Sunday, September 16, 2012

Das Völkerschlachtdenkmal (Monument to the Battle of the Nations) in Leipzig, Germany

Congratulations, I believe, are in order to Rob from Amersfoort, who although did not identify yesterday's Place-of-Mystery by name, certainly alluded to the fact that he knew it.

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.


al_luz812 said...

good one Nate, looking forward for the next place OM.

Judi said...

Yes, I like the Place of Mystery too. Good History lesson, Nate. Thanks. So, the building in the top right with the diagonal path had no significance?

Nate Maas said...

Thanks, everyone!

Judi, the buildings at the end of the diagonal path are the center of the Südfriedhof, the largest cemetery in Leipzig.


Virgil S. said...

I followed the link for the battle of Leipzig and found myself reading about the general who passed along the job of blowing up the bridge to the colonel who passed it along to a corporal who was not adequately informed and hence didn't get it done the way the general wanted...I think I've seen organizations work that way. Fascinating!

Unknown said...

Place-of-Mystery is a great idea! Unfortunately I can't participate next week since I'll be on holiday visiting the cultural wonders in southern Spain.

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