Arguably the most important Soviet War Memorial in Berlin (and Germany) is the Sowjetisches Ehrenmal Tiergarten. Its size and central location – in the heart of Berlin – were a deliberate choice by the Soviets to make the grandest statement possible. Whilst its not the largest Soviet War Memorial in Berlin, it is the only one to have been built in a western sector.
Construction and location of the Soviet War Memorial Tiergarten
The decision to build the Soviet War Memorial Tiergarten was made by the war council of the 1st Belorussian Front of May 1945 by the group for Monumental/Memorial buildings of the 27th Administration for special construction projects of the ministry for the defense of the USSR, who ordered chief construction manager Major Grigori Krawzow (who was also responsible for the construction of the Soviet Memorial in Treptower Park, Schönholzer Heide, and the Seelower Höhen) to lead the construction of the first Soviet Victory monument.
The Soviet Memorial was strategically placed in the Tiergarten next to the “Siegesallee”, just a stone’s throw away form the Reichstag, Reichskanzlei and Brandenburger Tor. The German war of aggression started here – and it ended here.
The Sowjetisches Ehrenmal Tiergarten was designed by the sculptors Wladimir Zigal and Lew Kerbel as well as the architect Nikolai Sergijewski, and was unveiled on the 11th of November 1945 after only 3 months of construction. Various sources both confirm and debunk the legend that the memorial was built with granite taken from the destroyed Reichskanzlei.
Until someone tests the stone (like they did with the marble at the U-Bahn station Mohrenstraße – it’s not from the Reichskanzlei) you can choose which version you want to believe. A similar rumor persisted with the Sowjetisches Ehrenmal Treptower Park – but this turned out to be equally untrue.
The meaning of the Red Army Soldier Statue
The Soviet War Memorial in the Tiergarten is unique among its fellow memorials, as it is the only Soviet Memorial of its kind to be located in the Western Sector. Despite having been located in the British Sector of Berlin, the other 3 axis powers approved of its construction.
The entrance of the Soviet War Memorial Tiergarten is flanked by two type T-34 tanks (which had first entered Berlin), and two 152mm artillery guns – which sounded off the end of the war. Further up the stairs are two stone sarcophagi engraved with the names of 9 “Heroes of the Soviet Union” who died in the Battle of Berlin.
The center piece of the Soviet War Memorial Tiergarten is an 8-meter-tall statue of a Red Army Solider stretching out his left arm over the remains of his fallen brothers. While some interpret the gesture to symbolize the Soviet Union “putting down” Nazi Germany, Lew Krebel later said the following: “The war is over. The solider is saying goodbye to his fallen comrades and is returning home. That is the point of the memorial”.
Translation of the Russian text
The Russian text on the column reads:
Вечная слава героям павшим в боях с немецко фашистскими захватчиками за свободу и независимость Советского Союза 1941 – 1945*
The English translation reads:
Eternal glory to heroes who fell in battle with the German fascist invaders for the freedom and independence of the Soviet Union 1941 – 1945
Another interesting feature are the english inscriptions on the side of the monument, though at the time when these photos were taken, the letters had been taken off for renovation.
A colonnade of six granite pillars span out behind the statue of the soldier, representing the six branches of armed service which took part in conquering Berlin. Each of the six pillars is additionally engraved with the names of 35 fallen soldiers. Behind the colonnade is the final resting place of around 2,500 soviet soldiers and officers who died during the capture of Berlin.
A little secret underneath the Soviet War Memorial
Here’s a little secret: Hitler envisioned Berlin as the new Capital of the world called Germania. With the help of Adolf Speer, he concocted one fantastically impossible project after the next. While redesigning the city, they had planned for a Nord-Süd Achse, and an Ost-West Achse. These were large parade like streets running north-south and east-west.
Parts of them were designed to run under the city. Long story short: When you stand directly in front of the Sowjetisches Ehrenmal Tiergarten, you’ll be standing above one of the last remnants of one of these “secret” underground autobahn tunnels. An entrance to this tunnel is still “accessible” and hidden in the bushes somewhere (and is quite the well-guarded secret).
The Sowjetisches Ehrenmal Tiergarten is one of 12 Soviet War Memorials of Berlin. You can find an overview post here – The Soviet War Memorials of Berlin – with a condensed history of all Soviet War Memorials in Berlin, or you can click through the list below and read about each Soviet War Memorial individually.
*The second world war only started for the Soviet Union in 1941 with the German invasion of the Soviet Union. Before that, both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany had signed a Nonaggression pact and coordinated the invasion and division of Poland.