Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin
For 21 years a 10-metre tall granite statue of Lenin, made by the Soviet sculptor Nikolai Tomski (who also created Lenin´s sarcophagus for the Moscow Mausoleum) and unveiled on Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov´s 100th birthday in April 1970, kept his eye on the comings and goings around a busy plaza in Berlin-Friedrichshain. He stood tall and proud, facing the West, with defiantly drawn eyebrows and left hand holding a lapel of his coat as if holding an invisible rifle. Or about to flash his chest.
Some people loved him, some people hated him but everyone got used to his towering presence at the former Leninplatz (today Platz der Vereintenten Nationen) in East Berlin. As far as monuments go, this was certainly not the worst one.
Then the German Reunification came – exactly 27 years ago tomorrow – and Lenin´s time was over. On November 8, 1991 employees of a demolition company began to dismantle the monument, accompanied by highly emotional crowds: some cheering, some booing, some protesting loud and waving self-made posters and banners in the air.
But the deed was done: the re-unification made such symbols unwelcome and/or redundant: Lenin was dismantled from his 9-metre tall platform, taken apart and buried at a secret spot in the Köpenick Forest. And, believe it or not, the name of the man in charge of the “burial” was… Karl-Heinz Marx.
The mound under which the granite remains were interred became home to a lizard colony, which 24 years later turned out to be the last hurdle on Lenin´s long way out of his grave. Well, not the whole of Lenin was raised from the dead. Just the top.
It is the giant, 1.7-metre tall, red-granite head of Lenin´s statue that in September 2015 was unearthed in the Köpenicker Forst. Not for sentimental reasons, though: Lenin´s head was to be one of 130 items presented at an exhibition “Enthüllt. Berlin und seine Denkmäler” (“Unveiled. Berlin and its Memorials”). The exhibition showing Berlin´s past through its no longer welcome or homeless monuments, opened in the Zitadelle Spandau.
But it was not easy to resurrect the stone leader. After a long tug-of-war with the authorities blocking the whole project by refusing to reveal where exactly the statue was buried – their claims “not to remember the exact spot” caused both raised eyebrows and outright laughter – the necessary permit was granted and the works could begin.
Or rather, they would have, had not been for the lizards. They were namely protected species. The environment protection and forest authorities raised alarm and a new solution had to be found. And it was as ingenious as it was simple: the lizards were collected into little buckets and moved to a safe location. In the meantime (which was relatively short as the lizards had to be brought home for dinner again), the head of the statue was excavated and transported to Spandau. After which the mound was re-sealed, the reptiles re-settled and the grass started growing over the remaining 149 pieces of the monument.
Lenin´s head was cleaned, polished and eventually installed on a small (not to raise any wrong impression) plinth and placed among other exhibition objects. The critics of the event, whose main complaint was that the old ghosts, the past that is gone, could be awoken again, should have known that their worries were completely unfounded: Lenin´s head might be that of the old ghost but it is very much a part of the city´s past and – let´s be honest – the past is never really gone. Most of the time, it is just well covered.
This and many other fascinating stories are part of our second book, “Notmsparker´s Berlin Trivia” to be published in 2017. The first volume of Kreuzberged´s investigation into Berlin´s less known nooks and corners, “Notmsparker´s Berlin Companion” is available online at available at Berlinarium (shipping worldwide), on Amazon.de or through Book-on-Demand Berlin as well as in one of the following Berlin bookshops:
Shakespeare and Sons in Warschauer Straße 74, Berlin-Friedrichshain
Do You Read Me?! in Auguststraße 28, Berlin-Mitte
Hundt Hammer Stein in Alte Schönhauser Straße 23-24, Berlin-Mitte
Buchbund in Sanderstraße 8, Berlin-Neukölln
Herrlich in Bergmannstraße 2, Berlin-Kreuzberg
Ararat Curiosity Shop in Bergmannstraße 99, Berlin-Kreuzberg
Jewish Museum Museum Shop, Lindenstraße, Berlin-Kreuzberg