Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin
OF THE TREES, OF THE FOREST AND OF THE HILL
One of the more interesting differences between men and women from anthropological point of view is their focus. The phenomenon can be briefly summed up as: “men see the forest, women see the trees”. Women notice small things, whilst men are trying to grasp the whole. Big picture, small picture. Convenient division. That would explain my passion for zooming in and my lovely spouse´s inability to track down any object smaller than a winter tyre (unless it comes running itself and demands papa give it some sweets).
But the world is, of course, a bit more complex than that. How otherwise would you explain the fact that some 99% of the visitors, regardless of their sex, who make it to the top of Kreuzberg and look at the 20-metre-tall and 200-tonne-heavy war memorial (Nationaldenkmal) never notice that something is missing? That one of the twelve statues has, in fact, been robbed?
THE KREUZ IN KREUZBERG
The memorial, designed by Schinkel – the same Schinkel who seems to have designed half of Berlin, while the other, green half has been designed by Lenné – was erected in 1821 at the behest of king Friedrich Wilhelm III. The monarch wished to celebrate the final victory over France and Napoleon in Wars of Liberation (Befreiungskriege) by putting on top of Tempelhofer Berg (or Weinberg as it was also called at the time) a cast-iron monument topped with the Iron Cross. The very same cross (Kreuz) that gave the hill and eventually the whole borough its new name. The Iron Cross was the highest military decoration awarded by the king for the very first time eight years earlier in Breslau (today Wroclaw, Poland) where the Prussian army finally got a grip on itself and supported by allied troops went on to win at Leipzig .
The gothic-looking Nationaldenkmal is also shaped like a cross: in each of its four arms there are three niches housing one of the twelve stunningly beautiful statues. In this way the four great battles and eight further breakthrough events in Prussian-French Wars of Liberation were given human faces. Here are the main ones.
THE FACES ON KREUZBERG
The Battle of Waterloo (called Belle Alliance in Germany) is Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna born Charlotte von Preußen; the daughter of Friedrich Wilhelm III and the wife of Tsar Nikolai I. His brother, Tsar Alexander I was Prussian king´s main ally. If you look carefully, you´ll see she is wearing a dress whose front has been embroidered with miniature images of all the 12 statues (!) and is most probably pregnant (actually, her permanent condition in the first 14 years of matrimony).
Großgörschen (also known as the Battle of Lützen), where Prussian and Russians commanders, General von Blücher and Count Wittgenstein respectively, did not lose but did not really win either, has the face (and a very attractive body) not of Blücher as one could expect but of an allegoric victorious soldier. Still, even if he had Blücher´s facial features, it would be impossible to tell: no-one ever saw him without the grand moustache!
Volkerschlacht bei Leipzig (the Battle of The Nations), the biggest battle in Europe before WW1 with a “seven nations´ army” or the Sixth Coalition fighting Napoleon´s dwindling troops, was given the handsome shape of a be-crowned fighter in a post-combat pose (hint: the shield on the ground). Could be Blücher again. How could we know?
And last but not least, Paris, whom Christian Rauch, the sculptor and designer of most of the statues on Schinkel´s memorial, gave the delicate features of queen Louise von Preußen.
THE QUEEN AND THE QUADRIGA
The fair and non-belligerent heroine of Prussian-Napoleonic wars was also the wife of Friedrich Wilhelm III and the mother of Charlotte Frederike von Preußen who became the above mentioned Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia. Queen Louise, literally worshipped by the subjects because of her natural air and friendly manner, died quite young and long before Napoleon was defeated but the legend had it she died of a broken heart. So great was her compassion for the suffering Prussia that it simply gave up beating (the fact she had given birth 10 times in less than 16 years and was suffering from lung problems was somehow overseen). It should come as no surprise then that she was soon crowned as the icon of anti-French movement. Also, Louise von Preußen would give Berlin back its most treasured symbol. Her very much post mortem gift to her nation.
UNTIL THE HORSES CAME HOME
The battle of Paris, the battle to end all other battles took place on March, 30th, 1814. French capital surrendered and Napoleon, after a failed attempt at suicide, was forced to move to Elba. Paris was a crucial moment in this story not only because of this final victory but also because of the theft that took place seven years earlier in Berlin. On the 21st of December 1806 twelve huge boxes were packed with the dismantled Quadriga from the top of Brandenburger Tor and shipped to Paris. This act constituted the final humiliation for Prussia.
Schadow´s masterpiece and the symbol of Berlin spent seven years in Napoleon´s grip. It was supposed to become a jewel in French Horse Thief´s (as Prussians immediately called him) architectural crown. Therefore, a very special location had to be found. Since Paris did not have anything appropriate yet, Napoleon ordered his architects and construction experts to build what Berlin already possessed: an impressive arch. By the time they were done, though, and Arc de Triomphe was ready, Quadriga had already returned home where it belonged.
On April, the 4th, 1814 General Marshall Blücher (after whom Kreuzberg Blücherstraße and Blücherplatz were named) sent a dispatch to the King, informing him Quadriga had been found and would be immediately shipped back to Berlin. On June, the 8th it arrived in Zehlendorf and on the 30th of June the crowds were again cheering in its shade under Brandenburger Tor. During the funeral ceremony of Queen Louise, who died in 1810, the cortege had to pass under the gate with just a sad piece of iron, otherwise serving as Quadriga reinswoman´s “spine”, sticking out on its top. So much for adding insult to injury. Therefore, Quadriga´s return was a symbolic re-birth and retribution for Berlin and for Prussia on more than one level.
THE QUEEN AND THE THIEVES
Such a moment simply called for being immortalised. That is why when Friedrich Wilhelm III ordered Schinkel to built a war memorial on the hill in Tempelhofer Vorstadt, the architect asked two of the best sculptors to provide the decorative statues for it. Christian Rauch and Christian Friedrich Tieck (later joint by Ludwig Wichmann) worked together but the symbol of Paris was made by Rauch, a long-time friend of Louise´s, personally.
He chose Louise von Preußen as its genius and supplied her with two unmistakable symbols of Paris victory: in the left hand she was to hold a sceptre with an iron cross on its top, while the right hand was to hold a miniature of Quadriga as if offering it to those looking. The way her hand rested on the sceptre would remind you of the way Napoleon was holding his in the famous portrait by Ingres (and many, many others). The pun was probably intended.
In case you were about to put your boots on and set off to Viktoria Park right now to behold, here is the sad news: neither the sceptre nor the Quadriga are there. Nobody knows exactly when they disappeared from Kreuzberg but the images of Nationaldenkmal under renovation in 1950s prove that they were not war casualties but victims of theft. Who stole them and first and foremost, how they managed to get the almost 50-kilo-heavy Quadriga off Louise´s hand and dismantle the equally heavy sceptre unobserved, we shall never know. Not that many people would notice anyway. Today only a bronze copy of the Quadriga made in 1825 still exists and could be seen last year in Neustrelitz (Louise´s homeland – she was born the Duchess of Meckelburg-Strelitz) during the exhibition presenting the masters of Prussian classicism. But ersatz can never be the real thing.
ELEMENTARY, DEAR WATSON?
So much for trees and forests then. You might look at something for years and never really see. I have been up on Kreuzberg hill many times and looked at the Nationaldenkmal with what I thought was great attention. The only reason I noticed the loss was because one day at Kreuzberg Museum Archive I looked into an old folder with newspaper clippings. I simply read it was gone.
Well, let´s hope Sherlock did it, too. Would that not be a worthy case?