The Völkerschlachtdenkmal, aerial view
The Völkerschlachtdenkmal (or "Monument to the Battle of the Nations") is a monument commemorating Napoleon's defeat to the allied armies of Russia, Prussia, Austria, and Sweden at the Battle of Leipzig in 1813. After the battle (which also happened to be the largest in Europe until World War I), Napoleon retreated to France and the momentum swung to the Allies, eventually culminating in his defeat at Waterloo the following year.
Such a momentous event surely needed an appropriate monument and the year after the battle, proposals began. For the 50th anniversary in 1863, a foundation stone was placed on the spot that Napoleon ordered his retreat, but no memorial followed. It wasn't until after Germany became a unified nation that impetus for renewing the monument's construction took full form. At the Battle of Leipzig, Germans from Saxony fought on both sides, so contemporary Germans not only wished to commemorate the victory over Napoleon, but also to emphasize the new unity of the German people.
The Völkerschlachtdenkmal under construction in 1907
Construction on the monument began in 1898 with conclusion timed to coincide with the hundredth anniversary of the battle in 1913. It is heavy with Germanic symbolism. The reflecting pool, evocative of the blood and tears of the wars is surrounded by stately oaks, the traditional symbol of German strength. The entrance is a doorway below the Archangel Michael, sometimes considered the "War god of the Germans," and the inscription "Gott mit uns." God with us, being the old motto of the German military.
Inside, there is a crypt on the first level surrounded by eight statues supposedly representing fallen warriors each flanked by two Totenwächter (or guards of the dead).
The Völkerschlachtdenkmal Crypt
The second floor contains four statues dedicated to the four German attributes of bravery, faith, sacrifice, and fertility between stained glass windows and under a dome adorned with horsemen in relief.
The Völkerschlachtdenkmal Dome
Visitors today can take in the breathtaking views atop the structure and the surrounding countryside.
Above the Völkerschlachtdenkmal
With such overt Germanic symbolism, it became a rallying point for nationalists.
Nationalist Rally at the Völkerschlachtdenkmal in 1924
Hitler speaking at the Völkerschlachtdenkmal in 1933
The Völkerschlachtdenkmal became so associated with German nationalism, that at the end of World War II, as the American Army approached, 150 Nazi SS soldiers made their last stand in the memorial.
An American soldier surveying the damage after clearing the Völkerschlachtdenkmal of Nazis
After World War II, Leipzig was placed under Soviet occupation and later East German rule. The Soviets were eager to purge the country of anything related to the Nazi rule or German nationalism. However, they were also eager to try and forge ties between the German and Russian people. The Völkerschlachtdenkmal was a memorial to a victorious battle where Russian and German peoples had defeated a largely French army, so the Soviets allowed it to remain.
Anti-Nazi banner hanging on the Völkerschlachtdenkmal
Today, fringe right-wing groups use the monument as a symbol of neo-Nazi aspirations, so Leipzig has chosen to downplay the militaristic aspects of the memorial and holds social gatherings at the site with concerts and even an annual a bathtub race, the "Régates de Baquet," on the pond each year in early September.