Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin



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 view of the brand new memorial in circa 1821

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 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.


Louise von Preußen painted by J. Grassi

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.


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.


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.


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?

The Little Quadriga from Kreuzberg (circa 1955)


  1. Strytllng
    January 12, 2012

    This is yet another very interesting story of our city! What great observing eye and mind. Thanks.

  2. berlioz1935
    January 13, 2012

    Thank you for all the back ground research. I’m come to visit Berlin and the Kreuzberg later this year. I will climb up the “Berg” and look at the National Denkmal with renewed interest.

  3. notmsparker
    January 14, 2012

    Thank you. I am absolutely certain you will find the climbing worth the effort:) The view from the top of the hill is breathtaking.
    There is another text about the memorial coming up soon. Hope you will like it, too.

  4. berlioz1935
    January 16, 2012

    The Kreuzberg and Viktoria Park were our adventure playground during my youth. In summer we played cowboys and Indians and in summer we were toboggan down the “Knochenbahn” towards Monumentenstrasse.

    We were so lucky, we did not need TV for entertainment.

    • notmsparker
      January 16, 2012

      You were indeed! Kids (including mine) are still playing there a lot and only two days ago I discovered that the playground next to the Katzbachstrasse sports club had been re-done in a great way, but the days when children could go to the park and just have fun on their own are definitely over.

      It´s great to hear from someone who actually spent his childhood in Kreuzberg before the borough started undergoing all the (and not always positive) changes. That makes adds to your praise in the first comment even more weight that it already had.

      Do you also remember the Villenkolonie Wilhelmshöhe between Methfesselstrasse (former Lichterfeldestrasse) and Mehringdamm (Belle Alliance Strasse)? I am doing lots of research into its history but because the place as such does not exist any more, there is very little information available. There are, for example, hardly any photos so I have to re-create Wilhelmshöhe´s by literally piecing it together. I´d be very grateful for any memories of the place and of Kreuzberg as such you might have.

      • berlioz1935
        January 17, 2012

        “Do you also remember the Villenkolonie Wilhelmshöhe….”

        Do I remember? Yes I do, but really not much. Wilhelmshöhe was a mysterious place. It was a so called “Privat Strasse” and we kids felt like intruders. It was a dark place because of all the trees. But the villas were beautiful. You find it here on the wikipedia with some other links.

        When you mention Methfesselstrasse (former Lichterfeldestrasse) and Mehringdamm (Belle Alliance Strasse) you are really talking about my Kiez.. I come from the Dudenstrasse (formerly Immelmannstrasse) and Methfesselstrasse was part of my daily walk to the school. That was during the war and up to 1950.

        There was a good book out about Kreuzberg, written by Ilse Nicolas called “Kreuzberger Impressionen”. Published by Haude & Spenersche Verlagsbuchhandlung in 1979 ISBN 3-7759-0205-8

        Any question you have ask me in English or German.
        A couple pf stories I wrote you can find in as they are set in Kreuzberg they might be of interest to you.

  5. notmsparker
    January 18, 2012

    Thank you so much! It´s an amazing feeling to be in touch with someone who knew the place before it actually disappeared – today there is hardly anything left of it (only Haus Lindenberg remains in a virtually unchanged, and very much un-renovated, form as well as the villa in Belle-Alliance-Straße 45 (Wilhelmshöhe 22), which houses a Kindergarden today).

    The book you recommended has been part of my ever growing Wilhelmshöhe library already for a while. Unfortunately, there is quite little information in it. I´ve been to Landesbibliothek, Bauamt Kreuzberg, Landesarchiv and many other places but Wilhelmshöhe is very evasive:) I am also doing lots of research to find out more about one of the two men who established the Villenkolonie as Gesellschaft Villenkolonie Wilhelmshöhe, Paul (Pincus?) Munk – who came to Berlin from Poznan in today´s Poland, just as I did – but his case not easy either. But I am very persistent so one day I´ll have all I need to write a book about it.

    I think you might enjoy a book which has been published recently by someone who clearly comes from the same neighbourhood (his experience is more post-war but still fascinating). The author´s name is Carl-Peter Steinmann and the title “Sonntagsspaziergänge”. Here is the link to a book review and its details:

    I will most definitely read your stories on the Spiegel page – who knows, maybe I already have? I keep coming back to it regularly as a tremendous source of information.

    If you should remember anything else about the area you might consider worth sharing, I would be very glad to hear about it. I will be posting some photos of Wilhelmshöhe on the blog soon and shall dedicate them to you:)

    Greetings from Kreuzberg!

  6. locksmiths melbourne
    August 11, 2012

    Fine way of describing, and good paragraph to obtain facts on the topic of my presentation topic,
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    • notmsparker
      August 13, 2012

      Thank you. I´m glad you both enjoyed it and found it useful.





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