One extremely significant detail separates this memorial, located in the former royal hunting ground of the Tiergarten, from the other Soviet war memorials in Berlin – that due to the division of the city at the end of the Second World War, this particular memorial ended up on the other side of the Berlin Wall – in the Cold War West of the city.
To be exact, it is located in the former British sector of West Berlin – a short walk from the Reichstag building and Brandenburg Gate – on a street that was renamed in 1953 by the West German authorities following a popular uprising in the east of the city. Completed to commemorate the Soviet war dead who fell in the Battle of Berlin, the memorial was unveiled shortly after hostilities had ceased in the city on November 11th 1945.
Due to its precarious position in West Berlin, the memorial would be guarded by Soviet honour guards sent from the east of the city to protect it from any unwanted attention from any West Berliners eager to voice their objections to the political climate or actions on the part of East Germany or the Soviet Union.
Although it now still serves as a site of pilgrimage for war veterans from the former Soviet states and see wreath laying ceremonies on the May 9th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe, the memorial was not appreciated by all – and acquired the derogatory nickname ‘the tomb of the unknown rapist’ as a reference to the crimes committed by Soviet troops in Berlin.
Not unlike other Soviet memorials across Europe, this particular site also featured an ornate stoa and central column bearing a statue of a Soviet soldier. A large Cyrillic inscription underneath calls for “Eternal glory to heroes who fell in battle with the German fascist invaders for the freedom and independence of the Soviet Union”. Notably there is also the addition of the dates 1941-45, keeping with the Soviet perspective that the war against Hitler’s regime began following the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 – and not with the earlier invasion of Poland.
Naturally this would be problematic to state as Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union both cooperated to divide and occupy Poland following the establishment of a non-agression treaty in August 1939 – something historians have since referred to as the ‘Midnight of the Century’. This would also see the Soviet Union invading the Baltic states and fighting a war against Finland.
Instead the dates on the memorial reference what in Russia is still referred to as the Great Patriotic War. This term was first used on June 23rd 1941, in an article printed in the Pravda newspaper, to rally support for the defensive battle against the invading German forces. One year later, an award for heroic deeds – the Order of the Patriotic War – would be introduced and more than one million of this military decoration given out over the next three years.
It is rumoured that the material used to construct the memorial came from Adolf Hitler's Chancellery building, although that has not been conclusively proven.
More important than this decoration was the rarer honorary title ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’, awarded personally or collectively for heroic feats in service to the Soviet state and society – with 11,635 instances awarded during the Great Patriotic War.
The central feature of the Soviet Memorial in the Tiergarten is the six column colonnade, with these six granite pillars representing the different branches of armed service that took part in the fighting. Each of these pillars is engraved with the names of some 35 soldiers who died, with the rest of the 2,500 soldiers and officers buried here – their final resting place is on the northern side of the memorial.
One of the first impressions of visitors to this plot of land, from the south side, is of the two Soviet T-34 tanks flanking the memorial, and the 152mm artillery guns – the tanks somewhat incorrectly often referred to as the first two tanks to arrive in the city in 1945 by numerous guide books. On closer inspection, when walking up the stairs of the memorial towards the central feature, it is possible to make out two sarcophagi and the names of 9 men – each awarded the title of ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’.
This is not the largest Soviet War Memorial in Berlin – that honour alternately belongs to the memorial in Treptower Park (as the largest in terms of area) and the memorial in Pankow (where the largest number of Soviet soldiers who fell in the fight for the Nazi capital are buried).
Of around 80,000 who would be killed in the assault – many were repatriated back to their families and loved ones, some buried (at least temporarily) where they fell, many others gathered into mass graves across the former Nazi capital – to be laid to rest eternally on German soil – in this series of three huge cemeteries.
Many of the soldiers buried in the Tiergarten fell during the fight for the Reichstag – designated as the main objective in the city by Soviet commanders. From April 29th 1945 until May 2nd, ferocious fighting took place in and around the building before the Red Army could clearly claim control of the area. As the military forces in Berlin surrendered the same day, the Soviet troops could toast to their new role as occupiers – remaining in the city for more than two months before the British and American forces arrived from the west to take control of their zones.
The Soviet War Memorial in the Tiergarten, built in the western part of the city, a clear reminder that the Red Army had arrived first and many fought and died to liberate the city from fascism.
Walk Through The Brandenburg Gate | Explore The State Museums On Museum Island | Visit The TV Tower – Fernsehturm | Cross the Cold War Border At Checkpoint Charlie |
Visit The Site Of Adolf Hitler’s Führerbunker | Explore The Topography Of Terror | Visit The Reichstag Cupola At Night | Explore The Forum Fridericianum |
Ride The Fastest Elevator In Europe | Journey Into The Memorial To The Murdered Jews Of Europe | Step Inside The Neue Wache |
Explore The Former Jewish Quarter – Spandauer Vorstadt | Explore Bernauer Strasse – Visit The Berlin Wall | Visit The Soviet War Memorial In Treptower Park |
Walk Across The Bridge Of Spies
Enter The Palace Of Tears – The Tränenpalast | Step Inside The Olympic Stadium | Explore Erich Mielke’s Office At The Stasi Museum |
Walk Along Karl Marx Allee | Visit The Oldest Church In Berlin – The Nikolaikirche | Visit The Grave Of Frederick The Great | Walk Through The Ruins Of Anhalter Bahnhof |
Stand On The Platz Des Volksaufstandes | Visit The German Resistance Museum | Visit The Soviet War Memorial In The Tiergarten | See The Georg Elser Memorial On Wilhelmstrasse |
Step Inside The Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtnis Kirche | Visit The Gleis 17 Memorial | Visit The Schloss Charlottenburg Mausoleum | Explore The Interbau – IBA 57 |
Visit Cecilienhof – The Site Of The Potsdam Conference
Visit The Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp Memorial | Visit The Socialist Cemetery – Zentralfriedhof Friedrichsfelde | Visit The Seelow Heights Memorial |
Explore The Allied Museum In Dahlem | Visit The Ravensbrück Concentration Camp Memorial | Visit The Commonwealth War Cemetery |
Visit The Site Of The German Surrender In 1945 – Karlshorst | Cross The Bösebrücke At Night | Visit The Brandenburg T4 Euthanasia Memorial