Heroes, some remembered, most forgotten

Golden Victoria, Roman Goddess of victory sits atop the Siegessäule
Golden Victoria, Roman Goddess of victory sits atop the Siegessäule

Every country celebrates itself, usually in the form of monuments and statues celebrating important events and figures from its past, and war heroes usually loom large in these collections of shared memory.

Otto von Bismarck, 1815-1898, the first Imperial Chancellor
Otto von Bismarck, 1815-1898, the first Imperial Chancellor

But as everyone knows, Germany has a rather difficult relationship with its past, particularly with its war heroes, understandably there are very few, and certainly none from the 20th century.

But one place they can be found is at the Grosser Stern, three of them:

Otto von Bismarck, Albrecht von Roon and Helmuth von Moltke.

Albrecht von Roon, 1803-1879, General Field Marshall
Albrecht von Roon, 1803-1879, General Field Marshall

Each casting a proud look over the Siegessäule – the Victory column – a monument commemorating victories in the latter half of the 19th century, against Denmark, Austria, France: the wars of unification, in which they all played a pivotal role.

Helmuth von Moltke, 1800-1891, General Field Marshall
Helmuth von Moltke, 1800-1891, General Field Marshall

Together they were responsible for bringing the German Empire into existence, making Germany the leading power in continental Europe, and this ensemble is a fitting monument for these three giants of 19th-century European affairs.

Tiergarten, Rüsternallee
Tiergarten, Rüsternallee

But hidden away almost out of sight at the back of the Tiergarten there is a second collection of statues dating from this very same period, celebrating more ordinary scenes, of families, wives and children bidding tearful farewells to fathers, off to join a war, another depicting a group of comrades in the thick of battle – monuments to the ordinary man and woman.

And yet somehow the general condition of these two groups of statues displays an odd disparity, because whereas the Field-Marshals and ex-Chancellor, who all died of old age, are kept in pristine condition, the golden cannon of the Victory Column not only reflecting the sun, but also the regard in which these three aristocrats are still held; the men, who did the actual fighting, who frequently suffered death, appalling injuries and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) are in a wholly different condition.

Wounded in Battle, twice
Wounded in Battle, twice

Hidden among the trees, covered in mildew, they are in varying states of disrepair, reflecting the horrors they were collectively subjected to, all missing their inscriptions, plinths full of bullet holes, one collection of figures missing large pieces of stonework including arms and heads, as though suffering a direct grenade hit.

This state of disrepair being itself the result of the intense hand to hand combat, that took place in the Tiergarten during the last days of the Second World War.

All four groups are missing their inscriptions, and are riddled with bullet holes
All four groups are missing their inscriptions, and are riddled with bullet holes

The juxtaposition of these two groups makes for a powerful statement about society, the obvious effort that has gone into the polishing of its founding father’s visual authority, while the people who made the enabling sacrifice, are hidden away, neglected and largely forgotten.



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© 2021 - Andrew James Kirkwood

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