AFP — Some were buried, others riddled with bullet holes, yet others dumped in old depots as the glorious periods they were crafted to commemorate came to an end.
But Berlin authorities have now rescued 100 statues and monuments from neglect and disrepair, assembling them in an exhibition to tell the city’s checkered history that spanned royal rule, Nazism and the Cold War.
“These are monuments that bear witness to a certain time. They are literally history ‘carved in stone’,” said Culture Minister Monika Gruetters at the opening of the permanent exhibition at Zitadelle Spandau, in western Berlin.
“This critical examination of the culture of monuments is essential for coming to terms with our history,” she said.
The exhibition called “Unveiled. Berlin and its Monuments” traces around three centuries of the capital’s history — spanning the pre-reunification period of Prussian kings to the formation of the German Empire in 1871, through to the Weimar Republic, the Nazi years, the Cold War-era when the city was divided into a democratic West and a communist East, up to contemporary times.
Among the first exhibits to greet visitors are the remains of the building boom after the founding of the Empire that peaked with the construction of the “Victory Avenue” — dozens of statues, commissioned by Emperor Wilhelm the First, to affirm his legitimate hold on power.
“They portrayed in part Emperor Wilhelm’s wishes, but they also bear witness of the battle that Berlin was subjected to in 1945: bullet holes, missing limbs, disfigured heads,” said Andrea Theissen, who initiated the exhibition.
The Victory Avenue statues, which once proudly stood in a line in the Tiergarten — the massive park in central Berlin — were condemned to destruction by the Allies after World War II and were buried close to the Bellevue castle, the current official residence of German presidents.
There were few monuments made during the Nazi era because the leaders of the Third Reich were obsessed with grand architecture, said Theissen, who only managed to find three objects to illustrate the period.
One of them is a statue of Arno Breker, Adolf Hitler’s favorite sculptor, and another an eight-tonne stone that purportedly portrayed Germanic engineering prowess.
Theissen said she is still trying to secure for the exhibition a bas-relief which was once part of the decorations at Hitler’s chancellery.
The piece of sculpture by Breker was found in a private individual’s hangar in May 2015 but a judicial battle over who owns the work is still raging.
For the exhibition, Theissen has already been embroiled in a few other battles, including over one of the most colossal pieces — a granite head of Lenin that was made famous by the popular 2003 film “Good Bye Lenin!”.
At the height of the Cold War, which divided the city and the world, the 1.7-meter (five-feet) -high head was part of a statue carved from Ukrainian pink granite that towered 19 meters above East Berlin, framed by Soviet pre-fab apartment tower blocks.
But after the fall of the Wall, the first mayor of reunited Berlin, the conservative Eberhard Diepgen, ordered its removal in late 1991, wanting to rid the city of an icon of a “dictatorship where people were persecuted and murdered”.
The statue was disassembled over months as workers cut through granite, concrete and steel beams inside, splitting Lenin into about 120 parts.
The pieces then were trucked to a secluded forest in Berlin’s far southeast and buried in sandy earth.
Despite an agreement between the exhibition’s organizers and the city of Berlin, the sculpture almost didn’t manage to make it to the Spandau exhibition.
“It’s clear that it’s a particular piece… It’s well-known because of ‘Good Bye Lenin!’, even if the statue that was shown in the film was different from this one,” said Theissen.
“But there was resistance from the political side,” she said. “There was a certain uneasiness ‘what are you going to do with this’.”
The head has now finally found its place in the middle of other monuments from the former communist East Germany at the exhibition that opens Friday.