After World War II, Berlin was nicknamed Carthago an der Spree for a reason. The many Allied bombardments, as well as the final Battle of Berlin, devastated around 10 percent of all buildings – equal to an estimated 60 million cubic meters of Trümmer (rubble). In the districts of Mitte, Kreuzberg, Prenzlauer Berg, Friedrichshain and Tiergarten – the percentage of unrepairable houses was 30 percent. With this amount of rubble rebuilding the city wasn’t possible. How were all the wreckages heaped? How is it remembered nowadays?
Directly after the war, because so many German men fell or were Prisoners of War (PoW) – within the German population the number of women outnumbered men by 7 million. For rebuilding Berlin, the Allied forces tried to recruite all women between the age of 15 and 50 – and in July 1946 changed the laws protecting women from forced labour. For all the efforts in the following decade, the Trümmerfrau (rubble woman) became one of the symbols for the Wiederaufbau (reconstruction) period of Berlin. Since a Bavarian radio broadcast brought up the topic in 2009, there has been discussion whether the contribution of Trümmerfrauen is a myth or not. According to this broadcast, the low-paid women were helped by male, professional (de)construction workers. West Berlin’s official statistics also show that 41.000 women and 37.000 men worked to remove the dump – by July 1946. The men did the heaviest work – such as the deconstruction of damaged houses and driving around with trucks – while women did often necessary, but physically lighter work such as cleaning bricks and taking nails out of wood. The Trümmerfrauen made an important contribution to the Wiederaufbau – but it seems that it was because a hard working woman was a new phenomenon for the time. In fact, women were forced by the nazi’s to clear the rubble from several bombed cities during the War. Photos of smiling Trümmerfrauen had been published during the war for the purpose of propaganda, encouraging women to take part of the war-effort on the ‘home-front’.
The main destiny of Berlin’s rubble were nine mountains throughout the city – a work which wasn’t finished for two decades. The best example is the Teufelsberg – which became Berlin’s highest point in the western sector, consisting of 26 million cubic meters of rubble which was heaped there. The new artificial landmark went through many phases. The Americans and Brittish used Teufelsberg used it as a spy-base, since they could pick-up the most distant radio-signals out of the Sovjet-sector here. The Berg was also used to grow grapes for wine and as a centre for wintersports – including a piste and a luge run. On another Trümmerberg in West Berlin – the Insulaner, an observatory centre for stars – the Wilhelm-Foerster-Sternwarte – was erected in 1962. The hill stands at the border of Schöneberg and Steglitz and is named after a popular group of comedians. A memorial stone remembering the rumble workers was revealed here on August 1951. At the Marienhöhe, in the district Tempelhof, rubble was heaped over an already existing hill. IT was here, that from 1958 onwards, the uprising of the 17 June 1953 was remembered annually. Berlin’s population seemed to think that Trümmerberge were erected specifically for luge runs – since all three hills had them.
Other Trümmerberge in the western sectors are located at southern Neukölln (the Rudower Höhe) – over a Flakturm (Flak tower) in the Humboldthain-Park – and at the border of Neukölln and Brandenburg – where the Dörferblick shows a great view on the three Dörfer (villages) of Schönefeld, Waßmannsdorf and Großziethen. More Trümmer was dumped at locations where you barely notice it – such as the Thomashöhe and the Lessinghöhe in Neukölln – or the Luisenstädtischer Kanal.
In the GDR sector, the ‘Mont Klamott’ – the nickname of the Große– and the Kleine Bunkerberg (the big- and the small bunker hill) at the Volkspark Friedrichshain was erected over the demolished Flakturm. At Prenzlauer’s border with Lichtenberg, five million m³ of rubble was dumped on 29 hectares of land – which was given the name Volkspark Prenzlauer Berg in 1969. It became, at 89 meters above see-level, the highest point within the district – though it should not be mistaken with the natural hill which gives the district’s name.
In Berlin’s communist sector, Trümmerfrauen were motivated by giving privileges – such as getting a new apartment. In October 1950, the East Berlin mayor Friedrich Ebert gave the first yielded apartment at the Stalinallee (now: Karl-Marx-Allee) to a working woman. In that area, which was GDR’s prestigious rebuilding project, a frieze with a Trümmerfrau is made at the Marchlewskistraße. In 1953, Otto Grotewohl posed with Trümmerfrauen in several photo’s – for obvious purposes of propaganda. In 1958 – a bronze statue of two Trümmerfrauen was erected in front of the Rotes Rathaus.Though, due to construction work on the U5 from Alexanderplatz till Hauptbahnhof, I am not sure if this statue survives to this day. Other statues in the former East Berlin can be found at the Sterndamm in the district Johannisthal, the Ossietzkystraße in Pankow – and at the southwest corner of the Weißensee (a lake in the district with the same name).
In the western sector it took somewhat longer for the Trümmerfrauen to be honoured. It wasn’t until May 1952 when Theodor Heuss – the West German President – gave 32 women and 17 men the Verdienstorden der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Order of Merit of the FRG). The most honourable memorial site has been the Trümmerfrau at the Rixdorfer Höhe – the hill made out of 700.000m³ of rubble located in Volkspark Hasenheide. The 2.4 meter high statue was made by Katharina Szelinski-Singer. The statue was revealed in 1955, at the park’s western entrance – which is where the hill starts. In 1986, the statue was restored and relocated to one of the park’s entrances at the northern side. At the initiative of Erika Heß – the female mayor of the Wedding district from 1981-1986, Trümmerfrauen gathered once a year in Wedding’s town hall for coffee and cake.
Apart from the artificial hills and the statues honouring the Trümmerfrauen, not many initiatives have been taken to remember the rubble workers. Instead, the image and mythology of the Trümmerfrau has been questioned and debated in regard to its truth. Despite the arguments there is still respect for the Trümmerfrau who contributed significantly to the rebuilding post-war effort. The circumstances must have been enormously harsh for a women. Many women were uncertain whether their men would return. Moreover, untill the winter of 1947-48, Berlin women faced a continuous chance of being raped by (in most cases) Soviet soldiers – a crime followed by shame and silence. Despite recent efforts, the term Trümmermänner has never come into use – and it also hasn’t broken the myth of the Trümmerfrau. At the end of the day, I think both men and women should be honoured for raising Berlin from the ashes and rubble of WWII. These artificial hills are unique landmarks of Berlin’s dynamic past and worth visiting today.