Sunday, July 10, 2011

Viktoriapark Denkmal: Deutsche Geschichte von Schinkel

A few nights ago, I watched the excellent BBC series The Art of Germany. It's available for viewing on YouTube. The focus of the series is understanding the complexities of the German character by exploring German Art from the Middle Ages to the present. The series doesn't shy away from tackling controversial ideas, and it reinforces the notion that art cannot be fully appreciated unless viewed in its historic context.

For example, in Berlin's Viktoriapark, there's a monument designed by Schinkel. I never realized that this structure had significance beyond its status as a ubiquitous war memorial.

At the time the monument was completed in 1821, Germany was still an assemblage of small Germanic states and not yet unified. For hundreds of years, the small German states were at the mercy of the great European powers: France, Sweden, Russia, and the United Kingdom. 

And although this monument is dedicated to Prussia's role in the Napoleonic wars and designed in the old Gothic style, its cutting-edge cast iron construction and use of innovative rust proof paint signaled the end of Germany as a feudal and powerless state. In a sense, the monument foreshadowed a nation that would lead the world in science, industrialization, and war. 


Over the next 150 years, this dark cathedral-like structure would overlook the Berlin skyline observing a nation that would achieve economic greatness, suffer the ravages of war, and rebuild itself into a modern leader of freedom.    

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