Rahnsdorf is the easternmost district of Berlin and many people probably associate the area with its picturesque nature, the cute Woltersdorfer Tram, and the canals of Neu-Venedig (and Berlin’s smallest ferry). The district of Rahnsdorf has more to offer than just beautiful nature, and in this case we were particularly interested in the Kriegerdenkmal Rahnsdorf – one of the many World War I memorials in Berlin and Brandenburg.
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Rahnsdorf after World War I
As with the majority of German communities after the end of World War I, Rahnsdorf didn’t have a memorial to honor the fallen of their community. With the economic recovery setting in in the early to mid 1920s, the local Militärverein – also known as a Landwehrverein (Veterans Association) – set up the initiative to erect a Kriegerdenkmal.
The Militärverein – probably in combination with the local community – picked out the Schonungsberg, a small grassy hill to build their Gefallenendenkmal. The memorial was officially unveiled on the 7th of October 1928, to honor the 82 fallen Soldiers of Rahnsdorf (and surrounding areas).
The architect Kurt Lange designed the Kriegerdenkmal Rahnsdorf, which consisted of a large square stone tower made out of the ever popular limestone from Rüdersdorf – used for the Berlin Olympic Stadium, Berlin Dom, and many other World War I memorials in Berlin and Brandenburg.
The tower was built on a large platform which itself had a small pathway inside led around the tower. Leading up to the pathway was a large bronze plaque with the names of the fallen soldiers from Rahnsdorf, Wilhelmshagen and Hessenwinkel.
The Roland Statue
Afixed halfway up the tower, is a larger than life statue of a German soldier wearing the very recognizable M16 stahlhelm, cloak and sword. The statue was sculpted by Otto Wenzel and was made out of limestone from Thuringia.
You might ask yourself why a World War I memorial depicts a soldier resting on a sword and the answer is that the artist incorporated and adapted the symbolism of the Roland knight.
The story of Roland dates back to to the year 778, when Hruotlands (Roland) the Count of the Breton Margraviate, died in the battle of Roncevaux Pass, as part of Charlemagne’s invasion of the Iberian Peninsula. Rolands death at Roncevaux Pass turned him into a legend with epic being written about him throughout europe. The most famous of these being the Song of Roland – the oldest surviving work of french literature. France’s and Germany’s history is forever intertwined thanks to the Kingdom of the Franks – and it should be no surprise that the story of the noble and heroic Roland was equally popular in what is now Germany.
Roland statues sprung up in many german cities and towns, predominantly as a symbol of justice and liberty – and many of them still stand today. The most famous of them – the Bremer Roland (dating back to 1404) can even be found on a version of the German €2 coin.
So, theres the explanation. The noble and just Roland watches over the memorial of the fallen soldiers.
The Gefallenendenkmal Rahnsdorf: Modifications by the Nazis and the GDR
The bronze plaque with the names of the fallen was modified several times during the reign of the Nazis, and saw the addition of an eagle. While many (but not all) Third Reich era monuments and glorifications were removed, the Kriegerdenkmal in Rahnsdorf remained. While the Directive 30 of the Allied Control Council dealt with the Liquidation of German Military and Nazi Memorials and Museums – monuments erected solely in memory of deceased members of regular military organizations were exempt from this ruling.
The East German government which had no love for imperialistic monuments of the past, chose to ignore World War I monument – until the 10th anniversary of the founding of the German Democratic Republic in 1959. The Memorial was repurposed as a Memorial to the victims of war and fascism, and the bronze plaque with the names of the fallen soldiers removed. Thee red granite plaques were added instead, two with the dates of the first and second world war and their respective death tolls, and the third with a text by the East German Author and Communist Politician Max Zimmering (16.11.1909 – 15.9.1973).
The Text reads as follows:
IHR MENSCHEN IHR HABT SELBST DIE WAHL IHR SELBST WÄHLT TOD UND LEBEN DER FRIEDE MENSCHEN IST ALLEIN IN EURE HAND GEGEBEN MAX ZIMMERING DEN OPFERN VON FASCHISMUS UND KRIEG
Roughly translated: You people / You have the choice / You yourselves choose / life and death / the peace among people / is given alone / in your hands.
To the victims of fascism and war
The Kriegerdenkmal Rahnsdorf Today (2022)
It’s always a pleasant surprise to see that memorials like the Kriegerdenkmal in Rahnsdorf are kept in such good condition. While many memorials fall victim of senseless vandalism, it seems like the communities have taken it as a point of pride to restore these WWI memorials.
While it might not be worth visiting Rahnsdorf solely for this memorial – it is slightly out of the way – it’s nevertheless a scenic and impressive memorial worth visiting if one is in the area
Kriegerdenkmal Rahnsdorf Address
Kolpiner Weg – Schonungsberg
12589 Rahnsdorf, Berlin