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  • Writer's pictureDr Julien Drouart

Soviet War Memorial (Treptow Park): Back to the past

Updated: Jan 11, 2022

Treptower Park honours the Soviet soldiers who died during the Battle of Berlin.
A triumphal arch to the past

The Soviet War Memorial at Treptow Park is one of the largest memorial sites in Berlin. Although it is heavily influenced by ideology, it is nevertheless a very pleasant natural area to visit.

The Soviet Memorial in Treptow Park is worth a visit. It is also a personal favourite.

The last great battle of the Second World War takes place in destroyed Berlin. If the collapse of the Third Reich seemed inevitable from 1941-43, it will continue the conflict to total collapse, keeping almost 80% of its effort and units on the Eastern Front.

The Soviets will have captured/liberated the capital at the cost of a Pyrrhic victory, losing nearly 100,000 fighters. The dead will not be repatriated to the USSR but buried in Berlin. Three row graves were laid out: near the Tiergarten, in Pankow and in Treptow. The latter was the most remarkable, with gigantic perspectives in the heroic style of the Soviet Union. The aim was not only to provide a burial place and a tribute to the fallen soldiers, but also to celebrate the triumph over Hitler's fascism.

Inaugurated in 1949, the Soviet War Memorial became a place of remembrance that went beyond commemorating the war to become a symbol of fraternal rapprochement between the peoples of the Soviet Union and the German people, or at least the East Germans. The site will see one of the GDR's last blows in January 1990 during a demonstration against fascism and for friendship with the USSR. Today it is owned by the Russian Federation.

A monumental rediscovery of the Soviet past

On the side of Pushkin Avenue, in the middle of the forest, a triumphal arch with the Soviet symbols, hammer and sickle crossed over a star, welcomes visitors. It opens onto a beautifully maintained forest avenue, at the end of which a large sculpture depicts a kneeling woman: the grateful motherland.

Suddenly, a gigantic, grandiose and colossal ensemble appears in front of it. Stylised red granite banners are lowered, at the sides of which are statues of two Soviet soldiers also kneeling, a kind of guardian of the temple. A huge avenue is flanked by sarcophagi on which glorious reliefs celebrate the Great Patriotic War. An even more massive statue completes the ensemble, that of the fighting hero. It depicts a young officer carrying a child, the future of the world, and holding a sword in his other hand. He steps on a broken swastika.

The whole thing is very impressive, and even if the imposing and heroic architecture forbids any presumption about the nature of the site, it is visually stunning. The memorial is also a park.

A place of remembrance, but also of encounter

It is difficult to hide the political symbols about the main purpose of the memorial, which is to glorify the victorious soldier and the Soviet regime. The architecture is not neutral and there can be no ambiguity. However, it is important not to limit oneself to ideological considerations and to see the whole for what it is.

The Soviet War Memorial impresses more than it enlightens. The Soviet codes are obvious, but the framework of homage is very quickly exceeded. In fact, the place is a very pleasant park, open to all for relaxation and contemplation. Better still, it is a space where the visitor is literally immersed in the discovery of a past gone by, a walk in an ancient time where all the codes are still visible. Therefore, a visit is a must for historians and photographers in search of a return to the past. There is nothing wrong with resting there to watch the sunset. In this case, as with a walk in the woods, choose a sunny, summer day to visit the memorial.

Reasons to go

  • Absolutely fascinating heroic architecture

  • Breathtaking views through monumentalism

  • A place for walks, meetings and history

Reasons to avoid

  • A rather subjective interest

  • Lack of an ideological counterweight or critical discourse

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