The house of disgraced statues | DW Travel | DW | 09.07.2015
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The house of disgraced statues

A Berlin museum plans a permanent exhibition with highly political stone remains: Prussia, the Nazis, Communism. Its director says history is no fairy tale.

At present they're still covered with white tarpaulins, like a happening devised by Christo, the artist who wrapped the Reichstag: the marble statues from the broad boulevard that used to be Siegesallee (Victory Avenue) in Berlin are holed up in Spandau Citadel. Behind its fortified walls, they'll soon be revealed and become part of a special museum, residents of a place for tainted historical relics, as director Andrea Theissen puts it.

Berlin - Zitadelle Spandau

Old treasures - The Spandau Citadel in the west of Berlin

The museum has been in the spotlight since Berlin police detectives discovered artworks from Adolf Hitler's New Reich Chancellery in a warehouse in the Rhineland in mid-May. The ownership of the granite relief by Hitler's favorite sculptor Arno Breker (1900-1991) and the gigantic bronze horses by Nazi sculptor Josef Thorak (1889-1952) is still unresolved. But Theissen can imagine the Breker relief being exhibited here one day - next to the head of Lenin and Prussian ancestors from Siegesallee.

Buried and weathered

As soon as it became known that the gigantic head of the Russian revolutionary from the film "Goodbye Lenin" was to move into the citadel, Theissen was showered with requests. Even the Brazilian newspaper O Globo got in touch - the result of publicity that pleases Theissen but also makes her feel embattled and warn against sensationalism, and that could be based on a misunderstanding.

Many people associate Spandau with the Nazi functionary Rudolf Hess. Hitler's deputy remained behind bars in the district of Spandau until his suicide in 1987. But the prison was three kilometers from the citadel and was torn down long ago.

Deutschland Wende Lenin Denkmal in Ost-Berlin Abriss

Dismantled and buried - a Lenin bust in 1991

The permanent exhibition will be called "Revealed". It's set to open this year and will be showing about 150 pieces of politically-motivated statuary in what was once a supply depot. The core of the collection consists of 80 surviving busts and statues, some of them badly damaged, from the former Siegesallee in Berlin's Tiergarten.

The statues have been only partially restored. They still bear the marks of weathering and show the ruptures in German history - intentionally. The Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant and King Friedrich Wilhelm II both lack their heads. Otto II, Margrave of Brandenburg, is missing his right arm. They reflect the past 150 years more than almost any other group of statues.

The statues stood on a 750 meter boulevard funded by Kaiser Wilhelm II. It led from the present Platz der Republik in front of the Reichstag building where the Bundestag meets, to Kemperplatz, near where Berlin's philharmonic hall, the Philharmonie, now stands. In summer 1938 the statues had to make way for the planned north-south axis designed as part of architect Albert Speer's "Germania," Hitler's vision for a victorious Germany.

Ripe for the museum

Berlin - Denkmalmuseum in der Zitadelle-Spandau

This sculpture of the Nazi artist Arno Breker is part of the planned exhibition

The Nazis relocated the statues and busts along Große Sternallee in Tiergarten Park. In 1950 they were dismantled on the orders of the Allies and in 1954 buried next to Bellevue Palace, the present-day seat of the German president, because the Prussians were viewed as spiritual precursors of the Nazi state.

In 1978 the statues were dug up and stored in a disused pumping station on the banks of the Landwehr Canal. Now they stand in Spandau, where politically charged works from other eras are also to be exhibited, among them Arno Breker's sculpture "The Decathlete," created in 1936 for the Haus des Deutschen Sports, a sporting venue for the summer Olympics in Berlin that year - and the head of Lenin. "You can't choose your history," Theissen says about the museum's concept. "We have to accept ours as it was."