Sunday, 21 April 2019

battle of the nations

Visiting H’s parents in Leipzig, we took an afternoon stroll around the reflecting pool of the colossal Belle Époque Völkerschlachtdenkmal, a monument and cenotaph (previously—with interior views) completed on the centenary of the 1813 Battle of the Nations during which a coalition of Prussian, Russian and Austrian forces delivered the armies of Napoleon a decisive defeat, which ultimately led to his capitulation and exile, erected on the battlefield at the southeastern limits of the city. After decades of planning, construction was finally undertaken with just fifteen years to spare before the hundredth anniversary of the event, financed by the city and private donations, the commission for the overall design awarded to Bruno Schmitz (see also here and here).
Rich in symbolism and though ostensibly a memorial to the unknown and anonymous soldier rather than a testament to a heroic and romanticised past, the sandstone and granite pyramid was meant to evoke the same strong patriotic sentiments that characterised the reign of Wilhelm II that spanned the time of its construction and led into the Great War. These strong associations with rabid nationalism—as all these monuments built many decades and centuries after the fact were meant to unite and provoke—caused debate among East German authorities, like the more recent culture wars over US civil war monuments, whether such symbols should be preserved in the first place for having incited so much damaging animosity. Ultimately, it was decided that the monument, showcased on the outskirts of the city’s famous convention and trade fair grounds (Messegelände), could be interpreted as a symbol of the enduring friendship and cooperation between Russia and Germany and thus could remain.