Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin
On September 4 1915 a giant Nagelmann (Nailman) figure of Hindenburg was unveiled on Königsplatz (now Platz der Republik) in front of the German Reichstag. Such wooden statues, Nagelmänner, were made to have nails hammered into them in exchange for a small donation were quite popular in the German Reich during the First World War and fulfilled a very simple task: collecting money.
In exchange for a 10-50 Pfennig or up to 50 Marks for the well-heeled patriots among citizens, anyone, including school children, could buy a nail (iron, silver, gold or the cheapest version known as “Grau“, or grey) and drive it into the effigy, gradually creating a certain pattern. Eventually, the whole statue would have been covered with nails, creating an impression of it being made of iron. Hence the Königsplatz giant’s other name, Eiserner Hindenburg.
The future Chief of the General Staff (1916) and President of the Reich (1925-1932) had his twelve-metre tall effigy unveiled in Berlin to collect donations for Luftfahrerdank GmbH, an organisation focused on helping wounded or incapacitated German aeronauts and their families. A noble cause by all means but one which unfortunately ended in a catastrophe: after a while Luftfahrerdank GmbH went bankrupt and all the money (nearly 1 million Marks!) evaporated without a trace.
The Iron Hindenburg stood on Berlin’s central plaza until November 1919 when the statue was dismantled and the wood it was made of – 26 tonnes of alder wood – sold as regular firewood. Allegedly, nothing but the 1.55-metre head, hidden somewhere in the north of the city, survived until the mid-1930s.
Found by the Nazis in 1938 it became part of the patriotic exhibition at the Deutsche Luftfahrtsammlung (German Aviation Museum) in Berlin-Moabit. Like most of the exhibits in its collection it vanished during the Second World War, most probably burnt in one of the many fires.
You will find this and many other stories from Berlin’s forgotten past in my “Notmsparker’s Second Berlin Companion” via berlinarium.bigcartel.com.