There are several things Germans do better than the rest.
You have the old (true) stereotypes of Beer, Cars, and Bureaucracy – but there’s something else which has remained a well-known secret amongst Germans.
We make some amazing memorials and statues.
But hold on! I hear you say – The Russians make some giant memorials as well!
Sure. The Russians – to be more specific, the Soviets made some huge statues and memorials, but you know what? Bar one or two exceptions, ive never heard anyone say that they liked the way one of these things looked. They are huge oppressive relics, which when the people had the chance, tore down. Even the Americans refused to be given one as a present because it was so fantastically large (and ugly). The only reason some of them still stand today is because their upkeep has been written into law (true fact).
Now that ive over dramatically made my point let’s get down to business.
The best example of Germany’s attitude of “Go Big or Go Home” is the Völkerschlachtdenkmal (Monument to the Battle of Nations) in Leipzig. I had only ever seen pictures of it, and was immediately captivated. The sheer size, the design – and it wasn’t built by Nazis? It all looked too fake to be true.
*Warning – Völkerschlachtdenkmal Info*
In the early 19th century, Europe was under the grip of the Self styled Emperor Napoleon. Not entirely satisfied with this situation, Prussia, Austria, Russia and Sweden formed the Alliance of Teplice in 1813 to rid the continent of the French. After a series of smaller battles, the alliance met Napoleons Grand Army at the gates of Leipzig on the 16th of October 1813. The Alliance had amassed a 205000 strong army (on the 19th of October it swelled to 365000) to crush Napoleons army of 190000 men.
With over 6o0000 soldiers from over a dozen nations – the battle of Leipzig was the largest battle in history until the First World War, hence it being dubbed the “Völkerschlacht” (Völker – People, Schlacht – Battle).
On the 19th of October, Napoleon was soundly defeated and forced into a hasty retreat. Over the course of the Battle he had lost 38000 men, 15000 were captured and 23000 wounded were left behind in the lazarets. In addition to this, both the Kingdom of Bavaria and Saxony switched sides in the last-minute, thus trapping another 80000 of Napoleons men in enemy territory.
This had the effect that Napoleon retreated out of Germany with a pitiful army of 100000 men.
This victory – which was the turning point in the war ( and which lead to the Napoleon being sent into exile in 1814) – was a very costly one for the Alliance – Prussia lost 16600 Men, Russia 21860 Men and Austria 14400 Men – though Sweden “only” lost 300. Shortly after the Völkerschlacht, the poet Ernst Moritz Arndt had called for a Völkerschlachtdenkmal to remember the battle – but the Saxons (who had been fighting on Napoleons side) weren’t too keen on the idea, especially since they had lost large portions of land as punishment. Nevertheless a foundation was set in 1863 on the 50th anniversary of the battle – but due to unwillingness of the Saxons, no real effort was made to build any monument.
It wasnt until the Architect Clemens Thieme of the German Patriots Society hosted an open call for ideas for a new Völkerschlachtdenkmal in 1895. The Berliner Architect Karl Dorflein initially won the bid, but another contest was held in 1896 which was won by the Architect Wilhelm Kreis with the concept “valkyrie“. Clemens Thieme still wasnt satisfied, so he called in Bruno Schmitz to work out a new concept. Bruno Schmitz was not unfamiliar with monumental structures as he had designed and created the gargantuan Kyffhäuserdenkmal in 1890-96.
The foundation stone was laid on the 18th October 1898 (the 85th anniversary of the Völkerschlacht) and after 15 years of construction the Völkerschlachtdenkmal was unveiled on the 18th of October 1913 – exactly 100 years after the Battle.
Heres some quick stats about the Völkerschlachtdenkmal:
- Construction Time: 15 Years
- Height: 91 m (the entire Siegessäule is only 66,89 meters high)
- Height of the Dome: 68 m
- Foundation width: 70 m × 80 m × 2 m
- Nr of Pillars supporting the foundation: 65
- Nr of Steps to the Platform: 500
- Weight: 300.000 tons
- Nr of stone blocks used: 26.500
- Amount of concrete used : 120.000 m³
- Cost: 6 Million Goldmark ( 31 Million Euro)
The figure on the front of the base is the Archangel Michael, the patron saint of soldiers. Above the giant statue of the Archangel Michael is the inscription “God With Us”. To the left and right are two 19 meter high and 30 meter long reliefs – depicting the Archangel in a chariot riding onto the battlefield, while being flanked by the 2 female figures which represent the fury of war.
The domed ceiling features 324 almost life-sized horsemen . This only really becomes apparent when standing on the 3rd level inner ring or in the room directly above it. Above the crypt is a walkway which is surrounded by four 9.5 meter high statues (Guards of the Dead) with each being a personification of a virtue shown by the German People during the liberation wars – Courage, Faith, Volkskraft (people power) and Sacrifice.
I couldn’t find any accurate description as to which statue symbolizes what – so my labeling is most likely completely wrong.
The Crypt which was designed by Clemens Thieme (a very influential freemason – which becomes rather evident when you have a close look) and takes up the entire middle section of the monument. The floor is decked out with a giant bronze cross and is symbolic for the over 120000 men that had fallen in the war. The Crypt itself is “watched over” by 8 venerable stone warriors.
In total there are 5 Levels to the monument. You have the Crypt on the ground floor and the first ring with the 4 Giant Statues on the second floor – which can only be reached by the the stairs on the outside. The 2nd floor inner and outer rings (both accessible by stairs and the elevator), the room above the Dome (only accessible by stairs) and of course the main viewing platform on top of the Völkerschlachtdenkmal. There is a spectacular view from the top and is well worth pushing through the claustrophobic staircase.
Over the years the Völkerschlachtdenkmal became a central rallying point for all things patriotic (and nationalistic). Towards the end of the Second World War, American troops had advanced to Leipzig only to find out that 150 SS-Soldiers had barricaded themselves in the monument with enough ammunition and food to last several months. Some heavy-duty artillery fire cut that idea pretty short. Funnily enough, it was this picture which had first brought the Völkerschlachtdenkmal on my map.
With the occupation and division of Germany by the allies, Leipzig was controlled by the Russians who had contemplated tearing the structure ( a symbol of nationalism) down. They decided against this in the end as they figured it would be better to promote the Völkerschlachtdenkmal as a symbol of Russian and German Unity (seeing as both nations fought against France).
Since 2003, the Völkerschlachtdenkmal has been undergoing extensive restoration which are set to be completed by the 200 year anniversary in October 2013.
A few important pointers: Seeing as the structure is being renovated – large parts of it are covered up. If you are unlucky you wont see much of the structure or the statues inside.
While there is an elevator which brings you to the inner and outer circle platform – you are forced to take the stairs up to the platform on top of the Völkerschlachtdenkmal. If you are claustrophobic or prone to panic attacks you will die trying to get up those stairs (I had to take a “time out” while going up). If your body is wider than 45cm you will not fit through the passageways. I’m not fat, but even it was a tight fit even for me.
What is there left to say? I think the pictures speak for themselves. If there is ever a reason for you to visit Leipzig (you should – it’s a fantastic city) – this is the reason to go. We only visited Leipzig for the day, and had actually planned to see quite a few things. Turns out we spent all day at the Völkerschlachtdenkmal.
Trains to Leipzig are rather cheap – if you are traveling from Berlin you can check out the InterConnex Trains. Tickets start at €14 (Deutsche Bahn will set you back around €60) and the jounrey takes about 1 1/2 hours.
Most information can be found on the official homepage – Völkerschlachtdenkmal Leipzig
Once in Leipzig, take the Tramline 15 to the stop “Völkerschlachtdenkmal. You cant miss it.
April – October: 10am – 6pm
November – March – 10am – 4pm
It costs €6 (€4 for kids) to get in, and audio guides are available in most languages. As far as I know, there are Tours every Thursday at 2pm.