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A Travel Guide to COLD WAR SITES in EAST GERMANY
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After WWII the Red Army erected monuments in many places reached during its westwards march, well into the heart of defeated Nazi Germany.
A part of these monuments, small and with no particular architectural significance, were erected in villages and small towns, as well as in less visited locations in capital cities. However, the latter received much more attention, with grand monuments and memorials, much bigger in size and pomp than their more basic counterparts, and sometimes designed with an eye for architectural value. Among the most notable, those in Budapest, Vienna and, obviously, Berlin.
The former capital city of the Third Reich was the arena of a fierce battle, which took place around and in town for the last two months before the final capitulation of Nazi Germany in May 1945. Soviet soldiers died by the thousands in the last act of WWII in Europe. This fact, and the significance of the conquest – which also gained the Soviet Union a first level role on the world stage it had never enjoyed since its origin with the October Revolution in 1917 – were two elements that had to be remembered and celebrated properly.
For this reason, three areas were selected for the construction of as many monuments, with slightly different functions, in the urban region of Berlin. From the viewpoint of art, all of them are interesting examples of late Stalinist architecture, and they are still in place and accessible to visitors.
As said, more monuments indeed exist, scattered in more intimate locations in Berlin. An example can be found in Berlin Hohenschönhausen, not distant from the former STASI prison (see here).
The following photographs were taken on several occasions between 2015 and 2021.
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Getting there and moving around
Being located in one of the many green areas of Berlin, this place is popular among the locals, so it is also easy to reach and sometimes even crowded. There is a S-Bahn stop on the northern side of the park (‘Treptower Park’), and several bus lines have a stop along ‘Am Treptower Park’, an alley on the western side of the area.
Free parking for cars can be found on the same road, even in front of the lateral arches giving access to the monument – you can immediately spot one about halfway along the western side of the park, an imposing grey arch with writings in Cyrillic alphabet.
Access is from the lateral arches. Once on the centerline of the perspective, the approximate distance to the other end of the memorial is .35 miles.
The design of the monument is based on a simple perspective, beginning on one end with a sculpture representing Mother Russia, whose sons have been sacrified for the liberation of Europe from the Nazi invasion. An intermediate viewpoint is constituted by a couple of stylized gigantic Soviet flags, made of the marble from Hitler’s Chancellery of the Reich.
Then a long basin with twelve sarcophagi aligned along the sides, representing the twelfe republics of the Soviet Union at the time of WWII, extends up to the focal point of the monumental complex, a colossal statue of a Soviet soldier, with a child representing Europe in his arms, fiercely standing over a destroyed swastika.
The monument was built before 1949, and some 5000 Soviet soldiers are buried here. Due to the time of construction, quotations from Joseph Stalin – later to be condemned as a tyrant by the Soviet governments of the Fifties – can still be found on the sarcophagi.
The design of the site is not very elaborated, similarly to many other Soviet monuments of the time, but the effect of the grand perspective at a first look is undeniable.
A crypt with a mosaic can be found beneath the statue of the Soviet soldier. A nice view of the whole complex can be obtained while standing on top of the stairs by the entrance of the crypt.
The condition of the monument and of the garden makes this a pleasant detour from more central and touristic areas of Berlin. A walk around in the monumental complex may take 20 to 45 minutes. The place is not fenced, hence is open h24.
Getting there and moving around
This is the oldest and most modest of the three Soviet memorials in Berlin, except for the position, which is very close to the Brandenburg Gate. Leaving towards the Tiergarten park from the Gate pointing west in the direction of the Monument to Victory – the boulevard is named ‘Strasse des 17 Juni’ -, you reach the Soviet memorial about .2 miles on your right.
If you are moving by car, you can park on ‘Strasse des 17 Juni’ not more than .2 miles from the monument.
Differently from the other two sites on this page, this monument, built soon after the war in 1945, is mostly a celebration of the conquest, and not a burial site.
The monument is very simple, and designed to be observed from the street, so walking around, albeit possible, doesn’t add much to the perception of the place.
The focal points of the perspective are a tall marble column with a golden seal of the Soviet Union on the front, and a tall statue of a Soviet soldier on top of it. To the sides of the monumental court, two tanks and two cannons are placed on balconies.
Curiously, the monument would turn out to be placed in a zone attributed to the Western Allies, later to become West Berlin. Moreover, the Wall was to be erected in front of the Brandenburg Gate, just about .25 miles from this site – which remained the only monument to the Soviets in West Berlin, and was a neighbor to one of their most brutal emblems…
This is probably the most banal of the three monuments. It is also the most seen, due to its position in the heart of town. Visiting can be completed in 10 minutes. Similarly to the monument in Treptower Park, this place is unfenced and open h24.
Getting there and moving around
The place is in the northern part of Berlin, in the nice district of Pankow. When moving with the public transport system, the easiest way is going to the S-Bahn railway stop ‘Schoenzholz’ or ‘S Schoenzolz’. From there, take to the north on ‘Provinz-Strasse’, and at the end of it after about .15 miles go left on ‘Strasse von Schoenholz’, which later changes its name and takes slightly to the right into ‘Germanenstrasse’, entering the park where the monument is located. You reach the gate to your left after about .1 miles after entering the green area of the park. The total distance from the S-Bahn to the site is about .65 miles.
Going by car, you can reach to the entrance on ‘Germanenstrasse’ and park close to the gate.
This burial site was built on the site of a Nazi urban forced labor camp, and more than 12’000 Soviet soldiers, including prisoners of war and high-ranking officers, are buried here. The memorial was built about at the same time as the monument in Treptower Park, before 1949.
Compared to the monument in Treptower Park, this site is more modest in size, and the theme is more that of a war cemetery than a celebration of the liberation from Nazi dictatorship. Proportions are more moderate, and the elements make for a less bombastic ensemble than the other monumental sites listed on this page.
Before entering the main basin with several placards with the names of the identified soldiers buried here, two low and bulky marble constructions force you on the axis of the perspective. The small chambers in these low constructions are covered with stained glass ceilings with hammer and sickle emblems. The focal point is on a sculpture of Mother Russia with a dead son, and behind it a tall obelisk.
The sculpture of the dead son is resting on a Soviet flag. Many particulars add to the picture, like the small stained glass windows in the crypt beneath the obelisk and the lamps and handles with hammer and sickle marks. Quotations from Joseph Stalin can be found on the walls of some elements in the complex.
All in all, this monument is more proportionate and interesting than the others of the kind in Berlin. The monument is more dramatic and in some sense more serious and more like a temple than the other two. Furthermore, being not primarily a touristic attraction, it is less likely you will find any crowds. Please note that this place is fenced and has opening times (see this website in German, to the bottom of the page opening times are indicated), plus there are guards around probably to avoid vandalism. The size is not large, so visiting may take 15 to 30 minutes at most.
Getting there and moving around
The location is on the crossing between Küstriner Str. and Strausberger Str., in the nice residential neighborhood of Lichtenberg, in the eastern part of Berlin. The area is well served by public transport. Free parking is available on Strausberger Str. or elsewhere around. Nicely located in a park, not fenced and unguarded – however close to a children’s playground and a frequented park, so totally safe. Very compact in size, a visit may take 15 minutes at most.
The monument in Hohenschönhausen is an example of the many small-scale Soviet memorials in Berlin. Actually, the history behind this one is made of two stages. A monument was originally erected around the same years of the bigger ones, between 1945 and 1950, in Stalin’s era. It also served as a cemetery.
About two decades later, in the mid-1970s, a new monument was designed and erected, and that is basically what is seen today. The centerpiece is made of a mural with a Soviet soldiers, united by a banner with smaller figures on it.
To the sides of the mural, today somewhat hidden by in the overgrown vegetation, are two inscriptions celebrating Soviet heroes – in German and Russian respectively on the two sides.
The monument is completed by an interesting red star on the ground, placed ahead of the mural, in a small square. The star is made of metal, an might be a base for an eternal flame.
However, despite not vandalized, the monument (as of 2021) is not much looked after, and of course there is no flame.