Trümmerberge and Trümmerfrauen. Artificial hills and the likewise myth.

Trümmerfrau vor dem Pergamonaltar auf der Museumsinsel, Berlin 1948-49. ©Liselotte Orgel-Köhne

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’.

Trümmerberge in Berlin. No © needed. Made by Joep de Visser.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.

Memorial stone, nearly at the top of the Insulaner, Berlin-Schöneberg - December 2012. No © needed. Photo by Joep de VisserOther 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.

Memorial stone at Volkspark Prenzlauer Berg (December 2012). No © needed. Photo by Joep de VisserIn 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.

Statue of a Trümmerfrau, Ossietzkystraße (Berlin-Pankow) December 2012. No © needed. Photo by Joep de VisserIn 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).

Trümmerfrau Memorial, Volkspark Hasenheide - Berlin Kreuzberg, December 2012. No © needed. Photo by Joep de VisserIn 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.

Trümmerfrauen and Trümmermänner in front of the Reichstag, 1948-49. © Gerhard Gronefeld.

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.

5 thoughts on “Trümmerberge and Trümmerfrauen. Artificial hills and the likewise myth.

  1. Bedankt, erg leuke blog – hoewel ik je vriendelijk wil aanraden een ‘native speaker’ het Engels te laten controleren. Of zet in elk geval even de UK spellcheck aan :)
    Aangezien je geen kontaktinfo vermeldt, hierbij een verzoek voor een toekomstige blogpost: kun je eens uitzoeken hoe het zit met Marinus van der Lubbe en de Reichstagbrand? De Duitsers schijnen er kinks van te willen weten, en ik las dat een Nederlandse stichting al eens heeft geprobeerd een standbeeld ergens in Berlijn neer te zetten, dat uiteindelijk niet mocht. In de buurt van de Baumhaus is een vd Lubbe portret als graffiti te zien, heeft hij er gewoond? Vragen, vragen!

    • Beste Jeroen, bedankt voor jouw reactie! (Overigens heb ik het nét door een ‘native’ laten verbeteren!)
      Over Marinus van der Lubbe wilde ik al een update schrijven, maar dat stelde ik uit omdat er – inderdaad – geen gedenksteen van hem is. Ook de andere locaties die hij in de brand heeft geprobeerd te zetten (een stempellokaal voor arbeiders op de Mittelweg in Neukölln & het Stadtschloss als ik me niet vergis) hebben de geschiedenis niet overleefd. Ik was niet bekend met de graffiti (waarvoor bedankt!) – maar Van der Lubbe logeerde voornamelijk in een pension op de Alexandrinnenstraße – twee kilometer verderop – waar niets meer van te zien is & nu een school (of was het een kinderdagverblijf?) staat. Hij heeft overigens wel een gedenksteen op het Südwestkirchhof in Leipzig – daar wilde ik dan ook vooral naartoe gaan! De komende twee updates heb ik al geschreven en ben ik niet in Berlijn, maar over een maand verwacht ik wel eens over hem up te daten.
      Met vriendelijke groet,

      • Haha, interessante vergelijking ;-) Toch had Marinus van der Lubbe een paar leuke karaktertrekjes: hij was een beetje de dorpsgek van Leiden, die in lantaarnpalen klom en opriep tot de staking – of iets in die strekking. Verder had hij een sterke wilskracht: hij liep van Nederland naar de Balkan, liftte terug – en zo liep hij ook naar Berlijn. Hij was ook een loyaal type – maar echt snugger was hij niet (hij dacht dat Joegoslavië ongeveer zo groot was als Brabant – maar hij had dan ook slechte ogen na arbeidsongevallen in de bouw). En zijn instinct dat het nieuwe Duitsland van Hitler niet deugde klopte eigenlijk wel aardig. De combinatie van dat alles – waarin hij een analyse maakte waarin een succesvolle opstand kon worden afgedwongen door de Reichstag in de brand te zetten – heeft (helaas) erg anders uitgepakt.

        Dorpsgekken zullen wel altijd voorkomen in de geschiedenis. De RAF van de jaren ’70… Nouja, daar wijd ik op een dag ook wel een update aan!

  2. Pingback: Overview | Historical tales about the capital of the 20th century

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