When traveling through the villages of Brandenburg one can always be assured to find at least three things: A bakery, a cemetary, and a “Kriegerdenkmal” – a war memorial. While many of the villages can often be described as rather plain, their war memorials are always beautifully restored and well taken care of. While there was a standard template for a memorial, many of the German Kriegerdenkmäler often added a unique touch to their designs and the Kriegerdenkmal Woltersdorf – also known as the “Fidus Denkmal” – is no exception. But even amongst the other German War Memorials, this one has a feature which makes it stand out from the rest.
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Woltersdorf and the first World War
Woltersdorf had always been a popular excursion destination for rich Berliners with it being located in a picturesque forested area right between two lakes. With a nearby by train connection and a tram line (the beautiful Woltersdorfer Straßenbahn – inaugurated in May 1913), Woltersdorf’s population increased by 50% between 1900 and 1910. With the outbreak of the first world war in 1914, millions of men across europe joined the fight – including some of the men from Woltersdorf. While its not clear how many signed up, it is documented that 83 soldiers from the village – roughly 3% of the villages population – were either killed, or died from their injuries.
With the end of first world war in 1918 and the abdication of the kaiser, the remnants of the German Reich descended into chaos with the November Revolution, Spartacist uprising, Kapp-Putsch and the devastating hyperinflation (not to mentioned the crippling treaty of versailles). Up until the mid 1920s, many villages and towns simply didn’t have the funds to erect memorials to their fallen of the first world war – that is until the Rentenmark was introduced to successfully curb the hyperinflation and economic freefall.
Woltersdorf wants an Ehrenmal
The topic of erecting a Kriegerdenkmal was first brought up on the 5th of July 1924 during a meeting of the local “Landwehrverein” (Veterans Association). The Landwehrverein(e), also known as Kriegerverein(e) have existed since the late 18th Century in Germany and rapidly gained in popularity. These associations often took care if war widows and orphans, alongside the erection of war memorials and the upkeep of war graves. Whilst they were more of an a-political social club to begin with, they generally turned more “conservative” and aggressive with the rise of social democracy in the German Reich.
The Woltersdorfer Landwehrverein formed a committee on the 17th of January 1925 and quickly progressed with the needed formalities for their war memorial. The first vote that the group organised (on the 13th of March 1925) was to decide where the proposed Kriegerdenkmal would go. While some wanted a rather traditional spot next to the church, others favoured a plot of empty land along the Schleußenstraße (where the Woltersdorfer Tram runs next to). The decision was settled with 24 votes to 9 against the church.
The committee selected the architect Friedrich Brinkmann – a strong proponent of expressionist architecture – to lead the project on the 2nd of May 1925. Brinkmann designed and developed projects all over Germany, but ended up settling in Berlin-Friedrichshagen where he worked for the local council before going independent in 1925. Tragically, Brinkman was arrested (for reasons unknown to us) by the Soviet Army and and imprisoned in a subcamp of the NKVD special camp Nr. 2, where he ultimately died in July 1945.
Fidus, Nazis, Communists and Hippies
Alongside Brinkman, the committee selected Hugo Höppner – also known as Fidus – to design a relief for the memorial. Now we could write an entire article just about Hugo Höppner, but we’ll try to keep it short for now. Hugo Höppner was born in 1868 in the German city of Lübeck. After being sent to the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich – he promptly dropped out after 3 months and became a student of the symbolist painter Karl Wilhelm Diefenbach. Diefenbach is considered by many to the one of the very early proponents of the “alternative lifestyle” – and early champions of the “Lebensreform“, FKK (Nudist) and peace movements.
After becoming a student of Diefenbach, Höppner earned himself the nickname “Fidus” (the faithful, the loyal) after both he and Diefenbach were arrested and sentenced to 5 days prison each for their nudist lifestyle. Fidus rejoined the Academy of Arts in 1889, and after having already adopted a vegetarian lifestyle mixed together with anarchist-socialist beliefs, he decided to become a follower of a mystic natur-religion, promoting sexual reforms. Fidus was a very well known art deco style artist in germany by the turn of the century, mith many of his pieces being featured in magazines, galleries and postcards.
By the time Fidus moved to Berlin, and eventually setting up a Studio in Woltersdorf in 1906, the mystic, esoteric and occult motives had become a large influence in his work. After the outbreak of the first world war, Fidus gravitated towards the Völkische Bewegung (a nationalist, anti semitic and racist movement), eventually joining the Nazi Party in 1932 after having personal contact to Joseph Goebbels (despite being an early objector of the race theory). Fidus was set to be part of an Art exhibition during the Nürnberg rally in 1936, but apparently Hitler was so disgusted by his work that he had him blacklisted and his work confiscated and banned.
After the war, in hopes of gaining the favour of the new political class (alongside food and materials), he began painting portraits of Stalin and Lenin. After dying of a stroke in 1948, his work was largely forgotten until it was rediscovered in the 1960s and served as a direct inspiration for the psychedelic art movement in San Francisco.
Unveiling of the Woltersdorfer Kriegerdenkmal
Construction of the War Memorial began on the 10th of may 1926 and was completed only 19 days later on the 19th of May to the cost of 8000 Reichsmark (€31,200). The Kriegerdenkmal in Woltersdorf followed the approved and endorsed design of what could be considered a display wall, which gave ample space for all the names of the fallen and a relief in the middle. The Architect Brinkman described his work as being “built on a broad foundation, solid and secure like the patriotic conviction of the fallen”.
The mighty corner pillars, along with the narrow inner pillars frame the two large name plates as well the inner relief – though they are more recessed and give the appearance of being cut off – symbolizing the abruptly ended life of the fallen. The top of the memorial is adorned with a globe thats decorated with a cross (though the original went missing sometime after the second world war).
Now what makes the Kriegerdenkmal in Woltersdorf so special is that (as mentioned above) no other than “Fidus” created the central piece, and more importantly what it depicts. The central relief depicts a warrior collapsing on his native soil after being hit by multiple enemy arrows. In his hand he’s still clutching his short sword (representing a defensive weapon), while a Valkyrie lifts his soul to Valhalla – all done in an art nouveau style.
While many people associate Germanic Gods and Occultism to the German Military – mainly due to the Nazis fascination with the subject, depictions and references to Germanic Gods and Valhalla on first world war memorials are extremely uncommon. One can clearly see how Fidus own fascination for “Sun Cults”, Germanic Myths and Mysticism had a direct influence on this piece.
Its worth mentioning that majority of the Kriegerdenkmal was built out of Limestone from the neighbouring Rüdersdorfer Quarry (its fascinating history is touched on in this post), while the name plates and the relief were made out of the softer sandstone, giving them a nice contrast from the rest of the memorial.
The Fidus Denkmal After The Second World War
The Fidus Denkmal survived the Second World War rather unschated. Over the years the War Memorial slipped ever more into obscurity and disrepair (like many of the historic structures that did not fit in with the narrative of the GDR). When both east and west Germany were finally reunited, the cross that once adorned the top of the memorial went missing – most likely stolen by metal thieves. The property where the Fidus Denkmal stands came into private ownership and was boxed in by some new constructed barracks, rendering it inaccessible to the public.
A group of dedicated locals have been campaigning for its restoration, and in 2004, the historical and artistic value of the Kriegerdenkmal Woltersdorf was recognized and added to Brandenburgs list of “protected monuments”. As necessary as this step was, it took until 2012 for the buildings around the monument to be torn down and to make it publicly accessible again. It wasn’t until September 2017 when the monument was finally restored and publicly unveiled again (to the cost of roughly €45,000). The Woltersdorfer War Memorial received a protective roof and a new cross at the same time, completing the monumental restoration project that took almost 20 years.
The Kriegerdenkmal Woltersdorf Today (2022)
Today, the Kriegerdenkmal Woltersdorf sits as the centerpiece of a small yet manicured “park” surrounded by a few benches. While I do have a fascination with the Soviet War Memorials left behind in East Germany, I really appreciate the thousands of World War I memorials all over Germany, and always make a point to visit them when traveling through Brandenburg. The memorial in Woltersdorf is no exception. Woltersdorf is a quaint little town – and is probably best visited in the spring and summer – where one can make the most of the beautiful nature and lakes. It’s also highly recommended to take a trip with the Woltersdorfer Straßenbahn which still operates its services with a series of historical trams.
Kriegerdenkmal Woltersdorf | Fidus Denkmal Address