Saturday, November 5, 2011

Destroy die Siegessäule?

I remember living in San Diego and never visiting its world famous animal park. It's one of those oddities in life. You live a city and take it for granted. It's like living in Paris and not visiting the Eiffel Tower or living in New York City and not touring the Statute of Liberty. 

Today, I decided to rectify an omission and visit Berlin's Victory Tower (Die Siegessäule). I've passed it at least a hundred times but never stopped to go inside.

The Siegessäule was built to commemorate the Prussian victories over Denmark, Austria, and France during the 1860s-70s. It's an impressive monument that today symbolizes a unified Berlin. Earlier this year, it was re-opened after a massive restoration. If you climb to the top, it has excellent views of the Tiergarten, Brandenburger Tor and the Regierungsviertel (Government Quarter).

Surprisingly, the Siegessäule escaped destruction during WWII. However, after the war, France (one of the four allied powers occupying Berlin) wanted the historic monument destroyed and erased from the face of the earth. France's proposal was of course vetoed by the other occupying powers. It seems France didn't want a reminder of its loss to Germany in the Franco-Prussian War. 

If any country had a reason to destroy a German monument dedicated war victories, the most likely candidate was the Soviet Union, not France. The Soviet Union's military and civilian casualties during WWII were over 24 million people, almost 14% of its population! In addition, many of its cities were razed and infrastructure completely dismantled; yet, the Soviet's vetoed the idea of destroying the Siegessäule.

France, on the other hand, wanted revenge. Even though France was side-lined during most of the war, had limited war casualties, and actively collaborated with the Nazis in deporting Jews, Gypsies, and political "undesirables," it saw the destruction of the Siegessäule as another opportunity to humiliate a defeated country.

France had a grudge to settle and also a short memory. One factor that led to the rise of National Socialism and ultimately to WWII was the harsh treatment of Germany by the victors of WWI (especially France and Great Britain). Thanks to the level-headed thinking of the USA, Great Britain, and the USSR following WWII, past mistakes were avoided and the Siegessäule spared. Today, we can all enjoy the Siegessäule, including the Frenchies. 

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