While traveling through Brandenburg, one can’t fail to notice how the villages and towns take care of their War memorials. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for many of Berlin’s First World War memorials – a prime negative example being the “Denkmal für die Gefallenen der Garde Pioniere” – the monument to the Pioneer Guards in Kreuzberg, Berlin.
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The Protestant Garrison Church
In 1894, construction of a Protestant (and Catholic) Garrison Church for the troops stationed outside of the gates of Berlin began. Designed by the Prussian State Architect Ernst August Roßteuscher, the monumental Evangelische Neue Garnisonkirche was inaugurated in 1897 in the presence of Kaiser Wilhelm II and his wife. Its main spire has a height of 89 meters – which by measured by today’s standards makes it the third tallest church in Berlin (the Berliner Dom being the tallest with 98,8m followed the the St. Marien Church in Mitte with 89,7m).
Following the end of the first world war and the german demilitarisation, the “Neue Garnisonkirche” ceased its function as a military church, but retained its status as a protestant church.
Hermann Hosaeus was born in Eisenach in 1875 and attended the Kunstgewerbeschule Dresden in 1891 and the Kunstgewerbschule in Nürnberg in 1892, the Munich Art Academy in 1894 and the Berlin Art Academy in 1898. He specialized in sculpting as well as designing (specifically medals). After serving and being wounded in World War I, he settled in Berlin in 1918 and became a teacher at the Art Academy in Berlin.
By the early 1920s, Hosaeus had joined the Prussian Staatliche Beratungssstelle für Kriegsehrungen – a subdepartment of the Ministry of Science, Arts and Public Education dedicated to War Memorials. It was there that Hosaeus essentially drafted the national guidelines for memorial committee and set the standards as to how war memorials should be organised and constructed.
Hosaeus was extremely active when it came to designing Monuments and War Memorials, having created over 50 of them during his lifetime – the most recognizable probably being the massive Hindenburg statue at the Kyffhäuser Monument and the Löwendenkmal in Rudelsburg. It is not clear when, but Hoseasus joined the Nazi Party, which certainly did not harm his career as a Professor and Artist. Hermann Hosaeus died in 1958 in Berlin – though many of his War Memorials still stand to this day (and quite a few of them in Berlin).
Ehrenmal der Garde Pioniere
By the mid 1920s, many communities finally began to recover after the financial collapse post 1918. And who else but the sculptor Hermann Hosaeus – was tasked with the creation of an Ehrenmal at the former Garnisonkirche, specifically for the Garde-Pioniere that were stationed close by – and many who most likely had also worshipped at the Garrison Church.
The Garde Pioniere Ehrenmal was unveiled with much pomp and circumstance on the 1st of June 1929. The large than life Pioneer is depicted with a rifle slung over his back, while holding a pickaxe in his right hand (which makes sense as they were often tasked with constructing fortifications and repairing infrastructure) and what appear to be oak leaves in his left hand. His ammunition belt is equipped by a pair of Stielhandgranaten,
The soldier is encircled by lightning bolts, which do give off the impression that the figure is encased in an electrified coffin, but it’s most likely emulating a roman aedicula (aka a small shrine). At the feet of the Garde Pionier is the inscription:
Den gefallenen Garde-Pionieren
Vorwärts und durch
To the fallen Pioneer Guards
Forward and through
The inscription is flanked by two Iron Cross engravings, while the bottom of the inscription bears an engraving of the Prussian “Gardestern” – the badge of the Guard Corps (which was also the base of the Order of the Black Eagle).
A little trivia on the side: Karl Liebknecht, one of the founders of the German Communist Party, joined the Garde Pionier Battalion in 1893 as part of his 1 year mandatory military service.
Denkmal für die Gefallenen der Garde Pioniere Today (2022)
The Kriegerdenkmal on the Kirche am Südstern as the church it officially known today is in terrible shape. The Soldier’s head has been broken off since at least 2008 – its whereabouts are unknown (as in it’s not clear if city officials have it or if it was stolen or destroyed). The base of the memorial is constantly smeared with graffiti, and the soldier statue itself is also regularly doused in paint.
The memorial seems to be a frequent target of vandalism (more so than other military memorials), quite possibly because of its strong militaristic appearance (and if I may hazard a guess, because people can’t tell the difference between a WWI and WWII memorial – not that it should make a difference).
It seems like both the church (which is run by the Christliches Zentrum Berlin e.V.) and the city have given up on the memorial and have zero interest in its preservation or upkeep. The surroundings of the memorial, i.e the rear section of the church is also less than inviting as its filled with rubbish and rats, as well as overgrown bushes and weeds making it a less than inviting place to visit.
Denkmal für die Gefallenen der Garde Pioniere Address
Kirche am Südstern
Südstern 12, 10961 Berlin