Tag Archives: Konrad Adenauer

A to Z of Statues – B is for Otto Von Bismarck

I noticed that one thing that makes Berlin stand out against other grand European cities is that it has very few statues; it is that history thing again, Berlin can’t very well have statues of Kaiser Wilhelm II or Adolf Hitler because they were both responsible for unleashing hell in Europe.

Midway along the Tiergarten we did eventually come across a famous monument, the Berlin Victory Column, commissioned in 1864 to commemorate the Prussian victory in the Danish-Prussian War and later dedicated also to victory in the 1866 Austro-Prussian War and then the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. Prussia did like going to war it seems.

It is indeed a grand column that soars into the sky and at the very top stands a golden statue of the Roman God Victory.

Prussia had become a modern European State in 1701 and for the next one hundred and seventy years was at war with someone or another for a total of ninety years, or over half of its existence. Not surprisingly Prussia was seen as a militaristic threat to the stability of Europe and so was abolished by the victorious allies in 1947.

This wasn’t especially difficult, two years earlier the Russian offensive in the Battle of Berlin had demolished and removed almost all Prussian heritage. East Prussia was absorbed into a redefined Poland and the remainder became East Germany.

Battleship Bismarck – what a beast…

Nearby we found a statue of a man that I was expecting to find – Otto Von Bismarck, the architect of modern Germany who was responsible for the creation of the country in 1871 following the defeat of France in a short-sharp war – the sort of quick victory Germany expected again in 1914. The sort of victory, it has to be said, that Great Britain also anticipated.

A grand statue but not on prominent display but instead tucked discreetly inside a corner of the Tiergarten, adjacent to the Victory Column.

Not really surprising because Germany looks mostly to the future. To some extent this is explained by Germany’s post war efforts to confront its past, The Germans have a word for this – Vergangenheitsaufarbeitung, which translates as “working off the past”.

In 2003 in a television poll German viewers bypassed Otto Von Bismarck (voting for Adolf Hitler was not allowed) and voted post-war Chancellor Konrad Adenauer as the greatest German of all time. Hands up anyone who has heard of Konrad Adenauer? It would be like voting John Major as the Greatest Briton. I mention this now just as a comparison, if you think Adenauer is an odd choice, in a similar poll in the USA they voted Ronald Reagan the Greatest American and in terms of Presidents alone that was ahead of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D Roosevelt.  Astonishing.

There were also some odd results elsewhere, Russia voted for Josef Stalin (responsible for an estimated 60 million deaths), France for Charles de Gaulle instead of Napoleon or Louis XIV, Portugal for Antonio Salazar (a dictator), Spain for King Juan Carlos (now disgraced) and Canada for someone called Tommy Douglas who turned out to be Scottish.

Berlin, Statues and The Greatest German

Berlin Reichstag

“Where some states have an army, the Prussian Army has a state.”  – Voltaire

After a few stops we left the train and walked through the Tiergarten.  This was once a Royal hunting forest but was cut down for firewood during the immediate post war period when fuel was in short supply and has now been replanted as a very fine public park.

Late afternoon and it was beginning to get dark.  The park is nice but a bit edgy with little gangs of dangerous looking men and we witnessed at least two dodgy transactions – drugs we imagined.  To be on the safe side we stayed on the well lit footpaths and didn’t risk the shadows of the woodland tracks.

Berlin was once the capital city of Prussia and then Germany after 1871.

Prussia had become a modern European State in 1701 and for the next one hundred and seventy years was at war with someone or another for a total of ninety years, or over half of its existence.  Not surprisingly Prussia was seen as a militaristic threat to the stability of Europe and so was abolished by the victorious allies in 1947.  This wasn’t especially difficult, two years earlier the Russian offensive in the Battle of Berlin had demolished and removed almost all Prussian heritage.  East Prussia was absorbed into a redefined Poland and the remainder became East Germany.

As a consequence Berlin has little history.  The entire city by necessity is modern, it has only been rebuilt over the last seventy-five years so is quite contemporary and lacks charm.  There are no grand palaces, cathedrals, stately homes or castles because they have all been swept away.  Even the trams are brand-spanking new.  A lot of central and eastern European cities continue to preserve fifty year old vehicles but not so in Berlin.

Berlin Brandenburg Gate

It is as though Germany doesn’t want to recognise its short and unhappy existence which after all has included a belligerent monarchy, an economic crisis, a failed republic and a totalitarian dictator.

Not really surprising then that Germany looks mostly to the future.  In 2003 in a television poll  German viewers bypassed Otto Von Bismarck (voting for Adolf Hitler was not allowed) and voted post-war Chancellor Konrad Adenauer as the greatest German of all time. Hands up anyone who has heard of Konrad Adenauer?  It would be like voting Theresa May as the Greatest Briton. I mention this now just as a comparison, if you think Adenauer is an odd choice, in a similar poll in the USA they voted Ronald Reagan the Greatest American!

Back to Germany – Reformation monk Martin Luther came second, with communist philosopher Karl Marx third.

Another feature that I noticed that makes Berlin stand out against other grand European cities is that it has very few statues; it is that history thing again, Berlin can’t very well have statues of Kaiser Wilhelm II or Adolf Hitler because they were both responsible for unleashing hell in Europe. I understand that there is a statue of the greatest German, Konrad Adenauer but this is some way out of the city centre on the edge of Charlottenburg and we didn’t get to see it.  It seems that they are not so proud of him either.

To some extent this is explained by Germany’s post war efforts to confront its past.  It took Germans some time to learn this after the second world war, but they finally invented a concept for it: Vergangenheitsaufarbeitungwhich translates as “working off the past”.

Berlin Column of Victory

Midway along the Tiergarten we did eventually come across a famous monument, the Berlin Victory Column, commissioned in 1864 to commemorate the Prussian victory in the Danish-Prussian War and later dedicated also to victory in the 1866 Austro-Prussian War and then the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71.  Prussia did like going to war it seems. It is indeed a grand column that soars into the sky and at the very top stands a golden statue of the Roman God Victory.

Even though it was getting mid Winter late and the light was fading we paid the entrance fee and climbed the two hundred and thirty steps to the top and were rewarded with good views from the observation deck.

Nearby we found a statue of a man that I was expecting to find – Otto Von Bismarck, the architect of modern Germany who was responsible for the creation of the country in 1871 following the defeat of France in a short-sharp war – the sort of quick victory Germany expected again in 1914.  The sort of victory, it has to be said, that Great Britain also anticipated.  A grand statue but not on prominent display but instead tucked discreetly inside a corner of the Tiergarten adjacent to the Victory Column.

Berlin Otto Von Bismarck

In the USA there are Towns and cities called Bismarck in Arkansas, Illinois, Michegan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota (The State Capital*) and West Virginia.  As far as I am aware there are no towns or cities called Adenauer.

I would have really  expected Bismarck to have been voted the ‘Greatest German’ but it seems that for many he is too closely associated with establishing a Teutonic military regime based on Prussian aggression which led directly to two European villains, two World Wars and the biggest battleship ever in the German Navy and the largest in any European fleet in World-War-Two.

What a beast…

Battleship Bismarck

After walking the entire length of the Tiergarten we returned by a different path and made our way back to Alexanderplatz where we finished our ten mike walk (a distance we hadn’t really anticipated at breakfast) with a well earned beer and a glass of wine close to our hotel.

Berlin Hoff Hause

* Bismarck was named after the Prussian statesman in an attempt to attract German investors to the Northern Pacific Railroad, for which Bismarck served as terminus. While the bid for investors was unsuccessful, Otto sent the railroad an autographed note of acknowledgement.

Berlin, In Search of History

Berlin Brandenburg Gate Statue

From Potsdamer Platz we walked through the ‘Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe’, which is a controversial structure in terms of both concept and design –  controversial mostly because no one really understands it.

The monument is composed of two thousand seven hundred and eleven rectangular concrete blocks laid out in a grid formation.  No explanations, no names and no dedications, a sort of graveyard full of stones without inscriptions.  I suppose it might be conceived as a memorial to lost people.

According to the architect the blocks are designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere and the whole sculpture aims to represent a supposedly once orderly system that momentarily lost touch with human reason.

Several people have had a shot at trying to provide a more definitive explanation but I find none of them absolutely convincing. Personally I found the memorial rather bizarre and difficult to comprehend but I suppose it is a memorial to a period in history that is impossible to comprehend.  Perhaps then that is exactly the point of it, we look at it and wonder ‘how on earth did that happen?’

Berlin Jewish Memorial

To my mind a completely pointless memorial and a waste of valuable commercial urban space, much better to erect a vertical column and rent off the land and send the profits to the families who suffered because of the Holocaust.

From the Memorial it was just a short stroll to the Brandenburg Gate which is without doubt the most iconic symbol of Berlin.  I found it a rather underwhelming, I was expecting something like the the Arc de Triomphe in Paris but I have to say that at only half the height it is nowhere near as impressive.  So we walked a while along the Unter den Linden, a wide leafy boulevard and one of the most famous streets in Berlin and after a drink at a pavement café returned to the gate passing the uneasy neighbours of the Russian and the American Embassy buildings and crossed a busy road into Berlin’s premier park and green space, The Tiergarten.

Berlin Brandenburg Gate

I confess that by this time that I was becoming disappointed with Berlin and I suddenly realised why this was.  Berlin has no history.  The entire city by necessity is modern, it has only been rebuilt over the last seventy-five years so is quite contemporary and lacks charm.  There are no grand palaces, cathedrals, stately homes or castles because they have all been swept away.  Even the trams are brand-spanking new.  A lot of central and eastern European cities continue to preserve fifty year old vehicles but not so in Berlin.

It is as though Germany doesn’t want to recognise its short and unhappy history which after all has included a belligerent monarchy, a failed republic and a totalitarian dictator.  Not really surprising then that Germany looks mostly to the future.  In 2003 in a television poll  German viewers bypassed Otto Von Bismarck and voted post-war Chancellor Konrad Adenauer as the greatest German of all time. Hands up anyone who has heard of Konrad Adenauer?  It would be like voting John major as the Greatest Briton. Reformation Monk Martin Luther came second, with communist philosopher Karl Marx third.

So we walked now past the Reichstag which is perhaps the grandest building in all of Berlin and then  west through the Tiergarten which was once a forest but it was cut down for firewood during the immediate post war period and has now been replanted as a very fine public park.

Another feature that I noticed that makes Berlin stand out against other grand European cities is that it has very few statues; it is that history thing again, Berlin can’t very well have statues of Kaiser Wilhelm II or Adolf Hitler because they were both responsible for unleashing hell in Europe. I understand that there is a statue of the greatest German, Konrad Adenauer but this is some way out of the city centre and we didn’t get to see it.  It seems that they are not so proud of him either.

Berlin Column of Victory

Midway along the Tiergarten we did eventually come across a famous monument, the Berlin Victory Column, commissioned in 1864 to commemorate the Prussian victory in the Danish-Prussian War and later dedicated also to victory in the 1866 Austro-Prussian War and then the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71.  It is indeed a grand column that soars into the sky and at the very top stands a golden statue of the Roman God Victory.

Nearby we found a statue of a man that I was expecting to find – Otto Von Bismarck, the architect of modern Germany who was responsible for the creation of the country in 1871 following the defeat of France in a short-sharp war, the sort of quick victory Germany expected again in 1914.  The sort of victory, it has to be said, that Great Britain also anticipated.  A grand statue but not on prominent display but instead tucked discreetly inside a corner of the Tiergarten adjacent to the Victory Column.

Berlin Bismarck Statue

I would have really  expected Bismarck to have been voted the ‘Greatest German’ but it seems that for many he is too closely associated with establishing a Teutonic military regime based on Prussian aggression which led directly to two European villains, two World Wars and the biggest battleship ever in the German Navy.

After walking the entire length of the Tiergarten we returned by a different path and made our way back to Alexanderplatz where we finished our thirteen mike walk with a well earned beer close to our hotel.

Even after all that walking Richard still had the strength to fetch the beers…

I like drinking beer