With the end of the Second World War, and the subsequent occupation and partition of Germany – the Soviet Union sought to mark its contribution to the downfall of Fascism in Europe and the defeat of Germany by erecting a monumental memorial. An estimated 80000 Soviet soldiers died during the battle of Berlin, and Stalin felt that 1 memorial wasnt enough to honor the soviet sacrifice, so he had 4 erected in the Soviet Sector of Berlin. While most tourists will be familiar with the War Memorial at the Tiergarten and Treptow – hardly any tourists find themselves visiting the Soviet War Memorial in the Schönholzer Heide (Sowjetisches Ehrenmal Schönholzer Heide).
*Warning – Sowjetisches Ehrenmal Schönholzer Heide History*
Since the 19th Century, the Schönholzer Heide has been a popular day trip destination for Berlin Families. Until the early 20th Century, the Heide was home to a Mulberry Plantation, a Ballroom, a girls school, film studio, outdoor theater and amusement park. During the Second world War sections of it were converted into a forced labour camp.
After the end of the war the Russians used the park as a storage yard for dismantled factory equipment that was intended to be shipped back to the soviet union as reparations. While Stalin had already planned to erect a memorial in Berlin directly after the war it wasn’t until 1947 when construction began at the Schönholzer Heide, and it took until 1949 for the Memorial to be completed.
The memorial and war cemetery, which was the final resting place of over 13000 soldiers and officers was designed by the Soviet Architects K.A. Solowjow, M.D. Belawenzew und W.D. Koroljow and the sculptor G. Perschudtschew.
The Entrance of the Ehrenmal is flanked by two granite pillars with symbolic wreaths and bronze bowls with an eternal burning flame. The main entrance consists of two gatehouse towers made out of red granite. Each of them is decorated with a large bronze relief representing the fighting and grieving soviet people, while the wall of the gatehouse is decorated with 8 coat of arms depicting the various soviet military branches. The inside of each gatehouse contains a (symbolic empty) urn and a lovely quote by Stalin – both in German and Russian – praising the heroic deeds of the Red Army and the Soviet Unions love of all people, even the Germans. The ceiling consists of several hundred different pieces of stained glass, creating a large mural of the banner of the Soviet Union (the whole thing feels quite like an egyptian tomb).
The whole cemetery is laid out so that it leads to the central memorial – a statue of Mother Russia. The central section is covered by patches of grass and red flowers, which are flanked by 16 grave chambers. There is another path which leads around the central section, which is lined with another 100 bronze grave plaques on which the names, ranks and birth years of 2647 fallen Soviet soldiers are inscribed (only 1/5 of the fallen were identified, the rest remained anonymous).
An oversized statue of Mother Russia, grieving over her fallen son (who is draped in the soviet flag of victory) guards the obelisk. If you look close enough, it bears a slight resemblance to the christian Pieta.
The base of the 33,5 m high, grey syenite obelisk is made out of black porphyry blocks and is decorated with the names of 42 soviet officers. The base of the obelisk contains a domed (quite resembling a church) honor hall with wreaths and flowers from various ex soviet republics – while the crypt underneath is the final resting place of 2 soviet colonels. The obelisk itself is inscribed on the front and back (in Russian and German) with a few lines of praise to the Soviet Soldiers. Another smaller memorial lies behind the obelisk – a memorial to the soviet soldiers who died while under german captivity.
With the fall of the Berlin wall, and the planned withdrawal of the allies from Germany – the Soviet Union insisted that a unified Germany be bound by law (and the 2+4 Treaty) to maintain and repair the monument. Any changes to the site would require the prior authorization of the Russian Federation. This explains why, unlike in other former soviet occupied countries – the German state hasn’t moved or removed the memorials. Or maybe the Germans just took it more seriously.
The memorial was closed in 2011 for renovations – and after over 2 years and 10,3 million euros it reopened to the public in August 2013.
The Sowjetisches Ehrenmal Schönholzer Heide is not the largest memorial (that’s the one in Treptow), nor is it the first one built in Berlin or Germany (the one in Dresden was the first in Germany). But it feels less oppressive. Less touristy. Its less of an oppressing monument, and more of a cemetery. While I do find cemetery tourism (only slightly) creepy – visiting the Schönholzer Heide memorial is an interesting experience. While it lacks the wow factor due to its comparatively small size, it’s a nice trip into one of Berlins lesser touristically advertised areas and an interesting piece of Berlin history. It’s interesting to note the only the Russians ever felt the need build these things, and demand/secure their upkeep per treaty.
When visiting the Ehrenmal it’s also worth exploring the Volkspark Schönholzer Heide – which is filled with lots of historical secrets (more to come in a separate post).
For more photos of the memorial – check out the Flickr Album: Sowjetisches Ehrenmal Schönholzer Heide
Sowjetisches Ehrenmal Schönholzer Heide
April – September 7:00 – 19:00
Oktober – March 8:00 -16:00
Public Transport: The S1, S8, and the S25 all stop at the S-Bahn Station Schönholz. From there its a 10 minute walk down the Provinzstraße which turns into the Straße von Schönholz. Once you reach the roundabout youre already there.