk.

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