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  • Writer's pictureDr Julien Drouart

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

Updated: Jun 24, 2023

The Soviet War Memorial in Treptow Park is one of the largest memorial sites in Berlin. Despite its pronounced ideological influence, it serves as an exceptionally pleasant natural area to visit.

The Memorial Is Worth a Wisit. It Is Also a Personal Favourite.

The final major battle of the Second World War took place in the ruined city of Berlin. If the downfall of the Third Reich seemed inevitable from 1941 to 1943, the conflict continued until a total collapse ensued, with nearly 80% of its effort and units focused on the Eastern Front.

The Soviets managed to capture/liberate the capital at the cost of a Pyrrhic victory, losing almost 100,000 soldiers. These fallen soldiers were not repatriated to the USSR, but instead buried in Berlin. Three mass graves were established: near Tiergarten, in Pankow, and in Treptow. The latter is the most remarkable, boasting grand perspectives in the heroic style of the Soviet Union. The goal was not only to provide a burial site and a tribute to the fallen soldiers, but also to celebrate the triumph over Hitler's fascism.

Inaugurated in 1949, the Soviet War Memorial evolved into a place of remembrance that transcended the commemoration of the war to become a symbol of fraternal rapprochement between the people of the Soviet Union and the German people, or at least those in East Germany. The site witnessed one of the GDR's last gasps 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, nestled amidst the forest, a triumphal arch adorned with the Soviet symbols—the crossed hammer and sickle overlaying a star—greets visitors. It opens onto a meticulously maintained forest avenue, at the end of which a large sculpture of a kneeling woman, the grateful Motherland, is situated.

Suddenly, a massive, grandiose, and colossal ensemble appears. Lowered stylized red granite banners are flanked by statues of two kneeling Soviet soldiers, appearing as guardians of the temple. A grand avenue is flanked by sarcophagi with reliefs that glorify the Great Patriotic War. A larger, more imposing statue completes the ensemble—the Fighting Hero. It depicts a young officer carrying a child, symbolic of the future of the world, with a sword in his other hand, his foot crushing a shattered swastika.

The entire setting is quite impressive, and while the imposing, heroic architecture forbids any presumption about the nature of the site, it is visually stunning. The memorial also serves as a park.

A Place of Remembrance, But Also of Encounter

It's difficult to ignore the political symbols that define the memorial's primary purpose—to glorify the victorious soldier and the Soviet regime. The architecture is far from neutral, leaving no room for ambiguity. However, it is essential not to limit oneself to ideological considerations and to appreciate the site for what it is.

The Soviet War Memorial impresses more than it elucidates. While the Soviet symbols are apparent, the notion of homage is quickly surpassed. Indeed, the location serves as a delightful park, open to all for relaxation and contemplation. Even better, it provides a space where visitors can immerse themselves in the exploration of a bygone era, where all the symbols remain visible. As such, a visit is highly recommended for historians and photographers seeking a journey into the past. There is also nothing wrong with taking a moment to rest and watch the sunset. When planning a visit, preferably choose a sunny summer day to fully enjoy the memorial.

Reasons to Visit

  • The absolutely fascinating heroic architecture

  • Breathtaking vistas provided by the monumentality of the site

  • A location perfect for walks, encounters, and delving into history

Reasons to Skip

  • The appeal can be rather subjective

  • A lack of ideological counterweight or critical discourse

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