While many memorials and pieces of public art that were erected during the reign of the German Democratic Republic were removed or altered after German reunification, more than just a handful have seemingly escaped that fate and continue stand in all their glory in the East Berlin district of Pankow. One of the the larger memorials to have stood the test of time is the Julius Fučík Memorial in the Bürgerpark Pankow, dedicated to the antifascist czech writer Julius Fučík.
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Who was Julius Fučík?
Julius Fučík was born on the 23rd of February 1903 in Prague, Austria-Hungary. He came from a working class family and was named after his famous uncle, the composer Julius Fučík (known for his plethora of marches and polkas). Having initially grown up in Prague, his family moved to Pilsen – though he would return to prague in 1920 to study.
While in Prague, Fučík joined the Czechoslovak Social Democratic Workers’ Party, but quickly joined the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia once it split from CSDW in 1921. Fučík began working as an editor and literary critic as well as continuously working together with the CPC. His work with the Communist Party made him a frequent target for arrest by the Czechoslovak Secret Police, which did little to deter him.
The early 1930s marked a series of visits to the Soviet Union for Julius Fučík, who was a strong supporter of Stalinist policies. His ideological support for Stalin caused several clashes within the CPC, as not everyone agreed with the developments under Stalin.
The Communist Party of Czechoslovakia was disbanded by Czechoslovak Government in 1938, and its members fled into the underground. Fučík continued to work as a journalist and writer during the German Occupation, as well as becoming part of the Central Committee for the CPC. The Nazis intensified their search for Fučík, who along with six others was arrested in Prague on the 24th of April 1942 by the Gestapo.
While being imprisoned in Prague, Fučík was repeatedly interrogated and tortured. During his captivity he managed to write his book “Notes from the Gallows” – which described his life in prison. The papers were smuggled out and later edited and published by his wife.
In May of 1943, Fučík was transported to Bautzen in Germany, and then moved to Berlin where he was put on trial for high treason. He was executed on the 8th of September 1943 in the Plötzensee Prison.
Julius Fučík as Communist symbol
After his death, Fučíks wife, Gusta Fučíková edited and released Julius Fučíks notes as a book in 1947. By February 1948, the CPC staged a coup and seized control over the government (which they would hold on to until 1989). Fučíks position in the CPC as well as his political beliefs made him a useful propaganda symbol for the Czechoslovak government, which made him a national hero, naming factories , parks, streets and virtually everything else after him. His book became required reading for every child above the age of 10.
A cult like following was created around Fučík – who despite being 40 years old at the time of his execution – was being molded into a symbol of (and for the) youth. The Fučík badge was introduced by the Communist Party, and to be awarded it, applicants had to join the Czechoslovak Youth Union (similar to the East German “Free German Youth”, read 11 selected book, watch 5 approved movies and pass a final exam. After being awarded the prestigious badge, holders could title themselves “Fučíkovec” and count themselves to the elite among their peers.
The Julius Fučík Memorial in Berlin
In 1973, East Berlin hosted the 10th World Festival of Youth and Students. The Czechoslovak youth organisation decided to present their east german hosts with a fitting present, namely a memorial to Julius Fučík. The foundations were laid on the 8th of September 1973 in the Bürgerpark Pankow in the presence of Fučíks wife Gusta.
It’s interesting to note that that the Bürgerpark Pankow was, and still is, a relatively prominent location, wedged in between the Soviet War Memorial in the Schönholzer Heide and the Schloss Schönhausen (home to the first and only president of the GDR) as well as the “Gästehaus der DDR-Regierung” , an apartment complex used to house foreign dignitaries and their staff (Castro, Breschnew and Tito were just some of the more memorable guests).
The memorial, designed by the czech sculptor Zdenek Nemecek und der czech architect Vladimír Pýcha, consisted of five,white concrete pillars each with an intricate design carved into them. The three larger pillars – each roughly 6 meters talls – bear several inscriptions. The outermost right has the quote “MENSCHEN, ICH HATTE EUCH LIEB. SEID WACHSAM!” ( Humans, I have loved you all. Be vigilant!) in three languages, German, Russian and Czech.
The center pillar contains larger than life bronze portrait of Fučík. The column to the left contains the same quote in the same three languages again (the quote was taken from Fučíks book “Notes from the Gallows”). The Fučík memorial was unveiled the following year on the 8th of May, 1974 (“Liberation Day” – a public holiday in the GDR).
A small plaque was attached to the base of the memorial which read: Dieses Mahnmal wurde der Jugend der DDR / und der Hauptstadt der DDR Berlin / von der Jugend der ČSSR gewidmet. / Autor des Denkmals Ak. Arch. V. Pýcha / Autor des Reliefs Julius Fučik‘s / Ak. Bildh. Z. Němeček / Künstlerische Zusammenarbeit / Ak. Bildh. J. Kadlčík Ak. Bildh. R. Formánek / Ak. Mal. J. Mikulka
EN: This memorial was dedicated to the youth of the GDR / and the capital of the GDR Berlin / by the youth of the CSSR. / – and continues to list all artists involved.
The Julius Fučík Memorial after German Reunification
A heated debate broke out in the former East Germany as to what should happen with the hundreds of political monuments that were erected. The West German sentiment was to tear them all down, an attitude reminiscent of post 1945 Germany. While monuments like the Berlin Lenin statue were torn down in the most public manner, creating facts on the ground – a commission (Kommission zum Umgang mit den politischen Denkmälern der Nachkriegszeit im ehemaligen Ost-Berlin) was set up in east berlin to assess what should happen with the artistic inheritance.
The commision found that the Fučík Memorial could stay, they decided to remove the commemorative plaque on it, probably because it referenced Berlin as the capital of the German Democratic Republic.
As for Fučíks legacy in the former Czechoslovakia? The Czechs quickly fell out of love with Fučík after the velvet revolution and removed his statues. His legacy was put into question after it had been revealed that his book had been edited by his wife who had omitted several passages which did not fit into the official narrative. It seems like Czechs to this day seem to be split about him. Despite this, in 2013 on what would have been Julius Fučíks 110th birthday, a statue to him was re-unveiled in the Olšan Cemetery in Prague.
Not to be outdone, the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia unveiled a Fučík statue in front of their local headquarters in the city of Vestín (a move eerily reminiscent of the German Marxist–Leninist Party, who erected a statue of Lenin in 2020 in the west german city of Gelsenkirchen).
The Julius Fučík Memorial Today (2022)
The Fučík Memorial in the Bürger Park remains in remarkably good condition with little to no signs of vandalism or graffiti. The memorial is located at the top north eastern corner of the picturesque Bürgerpark and creates an interesting entrance to a park that’s filled with a fair few east german sculptures, which are all worth having a look at when strolling through the luscious green.
Julius Fučík Memorial Address
Cottastraße / Heinrich-Mann-Straße, Bürgerpark Pankow