Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Lenin Monument in Berlin (Das Lenindenkmal Berlins)

Das Lenindenkmal, circa 1980s
I recently wrote how the French following WWII wanted to destroy the die Siegessäule, one of Berlin's most famous and historic monuments. Luckily, that didn't happen. However, another famous Berlin monument wasn't so lucky. Twenty years ago, on November 8, 1991, the Lenin monument (das Lenindenkmal) was disassembled into 129 parts and buried in a sandpit outside of Berlin. Following German reunification, many people felt that a monument dedicated to Communism had no place in a democratic Germany.

Overhead View of Lenin Square
Located in the former Lenin Square (renamed Platz der Vereinten Nationen), the Lenin monument was erected in 1970, stood 19 meters high (approx. 62”), and was made of Ukrainian red granite. More than 200,000 people witnessed its unveiling, including representatives from over 100 nations. When it was decided to remove the monument, many East Germans, including prominent artists and politicians demonstrated but without success.

The former Lenin Square Today
Today, an undistinguished stone fountain is located where Lenin once stood. The fountain, surrounded by five granite blocks symbolizing the five inhabited continents of the earth, rarely attracts attention and is easily overlooked. 

The Head Weighed 3.5 Tons!
The Lenin monument was certainly a piece of East German culture and art. East Germany lasted for 40 years, and Lenin shaped much of the 20th century political landscape. East Germany was no nirvana. It quashed political dissent, practiced systematic terror, and permitted little economic and personal freedom. It wasn't a symbol of good.

Nevertheless, how would you feel if the country you grew up in, totally vanished: its social fabric eradicated and symbols destroyed? We learn from the past, and symbols serve as reminders of both good and evil. Simply eliminating those symbols doesn't change the past or improve the future. Yet, should all symbols be preserved? For example, should a statue of Hitler or Stalin be publicly displayed? I'm not sure I know the answer. 

Unlike the USA, Germany places greater restrictions on symbols and political parties. America has always leaned toward more expressive freedom. Let the people decide what's good or bad.

Recently, on the 20th anniversary of the monument's dismantling, a few local residents voiced support for re-erecting the Lenin monument. Link to the video. It's in German, but I think you'll understand its meaning. 

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