Recommended: Red Army Soldiers’ graves (& their memorials)

As seen in my previous article, the Soviet authorities didn’t only use the graveyards for fallen Red Army Soldiers as a heartfelt site of remembrance. In the meanwhile, the memorial was used as a propagandist site to prove their victory over Nazism. Now, there are another five of these graveyards for the Soviet soldiers that wouldn’t survive the Battle of Berlin. The graveyard in Treptower Park may be the most impressive one – the others have their own peculiarities. In this article, I won’t overwhelm you with their constructional facts. The more with a bunch of images. What’s new to me, is that the Soviets often constructed an obelisk at these graveyards. What I’ve already expected is the serious decoration of hammers & sickles, as well as Soviet Stars. I’ve tried and counted them, which has been more easy than figuring out how many Red Army Soldiers are buried at this very location…

The Soviet War Memorial. Berlin-Marzahn, March 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser.

Going to Berlin’s Far East, one finds a memorial for Soviet Soldiers at the Friedhof Marzahn. The silence may be slightly disturbed by the 10meter high obelisk. The Red Army soldiers that fell during the Battle of Berlin are buried on the west-, north- and southside.

Entrance and obelisk of the Soviet War Memorial. Berlin-Marzahn, March 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser.

Burried soldiers? ~150? ~3000? No one knows…
Hammers and sickles? Seven.


Obelisk for the fallen Red Army Soldiers (Berlin-Buch, March 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser)

A rather small memorial to the fallen Red Army soldiers is located in the very north of the German capital, at Berlin-Buch. There is not too much to say about it, so I won’t!

Detail at the obelisk for the fallen Red Army Soldiers. Berlin-Buch, March 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser.

How many soldiers? Ain’t got a clue. Probably a couple of hundred,,.
Hammers and sickles? Two.


The Soviet War Memorial at Berlin-Tiergarten. Backside details. Berlin-Tiergarten, March 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser.

The Soviet War memorial at the Straße des 17. Juni may be the most paradoxical one. Maybe I’m overthinking, but I’ve got a theory why the Straße des 17. Juni has its name due to the Soviet Memorial! For all of this, you have to understand that it has been the only Soviet War Memorial that was located in the Western sector. This even means that the Soviet soldiers who were protecting the memorial, were again protected by British soldiers. So, when the uprise of 17 June 1953 was defeated by the Russian tanks, the Brits named the Charlottenburger Chaussee after this uprise within a month. They could have taken any other road to change its name and dedicate it to the courageous protest…. So, won’t the attendance of Soviet tanks that glared over this boulevard have anything to do with this?

The Soviet War Memorial at the Straße des 17. Juni (Berlin-Tiergarten, March 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser)

Dead soldiers? ~2000/~2500
Hammers&Sickles? A golden one.
Tanks? Two from steel & another three in gold as well.

Gravefield for the Red Army Soldiers at the St. Pius Friedhof. Berlin-Lichtenberg, March 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser.

The Red Army Soldiers at the catholic St. Pius graveyard are in contrast to all other Soviet graveyards. Nothing besides an orthodox cross remember the souls that rest here…

St. Pius Friedhof, Lichtenberg. Common gravestone for the Red Army Soldiers. Berlin-Lichtenberg, March 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser.

Soldiers? ~1550/~1650
Hammers and sickles: 0


Entrance at the Soviet War Memorial at Berlin-Pankow. October 2013, photo by Joep de Visser.

The Soviet memorial Berlin’s northern park of the Schönholzer Heide is not to be missed. First of all, it is the place where most Red Army Soldiers found their rest: 13.200 in total. The main monument may be less of a thrill than the one at Treptower Park – it is compensated with the leadlight socialist artwork of hammers and sickles, while J. Stalin gave some comment again.
Burried soldiers? ~13.000
Hammer and sickles? Countless.

Mother with Son and the obelisk. Soviet War Memorial at Berlin-Pankow. October 2013.

Hammer and sickle plus the world. Soviet War Memorial at Berlin-Pankow. October 2013, photo by Joep de Visser.

Fake fire decorated with hammers and sickles. Soviet War Memorial at Berlin-Pankow. October 2013, photo by Joep de Visser.

Countless stars inside the obeslisk. Soviet War Memorial at Berlin-Pankow. October 2013, photo by Joep de Visser.

Soviet Stars in mosaic. Soviet War Memorial, Berlin-Pankow. October 2013, photo by Joep de Visser.Hammer and sickle plus the harvest. Soviet War Memorial at Berlin-Pankow. October 2013, photo by Joep de Visser.

View over the graveyards of Red Army Soldiers. Soviet War Memorial, Berlin-Pankow. October 2013, photo by Joep de Visser.

A confusing (hi)story. The Memorial to Polish Soldiers and German Anti-Fascists.

The monument in 1972, just revealed

Nowadays, we may think it is situated in a somewhat desolated corner of the Volkspark Friedrichshain. That means – in three years that I’ve lived here, I’ve never spontaneously bumped into it. Only groups of skaters seem to be interested in the monument, albeit for grinding and sliding – not for its history. Back in the days of the GDR, this East Berlin park was the centre of notorious memorials for historical revolutions and their heroic sacrifices. Of course, the communist regime never let go of turning a memorial into a piece of propaganda. And well, propaganda can serve a certain function – also a diplomatic one. All together, it came to a memorial for the Polish soldiers and German anti-fascists at the foot of the hill.

Relations between the GDR and Poland were getting better in the early 1970s. In May 1972, a memorial was erected. War veterans from both countries were there, albeit not them who fought for the Wehrmacht. Only anti-fascist veterans who were acceded by the communist parties were present. The celebration was supported by a fanfare music group. It was time for GDR’s leader, if not dictator, Erich Honecker to reveal the monument for the anti-fascist heroes in presence of his Polish equal Edward Gierek. Supported with the slogan “For their and our freedom”  -in both Polish and German- a relief print of a Red Army Soldier, a Polish soldier and a German anti-fascist are fighting as equals against the Nazi’s. Of course, the real deal are the two fourteen meter high pillars, with GDR’s and Socialist Poland’s symbols on their sides. Together they form one staff to carry a bronse banner of victory. Initiated by both a German as a Polish groups of WWII’s veterans, the monument was created by a bi-national artist collective. The 220.000 kilo’s of Polish granite was meant to be forever.

Memorial to Polish Soldiers and German Anti-Fascists (Berlin-Friedrichshain, December 2013) No © needed, photo by Joep de Visser

Initiated by the Polish embassy in 1995, another information panel is revealed. It states that this memorial only remembers the acceded heroes from 1972: which are not all the heroes. The Polish soldiers who were acceded by 1972 were only them, who fought against the Nazi’s in the underground army and battalions which were formed in the Soviet-Union – the panel adds another couple of groups of Polish soldiers. First of all, them who fought against the German invasion of September 1939: with the outbreak of WWII. Moreover, the soldiers were memorised who fought together with the Allies in Western Europe. They did so, in name of the Polish government – which went into exile and was situated in London. Also, the heroes of the Polish resistance were to be commemorated since 1995. With the latter, one can think of the partisans and the ones who fought in the uprise in Warsaw. In the additional information, (wo)men who fell during the War as Polish forced labourers, Prisoners of War or all German resistance are honoured as heroes too.

Za naszą i waszą wolność. Für ihr und unsere Freiheit. (Berlin-Friedrichshain, December 2013) No © needed, photo by Joep de Visser

The gap between the initial function of the monument -which was fairly propagandistic- and the added information is considered to be too wide. For this reason, Markus Meckel -a socialdemocratic politician and theologian- recently pleaded for a renewal of the monument. The slogan “Za naszą i waszą wolność.” (“For their and our freedom”) -which has been a slogan in Polish battles since the 1830s- will stand central here. Meckel, himself a notorious dissident in the GDR, doesn’t forget to honour the Solidarnosk (Solidarity) movement – which contributed to the historical overthrowing of communist regimes in favour of freedom and democracy. At last, Meckel is thankfull for the Polish agreement of German unification in 1990. For any further remembrance, both Polish and German experts have to come to an agreement in the new educational message.

All summed up, the memorial to Polish soldiers and German anti-fascists comes to me as one of the most outdated ones I’ve seen in a while. The gap between the idea in 1972 and  the changes in 1995 is so big, while the monument remained untouched. For being so outdated, the memorial is a bit confusing. It almost leaves the impression that we are remembering a memorial here. Although the meaning has officially been changed in 1995, it still surprises me to see GDR’s coat of arms in Berlin’s urban jungle. So, I fairly support the idea of making it more easy for visitors to find more information about the Polish struggle in WWII. Perhaps I am myself not that interested in the military history, although the Polish military history is nothing less than a sum of tragedies. The more, I think that the nearly six million Polish casualties -mostly civilians, among them 3 million jews- should be memorised. Till then, I fairly understand that this memorial is not taken that serious by the youth – being thankful to the GDR for leaving behind this skaters friendly heap of granite.

Memorial to Polish Soldiers and German Anti-Fascists (Berlin-Friedrichshain, December 2013) No © needed, photo by Joep de Visser

The heritage of declined rulers. Schloss Schönhausen – Prussia and East Germany.

Schloss Schönhausen, December 2012. No © needed. Photo by Joep de Visser

In 1664, a Schloss (manor) was build at the road from Pankow to Niederschönhausen. In despite of being abandoned for several decades, this Schloss Schönhausen survived the whole Prussian kingdom (1701-1918) through all its ups and downs. What happened with this elitist Prussian heritage during socialist rule? And what happens now?

In 1664, duchess Sophie Theodore zu Dohna-Schlobitten gave command to build a manor house outside the city of Berlin. The original design wouldn’t last long. By 1680 the Schloss  was already renovated by its new owners. It was sold in 1691 to Kurfürst (prince elector) Friedrich III von Brandenburg. In the Schloss, important negotiations were held to crown him as a König (king) from the to-be-made kingdom: Prussia. During his rule as a king, Friedrich expanded the Schloss and developed a baroque garden in French style. After his death (1713) Friedrich’s son and thrown successor Friedrich Wilhelm I (aka the soldier-king) neglected the Schloss Schönhausen.

Schloss Schönhausen around 1710/1720

Friedrich Wilhelm II (aka Frederick the Great) took over the Prussian throne in 1740 and gave the Schloss to his wife – queen Elisabeth Christine von Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel-Bevern. She used it as her summer residence till her death in 1797. The queen never renovated the house since she spended all her money to develop the garden in rococo style. During the Seven Year War (1756-1763), the queen fled to a safer place. Now, Schloss Schönhausen was destroyed by the Russian army. It was expected that Frederick the Great would have given Elisabeth the Schloss Monbijou, because it was unused since his mother’s death (1757). The Schloss Monbijou made a better appearance and was closer located to the commonly used Stadtschloss at Under den Linden. Nevertheless, Frederick let the Schloss Schönhausen being rebuild to its current design. The queen was given a summer residence at the Panke creek in stead of the Spree river. Interestingly, Frederick the Great probably never visited the queen at the Schloss Schönhausen. They lived seperated and never got themselves children.

Schloss Schönhausen around 1787

After Elisabeth passed awa (1797) the Schloss was taken over by Friederike von Mecklenburg-Strelitz, who was the sister of the new Prussian queen Luise (who gave name to the Luisenstädtische Kanal). The queen was only 18 years old when her husband (king Friedrich Wilhelm III von Preußen) died in 1796. Being so young and already a widow, Luise found solace in affairs for which she used her room in her sisters’ residence. Friederike asked the well-known architect Peter Joseph Lenné to renovate the garden (1828-1830) in English style. After Friederike’s death in 1841, Schloss Schönhausen went through a less intense period again. It was mostly used as a storage.

After the First World War, the Prussian Emperor Wilhelm II fled and Germany became a republic. The Schloss became property of the Prussian state in 1920 and of the nazi-state in 1933. Two years later, it was renovated and used for art exhibitions. So called Entartete Kunst (‘degenerated art’ or basically cool stuff that the nazi’s with their petty minds didn’t understand) was storaged in the Schloss. Nazi’s also exposed Entartete Kunst next to drawnings by mentally or physically disabled people. During the Battle of Berlin, Schloss Schönhausen only had light damages. It was restorated by a Pankow artist organisation and the first exhibition was organised in September 1945 already.

Wilhelm Pieck's office, 1950s. Schloss Schönhausen, Berlin. ©DDPShortly after, the Sovjets confiscated the Schloss and used it partly as a casino for army officers. Another part was used as a boarding school for future officers. When the East German State was founded in 1949, Schloss Schönhausen became its property. In stead of tearing down the feudal heritage, as was done with the Stadtschloss, the East German elite used the Schloss for themselves. Wilhelm Pieck celebrated his 70th birthday here and hold an office at the first floor. A renovation was made, the garden became typically in the style of the 1950s. Also, the surrounding neighbourhood became a popular area for the East German elite. The Majalowskiring is the best example of this. Wilhelm Pieck lived at Majakowskiring (no. 29) surrounded by Walter Ulbricht (no. 28), Otto Grotewohl (no. 46/48), Johannes Becher (no. 34) and Erich Honecker (no. 58). Erich Mielke, the infamous chief of the Stasi, lived in a side street of the Majakowskiring (Stille Straße no.10).

Ho Chi Minh and Wilhelm Pieck, Schloss Schönhausen - Berlin. July 1957. ©Walter Heilig and BundesarchivThe Schloss became a residential living place for state visitors. Among the Schloss’ famous guests were Ho Chi Minh in July 1957 and Khrushchev in 1959. When Wilhelm Piek passed away (1960) the Schloss became the residence for the State Coucil of the East Germany, a council that replaced Pieck’s presidential function. Other state visitors who stayed in Schloss Schönhausen were Fidel Castro (1972), Indira Ghandi (1976) and the Persian shah Reza Pahlevi (1978). For such occassions, Wilhelm Pieck’s former office was redesigned as an East German historical museum.

Pieck (left), Khrushchev and Ulbricht (right) in 1958. ©Bundesarchiv and Horst Sturm

During the 1980s, the southern part of the Schloss was reconstructed and filled with semi-antique furniture. The Schloss stayed the residency for East German state visitors up till the very end. Even in October 1989, Mikhail Gorbachev was a guest of Schloss Schönhausen.

Round Table Conferences (1990). ©Landesarchiv Berlin and Klaus Lehnartz

After the Berlin Wall had fallen, the Schloss was the main location to negotiate the German unification. In these ’round table negotiations’ (also named ‘the 2+4 negotiations’) not only governments from East- and West Germany hold a place, but also from the USA, Soviet Union, United Kingdom and France. Out of the sixteen gatherings, thirteen took place in the Schloss. It resulted in the new, united Germany like we know it now. The Schloss kept its function as a residential place somewhat longer. Thereafter, Rammstein used Schloss Schönhausen to make their videoclip for their single Du riechst so gut (‘You smell so good’) in 1998. In the meanwhile, the Majakowskiring attracted the new rich. Nevertheless, still are memorial panels situated at the houses of Wilhelm Pieck, Otto Grotewohl and Johan Becher to remember their former residents. No memorial stones are placed at the houses of Ulbricht, Honecker and Mielke. In Honecker’s former villa, there is now a childcare. Mielke’s former residence is occupied by a senior club.

Between June 2005 and December 2009, the Schloss was renovated for €8.6 million. Furniture from Elisabeth’s old days such as rugs, the mantelpiece and mirror frames can be seen at the ground floor. At the first floor, Piek’s office can be visited as well as the room for the state visitors. Also, there is an exhibition about the Schloss and the Majakowskiring at the southern entrance.

Exhibition, southern entrance of Schloss Schönhausen, Berlin. No © needed. Photo by Joep de Visser
When you enter the site, the Bundesakademie für Sicherheitspolitik (Federal College for Security Studies) is on your right hand side. Since 2004, this is the place where security policy is discussed. This supports what the role of the German state should be within the international community. Doing so, you can say that the Schloss Schönhausen is still a place for diplomatic negotiations! The negotiations to crown Friedrich III as a Prussian king was typical. During communist rule, the Schloss was also used as a residential palace. Nowadays, the Federal College for Security Studies is still negotiating in the garden.