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Latest German Concern: What to Do About Socialist Statues

September 13, 1990

EAST BERLIN (AP) _ A towering Soviet soldier smashes a swastika with a giant sword. Marx stares at passing traffic. Cars roll down Ho Chi Minh. Lenin tugs on his lapel.

Germany is less than three weeks away from becoming a single bastion of Western capitalism, but much of the new nation will be filled with totems to the old East Germany.

While leaders argue over how to pay for unification and East Germans worry about their jobs, many towns are wondering what to do with all those old statues, streets, squares and schools dedicated to the stalwarts of socialism.

It is a problem far more complex than merely changing street signs and carting away scowling icons of stone and bronze.

In southern East Germany, Karl Marx City wasted little time reclaiming its historical name, Chemnitz.

But it is taking much longer to decide what to do with Karl himself, a huge, glowering bust that dwarfs tourists who stare at his gargantuan noggin in the heart of town.

No community has taken a greater interest in this issue than East Berlin, the showcase of the former Communist government and the historic heart of what will be the capital of a united nation.

An estimated 800 postwar monuments dot the cityscape, some of them the centerpieces of squares. In Leninplatz, the Soviet revolutionary is affixed to a jagged panel, scowling in flowing overcoat, one hand on his lapel and the other clenched at his side.

In Marx-Engels Platz, Engels stands erect while Marx sits at his side, his huge lap a favorite place for tourists to nestle for photo opportunities.

A committee of artists and historians convened last week to begin an monument-by-monument appraisal of what to do with the memorials. A similiar committee has been charged with examining street names.

Some Germans want to remove all remnants of the regime imposed by the Soviets after World War II. Others say they should, to some extent, be preserved.

″Monuments, even if they are horrible or an attack against good taste, are part of the postwar history here,″ said Klaus Hetzel, a spokesman for the East Berlin government. ″You can find other solutions for them.″

The East Berlin committee members believe many statues will be retained but altered, perhaps by adding plaques that put them in historical perspective.

Others may have new gardens or green spaces around them to soften them.

Still others may be carted away to a single location, becoming part of a museum that will in a sense be a graveyard of Communist artifacts.

″What we do not want to do is merely get rid of everything,″ said Richard Dahlheim, deputy chairman of the city’s Cultural Affairs Department. ″Too many historical remnants are lost to the emotions of the moment.″

Few monuments trigger more emotions than the giant Soviet memorial in East Berlin’s charming Treptow Park. Many people are stunned by the militaristic scope of this tribute to Soviet soldiers who died while conquering Germany from the east.

To see it, a visitor follows a path lined with birch trees leading to a pedestal of stairs. Two red granite walls shaped like drooping flags form a gateway. Two giant Soviet soldiers kneel in front of each wall.

On the other side is a lawn that stretches for more than 550 yards, the burial place for 5,000 Soviet soldiers. On each side are eight stone sacrcophagi depicting feats of heroism.

At the end of the lawn is a mausoleum on which a 38-foot-high soldier stands. Broad-shouldered and handsome, the soldier smashes a swastika with a sword and clutches a child, creating an idealized image of a Soviet avenger slaying the Nazi oppressors and saving the innocent.

Many Germans want it shipped back to the Soviets.

″Marx is okay, but get rid of that thing,″ said Werner Tischer, 72, a native Berliner.

West Berlin also has monuments to its World War II occupiers, including a Soviet memorial and a street named after Karl Marx. Hetzel said it will be up to a future united Berlin government what should remain or be modified.

An estimated 100 to 200 streets are being studied by the East Berlin streets committee, ranging from streets named after Salvador Allende, the former Marxist leader of Chile; to Konstantin Ziolkowski, a father of Soviet flight technology.

They already have decided to change the name of Otto Grotewohl street, named after the first East German prime minister who was a hard-line Stalinist.

One broad avenue Americans are always startled to see is named after Ho Chi Minh, the Communist leader who drove the Americans out of Vietnam.

There is even a Wall Street. Its namesake nearby, however, has been reduced to rubble.

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