Between grieve and glory: the Soviet War Memorial in Treptower Park.

Main axe of the Soviet War memorial in Treptower Park

It is a sunny Monday in February. I’m in (what I consider) the middle of the city, albeit somewhat out of the centre, and standing next to a woman that eternally mourns about her son that died in WWII. The view is dominated by two half-masted marble flags, while a thirty meter high statue is located somewhat further. Red carnations, hammers and sickles, Soviet stars and poetic quotes by a certain J. Stalin are most of what I am going to see here. Only a couple of sporty types and a handful of tourists are around. Here, more people are dead than alive. After all, we are at a graveyard where seven-thousand Red Army soldiers are buried after the Battle of Berlin.

Soldier, statue and banner at the Soviet War memorial in Treptower Park. Berlin-Treptow, February 2014, photo by Joep de Visser.

The two half-masted marble flags of somewhat twenty meter are there to commemorate the fallen Soviet soldiers. Don’t ever let someone tell you that the marble of the half-masted flags are coming from anything that has to do with the Neue Reichskanzlei or with Hitler’s office. Rumours say that yes, it comes from a corridor between these two governmental building. The fact is though, that one can contradict nor confirm this rumour. Although it seems pleasing, and too good not to be true, I think it is dubious that there is no documental proof of this. Moreover, the Soviets dismantled most of the valuables as soon as WWII was over…

Blocks and the statue at the Soviet War memorial in Treptower Park. Berlin-Treptow, February 2014, photo by Joep de Visser.

Next to the marble flags, one sees two Red Army soldiers kneeling and honouring their fallen comrades. The visitor with a good eye for details will notice that the left one is older than the one at the right. Before the main statue, a few stairs down, five symbolic gravefields mantle the thousands of bodies. That means, symbolically. In fact, the corpses are situated underneath the statue and its hill. Fairly next to the symbolic gravefields, eight stones with impressive reliefs on both sides picture WW2’s history seen from the Soviets perspective. On the head of the stones – Josef Stalin gives his comments, engraved and accentuated with golden paint. The Russian comments are on the stones left of the gravefields, the German translations are to be found on the opposite side.

The Kurgan, the stand and the statue at the Soviet War memorial. (Berlin-Treptow, February 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser)None of this excitement beats the 30 meter high statue. That means, the 12 meter high statue stands on a 18 meter high surface. There are another two parts, the Kurgan and the tripod. This Kurgan is a hill where many of the bodies are located. Such ‘gravehills’ have been build during the the chalcolithic and the iron age, in civilisations that lived around the Black Sea. The other Red Army bodies are placed aside of this Kurgan.

Mosaics in the stand of the Soviet War memorial. (Berlin-Treptow, February 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser)

Walking up the stairs, one reaches the hollow tripod. At its ceiling, a huge Soviet star accompanies the funeral that is portrayed in mosaic stones. A text comments “Today we acknowledge that the Soviet-people saved the European civilisation from the fascist ‘pogrom-heroes’ due to their sacrifices. That is the most important advantage of the Soviet-people to the history of humanity.” Interestingly, the Berlin company that was given the assignment to produce the mosaics, worked for the Nazis with the same enthusiasm…

On top of the Kurgan and the tripod, at first we see a bronse swastika. That means, a swastika that is being destroyed by the sword of a Red Army Soldier that holds a child. This seventy-thousand kilo design explains that the brave Red Army saved the future from nazism. And although it is suspiced from being fictive propaganda, it is said that a certain Nikolai Masalov stood model for the twelve meter high statue. Masalov saved a toddler from the fire-lines around Potsdamer Platz, risking his own soul. However – it wasn’t Masalov but a certain soldier named Iwan Odartschenko was posing for the statues’ sculptor, the famous Yevgeny Vuchetich.

Inauguration of the Soviet War memorial in Treptower Park. (Berlin-Treptow, May 1949)

The Soviet War memorial has been revealed at the 8th of May 1949, exactly four years after WWII ended. By then, the German capital was still in ruins. It reveals that not only the construction of graveyards, but showing off the Soviet domination was given priority over urban rebuilding projects for the masses, such as described in my previous post. So, one cannot be wrong for thinking of the Soviet Memorial as communist propaganda and an outdated cold-war leftover. However, it is not up to the German government whether the memorial will be changed or not. It is the Russian authority that has the power over WWII’s graveyards in Germany. During the negotiations of unifying Germany in 1990, the Soviet-Union demanded that the Soviet War memorial will survive the ‘contra revolution’ that was going on. In 1992, again was confirmed that the German authorities are obliged to maintain this graveyard, while it’s not allowed to change its design. Absolutely nothing has been changed here since the Wall fell down. In fact, the memorial is still used to commemorate Red Army soldiers as well as the German capitulation.

The memorial may not be forgotten, or even a well-kept secret, it doesn’t get the attention it deserves either. Being located outside the centre means for most of Berlin’s visitors that it isn’t worth visiting… Therefore, this post is actually a long reminder that you shouldn’t leave Berlin without visiting this interesting place. You may think that there is no surprise after reading this article, however – it is impossible describing the overwhelming experience of good old Soviet propaganda!

View from the Kurgan. Soviet Memorial at the Treptower Park. (Berlin-Treptow, February 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser)

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