The majority of symbols and emblems related to the German Democratic Republic quickly vanished after the German Reunification in 1990. While some East German symbols can occasionally still be found, they tend to be far and few between, so it’s always a surprise to find one out in the wild so to speak. Even more surprising when its a giant German-Soviet Logo next to a busy road in remembrance of the “Bridge of German Soviet Friendship”.
The Society for German–Soviet Friendship
After the founding of the German Democratic Republic on the 7th of October 1949, one of the states goals was to break down Anti Soviets attitudes among its population. It shouldn’t really come as a surprise that not every German trusted the Soviet Union or its Occupying Army a mere 4 years after the end of the war. In 1947, the “Gesellschaft zum Studium der Kultur der Sowjetunion” (Society for the Study of the Culture of the Soviet Union) was founded which transformed itself into the Society for German Soviet Friendship (Gesellschaft für Deutsch-Sowjetische Freundschaft aka DSF) by 1949.
The Society for German–Soviet Friendship had the goal of promoting Soviet Ideology and fostering German and Soviet “Friendship”. While membership in the DSF was not mandatory, one needed a valid reason not to have joined the group. Refusal to join the DSF (as was often the case if the party line wasn’t followed) could also lead to severe repercussions. By 1988, membership to the Gesellschaft für Deutsch-Sowjetische Freundschaft had swelled to 6.4 million (roughly 40% of the East German Population) – making it the second largest mass organization in the GDR (the largest being the FDGB).
The Kanal des Friedens
In 1951, the East German Council of Ministers decided to expand the Waterways in Brandenburg with the creation of the “Havelkanal” to create a shorter route between the Elbe and Oder that would allow large tonnage ships to pass through but also to specifically avoid having to cross through West Berlin territory.
The project was officially called “Kanal des Friedens” (The Channel of Peace) and ratified on the 19th of April 1951. The Channel construction initially faced several hurdles, the lack of materials, suitable machines and qualified workers – threatening the success of the project from the start. Through the combined effort and pooling of resources, 1500 workers managed to complete the 34 km long channel in only 13 months.
Several of the railroad bridges were constructed by using recycled steel beams from the destroyed bridges (during WWII) along the Oder, while the banks of the channel were supported by rubble the previously bombed out Berlin. Suitable accommodations for the constructions crews were also sparse, having to resort to reusing barracks from the nearby Nazi work camps in Hennigsdorf (which after the war were being occupied by refugees from the lost eastern territories).
The Bridge of German Soviet Friendship
Of course every river / channel needs a bridge – and the Kanal des Friedens had plenty of them. But only one of them had the honor of being named “Brücke der deutsch-sowjetischen Freundschaft”. The 75 meter long bridge, completed in 1952 spans the entrance of the Havelkanal and connects the city of Hennigsdorf with the district of Nieder Neuendorf.
Of course being located directly at the entrance of the newly created “Kanal des friedens”, the Society for German–Soviet Friendship pounced on the opportunity to create some “positive” PR for the Soviet Union. The bridge received its fancy name, and the state mandated friendship was put proudly on display by virtue of two massive cast iron plaques – one commemorating the construction year of the bridge, and the other one proudly displaying the emblem of the DSF. The cast iron plaques were then mounted on the side of the bridge.
Now the astute observer might have noticed that the East German flag doesn’t have GDR Emblem on it, and there’s a simple explanation for it: The official coat of arms of the German Democratic Republic wasn’t introduced until the 26th of September 1955, and it wasn’t included on the East German flag until the 1st of October 1959.
For those who are curious, we’ve written a more indepth article about the East German coat of arms, and went out looking how many of them survived the German reunification in Berlin.
A New Bridge Over the Havelkanal
The Brücke der deutsch-sowjetischen Freundschaft had reached the end of its lifespan by the late 2010s, so the local council decided it was easier to tear it down and build a new strudier bridge over the Havelkanal. The old east german bridge was torn down, but a the cast iron plaques were saved by an employee of the “Wasserstraßen- und Schifffahrtsamt” (aka Waterways and Shipping Authority).
The construction of the newly named “Straßenbrücke Nieder Neuendorf” was completed in 2019 (after a construction time of 2 years), but it wasn’t the only new addition. The plaques from the Society for German–Soviet Friendship – encased in a giant concrete block – were suddenly placed very prominently right next to the main road that crosses over the bridge.
It wasn’t clear who gave the order for the placement, but it certainly didn’t go over well with a large portion of the local council (especially as taxpayer money was used). Both the CDU and the Greens tabled a motion that the giant east german “memorial” be (re)moved and placed in an exhibition space alongside a suitable historical explanation. This is the same CDU that also recently proposed to remove the giant Ernst Thälmann Denkmal in Berlin.
The SPD – who also govern the city hall – tabled a separate motion to leave the DSF plaques where the are , but to add a historical marker giving context to the “monument”.
After the motions came to a vote, the SPD, aided by the Linke (the rebranded successor of the East German SED) won out and the plaques celebrating the Bridge of German Soviet Friendship got to stay where they are, alongside a small historical marker.
The Bridge of German Soviet Friendship Today (2022)
With the addition of an info plaque, it seems like the quarrel over the East German legacy has been resolved, at least for now. While you might not venture out to Hennigsdorf to solely see a German Soviet friendship “memorial”, the Straßenbrücke Nieder Neuendorf does lie directly on the Mauerweg and the route along this stretch is quite picturesque.
The bridge itself is like almost every other bridge that you can see spanning the waterways in Berlin and Brandenburg – but if you are in the area, it’s worth stopping by the Memorial to the victims of forced labour which is just around the corner.
By the way, the Society for German–Soviet Friendship didn’t just get roads and bridges named after itself, they also managed to name small mountain range in Antarctica – the “Berge der Deutsch-Sowjetischen Freundschaft” (Mountains of the German.Soviet Friendship) in 1972.
The East German Arctic expedition named the small mountain range 70 KM southeast of the Soviet Molodyozhnaya Station in gratitude for the years of Soviet support. The mountain range still bears the name to this day ( -67.983000, 47.376000 ).
The Bridge of German Soviet Friendship Address
Straßenbrücke Nieder Neuendorf
L172, 16761 Hennigsdorf