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Germany gets its first monument for fallen soldiers since WWII

No one is debating the gesture to honor dead service members of Germany's armed forces. But decisions over details of the new monument in Berlin have caused some controversy.

A soldier stands outside the monument

The monument has been in the works since 2007

The monument, which bears the inscription "Our Bundeswehr's Dead - For Peace, Justice and Freedom," is located near the headquarters of the defense ministry in Berlin. Some critics have said it should be located closer to Germany's parliament building - in a different part of the city - as the German army is officially the parliament's army.

"The soldiers would have picked out another place for their monument. They would have wanted it to be in a more prominent place, such as near the Reichstag building," said Reinhold Robbe, the parliamentary commissioner for the armed forces.

"In the end, only the parliament decides when and where soldiers are going to be sent to serve."

The German army, or Bundeswehr, was founded in 1955, and to date, around 3,100 service members have died while in active duty.

Manner of death an issue

Although the monument's opening comes at a time when a growing number of German soldiers are being killed in Afghanistan, the monument does not differentiate between soldiers and civilian employees of the army who lost their lives due to accidents or suicide.

Andreas Meck

Andreas Meck and a model of his memorial

Reinhard Fuerher is the president of the German War Graves Commission and thinks a distinction should be made.

"There's a big difference between someone in the Bundeswehr who is killed because of a careless accident and someone who was sent by the German parliament into a war-like situation," Fuerher said.

"Accidents, suicide - it's all a part of this," counters Robbe. "For the loved ones of a dead soldier it's still a bad thing when someone loses their life."

A modern memorial

The plans for a monument for German soldiers killed in service has been around for some time. The idea came to Defense Minister Franz-Josef Jung during a visit to Afghanistan in 2005. There, German soldiers had erected their own monument to their fallen comrades.

Despite criticism from members of parliament, Jung has always been adamant that the memorial be placed near the headquarters of the Bundeswehr.

While the location and the exact meaning of the monument have led to debate, the monument itself has been widely accepted. Munich-based architect Andreas Meck is the architect of the memorial and presented his plan in 2007. Construction officially began with a groundbreaking ceremony last November.

The final structure is about 40 meters (131 feet) long and is supported by columns. A computer screen cycles through the names of dead soldiers, briefly displaying each one before blending in the next.

Author: Daniel Scheschkewitz (mz/AFP/dpa)
Editor: Jennifer Abramsohn

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