It’s been 29 years since the cold war ended. The Soviet Union and its satellite states no longer exist (at least not in their communist form). Decades of frustration and anger were taken out on the physical manifestations of the regimes – mainly on the unpopular statues of Lenin and Stalin, smashing them to bits. After German reunification, a great purge of communist symbols washed over East Germany – and Lenin soon vanished from the public eye. But like the Highlander – one defiant Lenin in Schwerin survived – making him the last Lenin in Germany.
A brief history of Schwerin
The city of Schwerin was first indirectly mentioned in a travelogue by the chronicler Ibn Jacub / Ibrahim Ibn Yaqub, envoy of the Caliph of Cordoba- who noted a Slavic castle around the year 973. The first direct written mention dates back to 1012, in an account of Thietmar, the Bishop of Merserbug. Interestingly enough – Schwerin uses the year 1160 as its official founding date, as it was in that year when the castle was burned down (intentionally) and rebuilt by the Henry the Lion and the invading Saxons.
Schwerin saw rapid development in the late 19th Century, loosing much of its medieval character – while ever expanding in size. The first German flight tour was organised in 1911, which Schwerin was a participant of. This event prompted the city to construct the build the Schwerin-Görries Airport. By 1913, the legendary Anton Fokker moved his company Fokker Aeroplanbau from Berlin-Johannisthal to Schwerin and built a new factory there (which would end up producing the Fokker Dr.I).
Schwerin managed to survive the Second World War with comparatively little damage (only 3% of it was destroyed) – as it was only ever the target of 4 light bombing runs due to it lacking any notable industry infrastructure. While Schwerin has a remarkably large “Altstadt” for a city of its size – it was wilfully neglected during the years of socialist rule, which preferred building prefabricated apartment blocks to solve the pressing housing need.
Similar to Berlins Nikolaiviertel, the SED planned to completely demolish the historic center of Schwerin to replace it with Plattenbauten – tough this plan failed to materialise due to a lack of funds. Ironically, by the early 1980s, the historic buildings were actually being (albeit slowly) renovated.
The year 1985 marked a very important date for the Schweriner, as it marked the 825 anniversary of the cities founding. And this is where we get to the Lenin in Schwerin.
Schwerin gets it Lenin
The 825 year anniversary celebration in Schwerin was legendary – so much so, that the 850 year anniversary party in 2010 even payed homage to it. But it’s not a party without Lenin. The city hired the acclaimed Estonian Lenin sculptor (and USSR Art Prize recipient) Jaak Soans to sculpt a Lenin statue for them – to the tune of 60,000 GDR Mark. Apparently Jaak Soans was offered the contract to create the Lenin statue, as Schwerin and Tallin were partner cities at the time.
The Lenin statute was unveiled on the 22nd of June, 1985. And my what a Lenin it was. Over three meters high, stoically looking off into the distance – or at the adjacent Firefighters museum. Or the slightly depressing TV Tower. This Lenin is an odd one to describe. His demeanour is calm, yet defiant – he appears awfully relaxed and thoughtful.
What most likely contributes to this feeling is that his hands are in his coat pockets – almost like a captain looking off into the sea. I guess, like with almost every artwork, it’s up to the beholder to interpret and read the what the art might be conveying. A few years later, Jaak Soans had the following to say about his creation: “Here I am, here I stand, here I stay!”
The base of the Lenin statue in Schwerin bares the words “Dekret über Grund und Boden” – “The Decree on Land“. Written by Lenin in 1917, it decreed an abolition of private property, and the redistribution of the landed estates amongst the peasantry. At first this would seem like an almost arbitrary Lenin reference, but the Soviets enacted a land reform in the occupied German Territories in 1945, which did just this. And what better way to celebrate the 825th anniversary of Schwerins founding, then to unveil a Lenin statue on the 40th anniversary of “land decree” in the Soviet Occupied Zone.
The Lenin Statue in Schwerin after 1991
And then he just stood there for the next three and a half decades. Perestroika, Tschernobyl, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union all passed him by. While systems crumbled Lenin remained steadfast. One question remains – how did the Lenin statue in Schwerin survive through the turbulent United Germany transition period?
Well, nobodies actually quite sure – it just sort of happened. One things for sure though, the Lenin statue in Schwerin has both its fare share of admirers and haters. The debate if the state should be taken down or stay up has been going on for several years – in 2006 a vote to remove the statue failed by just 2 votes. It was argued that the statue was part of the cities history – but a sort of compromise was found. An additional information plaque was added to the the Lenin Statue explaining the crimes that occurred during his reign, and inspired by his words and decrees.
And so a seemingly never ending battle of vandalism ensued. Some people pelted the statue with paint, while others vandalised the information plaque (so much so that it had to be replaced by a more sturdy and permanent one). And it seems like Lenin still has the potential to polarise even to this day. He’s begun to rust (literally), and this will surely trigger the next conflict. One can only imagine what an uproar it will cause if the city decides to use public funds to repair the Lenin statue.
In 2014, a company offered to buy the Lenin statue, melt down the bronze and recast it as a church bell. Schwerin politely declined. Apparently even Jaak Soas seems to have had a change of heart, as it’s alleged that he made the offer to melt down the statue and create a new one. He even stated in an interview in 2019, that “the Lenin in Schwerin wasn’t really my best work. I would accept it if the demolished the statue.”
And yet, despite it all, the Lenin still stands in Schwerin, unfazed by all the commotion. In the end, he’ll probably outlast us all.
Is the Lenin in Schwerin really the last Lenin in Germany?
Yes and no. The Lenin in Schwerin is the last Lenin in Germany to remain on its original spot. Plenty of other “German Lenins” have been moved to private collections, depots and museums – but this one is the last public one.
By the way, if you like weird stories about statues – did you know that theres a Columbo Statue in Budapest?
But hold on! Theres still dozens of Lenin Statues around Germany on abandoned Soviet Military bases and Soviet Cemeteries. But these don’t fall into the same category as the one in Schwerin as those were Soviet Territory and not Germany territory. And to be super technical, there are still public Lenin depictions like this one in Berlin – but glass windows and plaques are not the same as official statues.
There was one other contender though, the Lenin statue in Riesa – a city once famous for its steel production, and now more known for its pasta factory. Riesa had a very prominently placed Lenin statue – which was surely going to be taken down after 1990. A crafty communist (or a bunch of them) voted to move the statue on the grounds of the Soviet Cemetery / Soviet War Memorial.
Thanks to the signing of the 2+4 Treaty and the Bulletin Nr 109, Germany vowed to take care of the Soviet Graves and War Memorials. Any alteration of these sites requires the approval and permission of Moscow. That essentially killed the discussion of the removal of Lenin in Riesa. Seeing as its been moved off to the Soviet War Memorial, its no longer in its original place, nor in a truly public setting.
Lenin in Schwerin Address
Hamburger Allee 68, 19063 Schwerin