While travelling through Brandenburg, it’s not uncommon to come across monumental towers made of brick or fieldstones, often in wide open fields or on top of small hills. What might be put off as just another random stone tower (there are quite a few in German), might actually be a Bismarckturm – a stone made symbol of devotion to the deceased “Iron Chancellor”. We spotted the Bismarckturm Zehdenick while on route to Fürstenberg, so we decided to take a short detour and have a closer look.
*I seemed to have dinged my camera one too many times and I didnt notice how dirty one of my lenses was at the time, so the photo quality is poorer than usual.
Table of Contents
The origins of the Bismarckturm
After successfully uniting the german states and ushering in the proclamation of the German Reich in Versailles in 1871. Otto von Bismarck had apparently outstayed his welcome in german politics and resigned in 1890. Ironically, while many were relieved at the departure of Bismarck, his popularity and admiration among the public reached a cult-like status, which dramatically increased after his death in 1898.
After Bismarck’s death, the Deutsche Studentenschaft (German Student Union) pitched the idea of creating a series of Bismarcksäulen (Bismark-Pillars) across the country, with a brazier at the top of each one. On certain holidays honoring the former Chancellor, they would all be lit up, thus creating a chain of lights across the country (think of the Beacons of Gondor).
The Deutsche Studentenschaft held a competition to find the final design for the planned towers, which the famed Architect Wilhelm Kreis won in 1899. Kreis’s design titled “Götterdämmerung” (after the last cycle of Wagners “Ring der Nibelungen) – was a massive blocky “fire column” (square, not round) – which could be modified both in construction material, size and height so as to allow every community to build a tower that they could afford (a similar concept to Schinkels “Normalkirche)
A short note on Kreis: Kreis had a very long career spanning 4 political systems, designing architecturally stunning buildings. During the Third Reich, he seized the opportunity and entrenched himself into the fascists circles and ended up working with Albert Speer on projects for Germania and designed multiple buildings for the Nazi State (even making it onto the fabled “God-gifted list” of the Nazis). He faced no repercussions after the war and continued working in West Germany until his death in 1955.
The first of these “Götterdämmerung” Bismarcktowers was built in Mid 1899 in Rudolstadt (Thuringia), and roughly 47 (documented) towers of this type were built until 1911. All in all, over 240 Bismarcktürme of various designs were built throughout the German Reich (and beyond), spanning as far as Papua New guinea and Chile, though only roughly 173 of them still stand today.
Some of the Bismarktürme were blown up by the Wehrmacht during their retreat from the Red Army, while others were demolished as they no longer stood on german territory, and a large portion of them fell into disrepair through calculated neglect.
The Bismarckturm Zehdenick
A short history of Zehdenick
The town of Zehdenick, roughly 60 kilometers north of Berlin traces its origins back to a slavic settlement that was first mentioned in the year 1216. Over the next 400 hundred years its main notability would be due to the fact that it switched ownership among german nobles countless times.
By 1664 it would become famous for it its newly built blast furnaces, which mainly served to produce canon balls. In the late 19th Century, large clay deposits were found around Zehdenick, which transformed the region into one of the largest brick producers in europe. With its location directly to the river Havel, Zehdenick supplied roughly 200 million bricks to Berlin. Its an interesting observation that small villages in Brandenburg specializing on one industry greatly contributed to the growth of Berlin, like the limestone deposits in Rüdersdorf.
Construction of the the Bismarckturm Zehdenick
The construction of a Bismarckturm in Zehdenick was first tabled in early 1899 by the Royal Construction Advisor Gustav Hippel and was met with general approval. By the end of the year, a Bismarckturm association was formed, the „Verein Bismarckturm“ – which Hippel was the head of – with the goal of raising funds for the construction of the tower.
The club picked out Wilhelm Kreis’s “Götterdämmerung” design (the most obvious choice), but decided to add a memorial hall to the planned design. The club also managed to pick out a suitable location. While Brandenburg is notoriously flat, they secured a plot of land on the Hoher Timpberg – a hill in Klein-Mutz (once a seperate village) – which gave the Bismarckturm the local nickname “Timpenturm”. It’s worth mentioning that “hill” is a very generous description of the plot of land.
Most of the raw materials – mostly granite and bricks – were supplied free of charge by local politicians, as was a lot of the manual labour – reducing the construction kost to “only” 8000 Mark (56,800 Euro in today’s money). Construction of the Bismarckturm in Klein-Mutz was completed on the 9th of July 1900, though the opening ceremony was postponed to the 2nd September 1900 to coincide with the “Sedantag” celebrations.
The Sedantag was a memorial day which celebrated the capitulation of the French Army on the 2nd of September 1870 after the Battle of Sedan, which resulted in the capture of Napoleon the 3rd. The Sedantag was an immensely popular holiday, but fell out of favour during the Weimar Republic as it was considered out of date.
The Finished Tower
The finished Bismarckturm ended up being 14 meters high, sitting on top of a 1,5 meter high platform. The base of the tower led down into the memorial hall with a cross vault ceiling. The memorial hall was decorated with a medieval eagel holding a shield with Bismarcks coat of arms on it. The hall was apparently decorated with leaf stencils and other ornate drawings.
The entrance into the actual tower was located directly above the vault and was reached by a small staircase. Once inside the tower, one was greeted by a small plinth which was supposed to display a custom bust of Bismarck – though it was never completed for unknown reasons. The wall opposite on side of the plinth featured a quote from Bismarck that was surrounded by cornflowers (a flower which was heavily shrouded in myths and legends in German history):
„Unsere Politik ist, daß kein Fuß breit deutscher Erde verloren gehen soll“
“Our policy is that not a single foot of German soil should be lost”
The other wall was decorated with a wall painting if Bismarck’s Mausoleum in Friedrichsruh. The ceiling of the inner tower had the same cross vault construction as the memorial hall underneath. A rather narrow stone staircase leads visitors up to the roof platform (37 steps if you’re counting) – which at the time held a 500 kilo heavy brazier with a diameter of 1,5 meters.
Unveiling the Bismarckturm in Klein-Mütz
Hundreds of spectators – including politicians, local clergy and nobility attended the opening ceremony on the 2nd of September, 1900. After a series of speeches, poem recitals and songs – the tower was officialy openend to the public – which could ascend to the top for the price of 10 Pfennig per person (0.71 Euro). The fire atop the tower was lit for the first time in the evening of the opening ceremony, while the base of the tower was illuminated by torches and floodlights.
While the tower remained in private ownership of the club, the key was handed over to the Landrat, who would then be responsible for organizing regular opening times. The club continued to raise money to pay off the construction costs of the tower until 1914 – and when all debts were paid, they gifted the land and tower to the district of Templin.
The Bismarckturm Zehdenick after World War II
During the last stages of the second world war, the brazier was damaged and eventually disappeared at some point after 1945, most likely melted down for its metal value. Another source mentioned that the brazier survived, but I could find no documentation confirming this. Zehdenick – now in the soviet occupation zone soon refrained from using the name Bismarckturm and adopted the local name Timpenturm. The newly established East German State had a clear political agenda of (selectively) rewriting and distancing itself from the shared german militaristic (and aristocratic) history – and sought to remove these symbols from the landscape (case in point with the destruction of the Berliner Schloss).
The Bismarckturm of Zehdenick fell into obscurity and was used as a local dumping ground from the 1960s onwards, and many of the ornate features – such as the interior wall paintings have either been destroyed or were lost over time due to weathering.
After German reunification some basic construction work was undertaken to save the tower from complete destruction, and the tower was listed as a historic monument in 1999, but it wasn’t until 2001 when the Bismarckturm Klein-Mutz e.V. association was founded with the goal of completely restoring the tower. The platform and the outer facade of the Bismarckturm Klein Mutz were restored in 2005 allowing visitors to access the tower again.
The Bismarckturm Zehdenick today (2022)
The Bismarckturm has been open to visitors since its partial restoration in 2005. While the outer facade and the staircase have been restored, the restoration of the interior (if this is planed at all) hasn’t begun yet – leaving the walls bare and “rustic”. The ceremonial hall underneath the tower was closed during our visit, and it seems like it isn’t publicly accessible.
While not high, the staircase isn’t the most welcome of ascents (the railing ist particular high). The view from the top of the tower isn’t the most flattering of Brandenburg (but rather typical) – flat lands dotted with cell towers, wind turbines and electric pylons. The wind turbines may be forgiven as the company that owns them donated some of the money for the towers renovation.
The ascent is it worth it, but I wouldn’t spend more than 5 minutes at the top and ponder about life. There’s a lonely collection box at the bottom of the staircase where Bismarck’s bust would have been – which (by the sound the dropping coin makes in it) doesn’t get many visitors. There’s a little picnic table at the base of the tower which does invite for a nice cup of tea and something to eat, though there is very little else to do in the area.
Bismarckturm Zehdenick Opening Times
The Bismarckturm in Klein Mutz is open on the weekends between April and October. If you plan on visiting it during the week, you are best calling the head of the Bismarckturm Klein-Mutz e.V. association, Bernd Gotthardt under the following number: (+49) 0152 21 30 32 25
Bismarckturm Zehdenick Address