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National Monuments and Nationalism in 19th Century Germany


Hans A. Pohlsander

No century in modern European history has built monuments with more enthusiasm than the 19th. Of the hundreds of monuments erected, those which sprang from a nation-wide initiative and addressed themselves to a nation, rather than part of a nation, we may call national monuments. Nelson’s Column in London or the Arc de Triomphe in Paris are obvious examples. In Germany the 19th century witnessed a veritable flood of monuments, many of which rank as national monuments. These reflected and contributed to a developing sense of national identity and the search for national unity; they also document an unsuccessful effort to create a «genuinely German» style. They constitute a historical record, quite apart from aesthetic appeal or ideological message. As this historical record is examined, German national monuments of the 19th century are described and interpreted against the background of the nationalism which gave birth to them.


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Epilogue 249


Epilogue In the first two or three decades after World War Two, as Germans were engaged first in rebuilding their country and then, increasingly, in “Geschichtsbewältigung” (coming to terms with history), few monuments to historical events or personalities were erected. “Denkmalsverzicht” (absti- nence from monument building) was largely the rule. An exception is the airlift memorial in Berlin-Tempelhof, which dates from 1951 (ill. 64). “To speak of Germany without thinking of mountains of corpses is impossible in the 20th century,” observes Gert Mattenklott.1 A survey of post-war German monuments bears him out. Memorials to the dead of World War One typically were altered so as to pertain to those of World War Two as well. In 1972 an “Ehrenmal des deutschen Heeres” (monu- ment to the German army; army as distinguished from other branches of the armed services) was dedicated on the fortress of Ehrenbreitstein on the Rhine (opposite the “Deutsches Eck” at Koblenz); it is a monu- ment marked by dignified simplicity and honors the dead of both World Wars. Monuments to the victims of Nazi terror tend to date from the later post-war period rather than the earlier post-war years: Buchenwald 1958, Sachsenhausen 1961, Neuengamme 1965, Dachau 1968. Not until 2004, after many years of debate, was Germany’s Holocaust Memorial completed and dedicated. It consists of more than 2,500 large concrete blocks and covers 4.1 acres of ground in the very center of Berlin; its size seems to express the magnitude of the crime which was...

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