WAR MEMORIAL TIERGARTEN: BATTLE FOR BERLIN
BATTLE FOR BERLIN
Toward April 1945, when the besieged German enclaves were not in military power to change the situation or take the initiative of war, Soviet tyrant Joseph Stalin falsely informed Dwight Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in Western Europe, that Berlin was not the primary objective of the Soviet advance. By that point in time, the Western allies had around 2 million soldiers prepared for the final advance against the Third Reich, including 1.5 million Americans, 400 000 British and Polish, and 100 000 French. The total number of Western soldiers in the ETO (European Theater of Operations) amounted to 5 million men and women, including 2.6 million Americans. In contrast to Stalin’s lie, in fact, 2 million Soviet soldiers and officers, thus 21 corps or 171 divisions in total, 6250 tanks, and 7500 aircraft were now aimed to take the German capital until April 22, Lenin’s birthday. The total number of Soviet people in the army was 10.2 million at that time, including 6.1 mln troops. On April 16, only six days from the believed date of victory, two Soviet fronts, 1-st Belorusian under Marshal Georgy Zhukov, and 1-st Ukrainian under Marshal Ivan S. Konev launched an advance against Berlin on the 300 km front. At least 42 000 artillery guns would fire around 7 million shells in these final days, 1.236 million on April 16 only, and the aviation performed more than 6000 sorties, thus completely dominating in the air.
Toward the late hours of April 19, followed by bloody fights at Zeelov heights, Zukov’s front breached the outer defensive lines of Berlin and the next few days witnessed the massive artillery fire on the city from close range. Speaking about the last defense of the capital, the city now had a few defensive perimeters. The outer line of resistance around 20 km from the city center was set up to take advantage of the natural obstacles (rivers, lakes, field woodlands) and consisted of the strongholds that had been arranged in chessboard order. The former cozy suburbs of Berlin and village settlements were replenished with anti-tank obstacles and concrete fire point strongholds. The next closer defensive line was based on the natural water obstacles: The spree river from the East and ‘Teltowkanal’ (Teltow Canal) from the South and South-East.
The heart of Berlin with its dense urban development and governmental buildings was the core and the last stand of the city defense, being surrounded by a system of heavily fortified pillboxes. Apart from the blasted bridges over rivers and canals, by April 1945 thousands of buildings in the city had already been adjusted for all-around defense. More often than not, the windows of the ground floors were found with sandbags and the upper floors turned into machine-gun emplacements. The historically beautiful streets of Berlin were dug with anti-aircraft ditches, pillboxes with guns, and barricades made of metal and bricks.
Toward the later hours of April 21, Zukov’s advancing units breached the outer defensive line of the suburbs and now flooded the streets of Berlin, thus moving further backed by artillery, infantry, tanks, assault guns, engineer units, and flamethrower platoons. Regardless of the civil casualties, the Red army extensively used heavy guns to demolish the buildings with direct fire from a close distance. At the same time, the ruins, just like in Stalingrad two and a half years before, were used by the Germans for fighting for almost every building with the ever-increasing death toll from both sides. On April 25, when the American and Soviet forces met on Elba, thus cutting the remaining territory in two pieces, Berlin had already been surrounded from all sides by the advancing Soviet armies. In total, 460 000 officers and soldiers, backed by 1500 tanks, 12 700 guns, and 21 000 Katyusha rocket launchers (called by Germans ‘Stalinorgel’ or Stalin’s organs) were now to cruth the city defense.
It is worth noting, that in this final act of the battle for Berlin, the sides were dramatically unequal. All the city had was 45 000 German soldiers, often of combined units, 40 000 Volkssturm (males between 14 and 60) in 92 battalions, and 3000 young men from Hitler Jugend. Despite the lack of military education and training, weapons, and ammunition, at least a portion of the last defenders was ready to fight to the end. Such fierce resistance was backed both by the natural desire to defend the country, as well as the long-ago fear of the advancing Red Army, especially after the barbarities against the civilian population in East Prussia in the last few weeks. Among the defenders of the governmental district, the last defensive line was the separated units of the SS, mainly composed of foreign units from the Baltic countries, France, and Scandinavian states. Apart from the street fights, they used to execute the Germans, commonly by hanging: those who had been nailed as cowards or defeatists. In those last days of April, the city population was 60% women and half a million refugees, who had previously gone to Berlin from the horrors of the East. More than 70 000 civilians were attracted to create defensive positions, first of all, ditches around and in the city.
In dramatic contrast to nonmeasurable quantities of attackers and defenders, Hitler and the Nazi leaders proclaimed Berlin the fortress, which, similar to other ‘Hitler’s fortresses’ of the final act of the war, were meant to stand to the last man and shell. As a result of such a fatalistic approach, the civil population of one of the largest cities in Europe was now to face the sorrow, pain, and death on the streets, as well as the street-by-street destruction of their one-time gorgeous capital. Most of the Berliners craved the completion of this horror, especially when the hopes for the American occupation had been turned into ashes by the Soviet guns. Despite the devastating street fights, the civil population had to choose between the fear of being killed on the spot on the one hand and the slow death of hunger and thirst on the other. Women, children, and elders were risking their lives. The greater proportion of the city population was now living in shelters and cellars without gas, heating, and electricity, and with no hope for food rations. The remaining shops and fire hydrants were now the silent witnesses of the columns of people with a feeling that the country already had no rulers. In those last days of April 1945, only in one air shelter within the Anhalter Bahnhof, up to 12 000 people were cramped in conditions where it was difficult to move.
Due to the lack of electricity, the few still had access to the radio news, and the leaflets, which had previously replaced the newspapers, were now also gone. In the same period, the last edition of the Völkischer Beobachter in Munich informed about the brave defenders of Berlin, who stand side by side with their Fuhrer Adolf Hitler and inflict mortal damage to the enemy. All-time until April 25 and the complete surrounding, the columns of refugees had had a chance to leave the city in the West direction, which was now impossible.
Toward April 30, when Adolf Hitler committed suicide in his bunker under the building of the Reichskanzlei (Reich Chancellery), the Soviet troops were deep into the inner perimeter of the city center and made their best to take the Reichstag building, the symbol of the Nazi regime. The governmental district was still defended by at least 10 000 men from separated units. In the late hours of that day, two Red Army soldiers raised the red banner over the former German parliament, thus symbolizing the seizure of Berlin. Followed by the German refusal to capitulate, on May 1, 1945, the Soviets launched another wave of advance against the heart of Berlin. The next day, May 2, the German commander in Berlin appealed for a ceasefire, which became reality at 3 p.m. on May 2. General Krebs, the Army Chief of Staff, committed suicide.
The most reliable researchers of modern historiography suggest that from 110 000 to 125 000 defenders of Berlin and the civil population were killed during the battle for Berlin between April 20 and May 2. The alternative trusted source suggests 100 000 soldiers beyond the city limits, 22 000 defenders, and 22 000 in the city. It is worth mentioning that in the summer of 1945 at least 50 000 children, who had lost their parents in the recent events, were registered in Berlin only. After the cessation of fire, the Soviets took 134 000 prisoners of War solely on May 2.
The raising of the red communistic banner over the Reichstag building on April 30, 1945, the coward suicide by Adolf Hitler, or the cessation of fire in Berlin, did not automatically mean the end of War in Europe. As for the dictator’s end, the absolute majority of people were now more preoccupied with the means of their own survival, rather than Hitler’s fate. The German nation accepted his death almost apathetically, mostly without tears: the same reaction would be seen eight years later in the Soviet Union after the end of another bloody tyrant Stalin. When back in 1918 the German delegates signed the armistice agreement in the forest of Compiegne, Kaiser’s armies had been positioned mostly in foreign lands. Apart from the loss of the 2 million soldiers and hunger in Germany, the country itself was generally not physically damaged. Now, in 1945, every man, woman, child, and an old man faced the consequences of Hitler’s failed ambitions.
Apart from the separate local fights in the course of the whole of May 1945, the formal end of the war in Europe became reality on May 8, 1945, when Field-Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, former Chief of Staff of OKW had signed the unconditional surrender in the premise of a school in Karlshorst, a suburb of Berlin. As a result, around 3.4 million German soldiers and officers were disarmed. In total, in 1945 the Western Allies took 6 million prisoners of war, compared to 1.9 million by the Soviet army (7.7 mln and 3.3 mln respectively during the whole War). At the same time, both for these men and millions of German civilians, May 8 brought no end to their sufferings and the end of World War Two had become a process, rather than a one-day event. The whole nation, now defeated and occupied, was to adapt to a new reality without national socialism. Hitler’s death, among other things, meant the elimination of the sense of duty to the regime, as millions of Germans had fought for their fuhrer to no less extent than for their land. The old Nazi rhetoric, that the one with power has the truth on his side, meant that the Allies were right and Germany was not. Apart from these, the nation was now fully aware of the crimes of the Nazi regimes, particularly the Holocaust, and this shame for the death of millions of innocent people throughout Europe, was to become another national burden. The 1945 defeat was so total and unalterable, that even the big believers of the former regime were now blaming Hitler personally in regard to the current situation.
Another painful reality, the sensitive issue of the historiography of World War Two, is the barbarities of the Soviet soldiers against the civil population of Germany and its territories in Spring 1945 and after the cessation of fire in Europe, particularly in Berlin. The document-backed statistic (which comprise only a fraction of the cases) in the city gives us the figure of 238 suicides in March, and an enormous 3881 in April only, giving in a total of 7.057 in the first five months of the year. The police reports in regard to the suicides included: the ‘current situation’ or ‘a fear of the Russian invasion’ as the causes of the acts. Another documented tragedy of the civil population was the sexual violence against women, often of mass proportions, especially in Berlin. The darkest visions of Goebbels’ propaganda were to become true.
Based on the officially documented entries from the Berlin hospitals, from 95 000 to 130 000 women in the city alone were raped in spring-summer 1945. The figure would never be known as the physical injuries, mental damage, the feeling of shame, and dishallowed dignity made most of the women hide the experienced acts of violence. According to the estimations of both medical professionals and historian scholars, at least 5% of the children born in 1946 in Berlin were ‘Russenkinder’, born from Soviet soldiers. At the same time, only around 5% of the rapes generally lead to pregnancy. At the same time, such horror was not something typical for Berlin only. In Vienna solely there were 87 000 documented records of the rapes and the minimum estimates suggest the figure of 50 000 victims in Hungary. Another rough estimate gives us the figure of 5 to 10% of suicides among the victims of sexual violence. For a better understanding of the scale of the Soviet mass barbarism, 17 000 victims of sexual violence were registered on behalf of the Western Allies throughout the whole period from November 1942 to May 1945. It must be said, that not all acts of sexual enforcement were backed by physical violence: some of the soldiers even used to excuse themselves or give compensation with food rations. Some rapers tried to explain their behavior with a statement, that they had not been with a woman for a long time.
By giving credence to the statistics of the physical violence against the German civil population in Spring 1945, one should pay regard to one crucial fact. The more fierce resistance of the Berlin defenders was mostly based on the desire to protect the families and citizens from the horrors of the Soviet advance. It was this fight to the end that had become the grounds for unprecedented violence. It should be noted that the barbarism of the Red Army was not solely caused by the scale of the war. Most of the Germans were not in a position to draw parallels between Spring 1945 and the crimes of the Third Reich on the Eastern front since 1941.
AFTER THE FALL: A CITY OF RUINS
While comparing the population of pre-war Berlin in 1939 and the summer of 1945, there is a huge demographic and humanitarian gap between 4.4 million and 2.807 mln (August 1945), with 60% of the latter figure being women. Such a dramatic decline was caused by the Nazi deportations of the Jewish population, induction of the male population into the army service, the mass exodus of the civilians in anticipation of the Soviet advance, the casualties of the Allied bombardments (68,285 tonnes of bombs were dropped, the highest figure among the German cities), the casualties of the SS killings (at least 10 000 were hanged), the casualties of the battle for the city. As in the last months of the war, the city population was mostly women, elderlies, and children, Berlin now had only 30% of the pre-war figures of the able-bodied population. Paying closer attention to medical professionals, the number of doctors in the city declined from 6500 in 1939 to as much as 2400.
Another dramatic social collapse in Berlin was caused by the disintegration of the system of registering those killed and of their burials. This factor makes the estimates of the death toll in Berlin in April-May 1945 so approximate. Followed by the end of the fire on May 2, tens of thousands of dead bodies were still lying on the streets or inside the devastated ruins of the buildings. The burials in this period were mostly of chaotic character within the old cemeteries, city parks, green zones, squares, anti-tank ditches, and roadsides in the heart of Berlin. The city landscape was now formed by thousands of graves. Some of the Western journalists, who visited the city in the first weeks and months after the liberation, would later describe Berlin as a giant cemetery. It must be said that the mortality in post-war Berlin in the summer of 1945 was three times higher than in 1944. The situation was harsh due to the destruction of many of the city cemeteries, and crematoriums, the lack of transport and working hands for burials, and the lack of coffins and wood for it.
When it comes to the physical devastation of Berlin, three years of Allied bombardments, fierce Soviet air raids, and massive artillery fire directly against the buildings, as well as furious street fights, turned the city into a heap of ruins for the remaining 2.8 million of citizens. According to most estimates, 12 to 20 % of the buildings of Berlin were devastated totally without a chance for repair. 70-75% were severely damaged, yet were still accessible for hiding, and as much as 10% of the urban development in Berlin received no or slight damages, such as broken windows. One after-war estimate gives us the figure of 25 million cubic meters of ruins, which were to be taken down. Another estimate gave as much as 55 million. When it comes to the central part of Berlin, 32 000 among 150 000 buildings were completely destroyed and only 18 000 were actually suitable for use. 128 out of 150 bridges in the city were in ruins or severely damaged beyond usage. In the first few months 35 000 people, 26 000 women, and 9000 men at the peak at once were working on the clearance of the streets. In total, the process of clearance in West Berlin would last for twenty-two years until 1957, with 800 lories of ruble daily at the peak.
In virtue of such apocalyptic devastation and the decrease in population in half since 1939, only 40% of industrial potential was meant for use in the summer of 1945. Apart from the decrease in the number of doctors (2400 in comparison with the pre-war 6500), Berlin now possessed only 8500 hospital beds in comparison with the 35 000 in 1939. Most of the city lacked a gas system, heating, and water supply, as well as electricity. The sewerage system with its pre-war 78 large crosspoints was now in collapse and in May 1945 typhus and cholera had all grounds to become a catastrophe.
Soon after the cessation of fire on May 2, the occupational Soviet administration made the water-distribution system partially function, and the most problematic districts were supplied with water in cisterns. The huge city with the remaining 2.8 million population was able to cover its own need for food for only 2% and the supplies were now brought to Berlin from the previously occupied territories in the East, often causing hunger within the expropriated lands. Toward May 15 the situation got better with the introduction of the ration cards and field kitchens. In the first months of the occupation, the mediocre ration of the able-bodied Berliner amounted to 2500 calories, which was higher than in Western Germany in the same period. It included 400 grams of potato, 200 gr of bread, 25 gr of meat, 10 gr of sugar, a little bit of coffee, and salt daily. At the same time, the Soviets saw no living being in those unable to work and the elderlies, children, or politically unreliable were to get only 1250 calories daily, less than in the Nazi concentration camps.
In dramatic contrast to the thousands of dead bodies in the streets and devastation, hunger, and epidemics, the Soviets were in hurry to set up the new occupational administration, and as early as May 26 Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra was to give its first after-war concert. The electric system in Berlin was in most parts repaired by July 25, which was, in fact, a great achievement of the engineers, mostly Germans, in virtue of the level of destruction. As early as August 5 the postal service to a limited extent once again linked the capital with the outer world. The new administration paid attention to the burials of the dead, first of all, killed Soviet soldiers. Such ‘priority’ made the process of identifying and burying the civil victims even more difficult. The German families would spend decades finding out the fate of their relatives and the places of burials. When it comes to the tragedy of the German people as a whole, after the end of hostilities in Europe, 14 million ethnic Germans would be forced to leave their homes in the years to come, and it is estimated that 1.7 million of them would die in the process of ‘reshaping Europe’.
SOVIET LOSSES DURING THE BATTLE FOR BERLIN
On one of the days of Spring 1945, Dwight Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in Europe, was informed of the estimates of the supposed casualties among his troops if the Battle for Berlin was to be mastered by the Western allies. The figure was 100 000 killed, wounded, or missed in action by American, British, and French soldiers, and the estimates were considered moderate for such a final goal. Due to Stalin’s lie about his intentions and the indecision in the West, Eisenhower’s men were not fated to defeat the last stand of the Third Reich and Hitler’s state. At the same time, the Red Army units would gain this victory. In total, 70 infantry, and 11 mechanized, and 12 tank divisions of the Wehrmacht were devastated between April 16 and May 2. During the same two weeks, the Soviets took at least 480 000 prisoners of war (519 000 toward May 8) and the trophies included 1500 tanks, 4500 aircraft, and 9000 guns. For comparison, Patton’s Third US Army took 515,205 POWs on May 9–13. After the war, the communist government proclaimed that 450 000 German soldiers were killed, which was, evidently an exaggeration. The more reliable modern historiography calculated 380 000 German casualties on all fronts (of course, not only in the direction of Berlin) in Europe during April-May 1945. In total, 1.23 million German soldiers were killed in the five-month of 1945 on all fronts of the total 4.8 million in the War, with a further 250 000 civilians (82 000 air raids only).
One may suppose, regarding the statistics above, that the Soviet Union got an undisputed victory over Hitler’s Germany, yet the devastating losses of human lives outline the terrible cost. Apart from 15 million dead civilians, the Soviet Union totally called 34.476 million people into the armed forces just before June 22, and until the end of the war: 11.44 million would be lost. When it comes to the military weapon and technical equipment, the USSR lost about 100 000 aircraft of different types, 100 000 tanks and self-propelled guns, and more than 300 000 artillery guns. Some may claim that such losses throughout the whole war make the casualties of the Battle for Berlin not so dramatic in comparison, yet every soldier had his own universe beyond, family, and hopes.
There is a common confusion and misunderstanding when it comes to the exact death toll and casualties among the Red Army during the Battle for Berlin. In order to work with the statistics in a proper way, at least three important arguments should be taken into consideration.
- The Berlin Strategic Offensive Operation is a separate theater of war and included not only the immediate encirclement and seizure of the city of Berlin between April 20 and May 2. In fact, it comprised a number of offensive operations of different scales starting from April 16, on the front 300 km wide. In the different directions of this theater of war, the Soviet troops managed to gain ground with non-uniform depth from 100 to 200 km in the West direction. The key objectives of the Operation, apart from taking Berlin itself, also included the necessity of destroying the large German forces on its way, as well as reaching river Elba and joining the Allied forces for the sake of a new demarcation line.
- It is important to understand that around 2 million soldiers in total took part in the Berlin Strategic Offensive Operation as the theater of war. The Soviet Union spread out three Fronts, equivalent to groups of armies:
1-st Belorusian Front under the command of Marshal Georgy Zhukov with his 13 armies;
1-st Ukrainian front under Marshal Ivan Konev with 10 armies;
2-nd Belorusian front under Konstantin Rokossovsky with 7 armies.
- Apart from the above thirty armies, the advancing forces included an air army for long-raging operations, as well as a sea flotilla. Summing up, when it comes to the total losses of human lives within the Battle for Berlin, the toll includes the casualties within all fronts and forces during the Berlin Strategic Offensive Operation.
It is worth noting, that the usually established figure of the total losses includes not only those killed in action but missing in action, as well as those taken in captivity and wounded. Conventionally, the number of wounded soldiers is as much as three times higher than those killed.
Let’s now get into details of the figures of the Soviet losses, accessible for modern historiography. Regardless of eight decades of research, the numbers are still mostly based on the former war archives, now declassified and opened since the fall of the Communist regime. In this way, there may be some distortions and underestimation of the Red army losses, that’s why historians have to cross-examine even the documented sources to get the best reliable result. Based on all available sources, the total losses of all three front armies during the Berlin Strategic Offensive Operation between April 16 and May 2 amounted to 352 425. Now, taking this figure, we should get into detail: 78, 291 were killed or missed, and 274 184 were wounded. How dramatic is this figure? In fact, this was the highest loss toll, if taking any 17 days of warfare since 1942. Some modern historians put the total figure of killed even higher at 100 000 Soviet soldiers. It is also important to understand that at least 30 000 of this figure saw no glimpses of Berlin, losing their lives during the battle for Seelow heights to the East of the city. It is estimated, that the total losses of the Soviets between January and May 1945 amounted to 2.8 million, including 631 000 dead.
When it comes to the scrutinized statistics of every Soviet Front of armies, Zhukov’s forces of the 1-st Belorusian Front lost 37 610 killed and 141 880 wounded among the total number of 908 000 prepared for the Berlin Strategic Offensive Operation. 1-st Ukrainian front under Ivan Konev had 550 000 people and lost respectively 26 580 killed and 86 245 wounded. The third, and the ‘smallest’ front under Konstantin Rokossovsky had 441 000 men and women and lost 13 070 killed and 46 040 wounded. Another figure that is worth noting is the losses of two Polish armies (which fought next to the Rd army units): 2825 killed and around 6000 wounded among 156 000 soldiers. Speaking about the loss of the war machinery, between April 16 and May 2 the Soviet armies lost 2156 tanks (alternative source claims 1997) and assault guns, 1220 field guns and mortars, and at least 527 aircraft.
Getting back to the 78 000 killed throughout the whole Berlin Strategic Offensive Operation as a point of reference, almost half of those lives were lost dozens of kilometers far from Berlin. It is significantly difficult to figure out the exact Soviet losses during the seizure of Berlin itself, as the former archives do not provide such specifications. The most reliable modern research gives the figure as high as 20 to 30 thousand killed. It is worth noting, that the total losses of the Red Army could be less dramatic if Soviet tyrant Joseph Stalin had no burning ambition to take the city earlier than the Western allies, regardless of the cost. The fierce resistance of the German defenders, based on their fear and the barbarism of the Red Army in East Prussia, led to even higher casualties than anyone had expected. On April 20, while Zukov’s armies initiated barbaric artillery fire against Berlin with 3 million people in it, Soviet ‘Stavka’ issued a decree, which declared that a change of the attitude toward civilians was of need, thus the Germans ‘should be treated better’. At the same time, this sheet of paper was not to save hundreds of thousands of German women from violence and rape.
There is also an issue of dispute that is worth understanding. In contrast to the generally established image of Marshal Georgy Zhukov as one of the brightest commanders of WWII, the Battle for Berlin revealed him to be far from the brilliant commander, and ‘less effective’ than Konev for example. Zhukov’s ambitions to be the winner in the race of taking Berlin first and to suck up to Stalin, as a result, led to greater human losses than on opponent fronts: 19% killed and wounded. He intentionally sacrificed the maneuver’s effectiveness for the sake of a direct assault on the city. In the end, the USSR got its victory at a cost that the Western allies could not afford with the same carelessness. Adolf Hitler had envisioned that he would have to die among hundreds of thousands of people, and in April-May 1945 he got such an end. When it comes to the Soviet soldiers not killed and not heavily wounded, not every one of them was delighted with the sense of triumph. Many of them were devastated by the loss of the combatants and friends: they had no sleep for days and experienced the sense of guilt that someone else had died and they were alive. They had no time for existential thoughts in the course of the previous weeks of fierce fighting, yet in May 1945 the wave of despair came with the victory.
HISTORY OF TIERGARTEN PARK
The history of this marvelous park of more than 200 hectares in the center of Berlin, which is symbolic, follows the traditions of development of the other ‘lungs’ of great European cities. Similar to the famous parks of Vienna under the Habsburg Empire, Bois de Boulogne in Paris and St. James’s Park in London, centuries ago the most admirable public recreation zone in Berlin was a centuries-old wood, then turned into hunting grounds for royalty, and years later, became available to the public. The very first documented mention of ‘Tiergarten’ could be traced as far back as 1530 (the alternative sources claim either 1521 or 1527). Back then, Elector Joachim I, a Prince-elector of the Margraviate of Brandenburg since 1499, bought a spot of wood between the then-recent Western border of Berlin and the town called Colln (not to be confused with the city of Koln). Later on, the new hunting grounds were expanded further to the North and West, fenced and filled with wild enemies, which gave birth to the naming: ‘Tier’ (animal) ‘Garten’ (garden).
In the course of the next one and a half a century, the rulers of these lands took advantage of hunting animals inside the fenced private perimeter, until the expansion of Berlin on the threshold of XVII and XVIII centuries made the huge hunting grounds an obstacle. As early as the start of the XVIII century and under the rule of Frederick William I of Prussia, the territory was cut significantly, as the king favored the economic growth of Berlin rather than the hobbies of his ancestors. The Eastern part of Tiergarten next to Unter den Linden street, on the model of Paris urban development, made space for the creation of three new squares and the new gate to the city, which would be later better known as Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg gates).
The former hunting grounds witnessed the most significant changes since 1740 during the rule of Frederick II, better known as Frederick the Great, the admirable figure of German history. The king had no interest in hunting as a process or tradition and as early as 1742 he ordered to eliminate the fence, thus opening the new reshaped territory (with alleys and belvederes) to the public as Lustgarten (literally “pleasure garden”). The wish to reinvent the area was substantive as the great part of the former hunting grounds had a swampy nature, which demanded the recovery of marshland on a wider scale. The century-long trails of the hunters were now used as the basic components of a new park with a large open space in the middle with the axing alleys.
The beautification of the new public park kept long rolling in the years after the death of Frederick the Great and the territory was added with baroque-style beds of flowers, as well as multiple statues. As early as 1799 the central alley, which had used to run from Berlin to the West, the Charlottenburger Chaussee was paved and later became a transport artery to the west. In 1833-1840 the park was once again redesigned, this time with an eye on the stylistics of the English green zones. In 1849, a year after the wave of the European national revolutions, Tiergarten witnessed the creation of national monuments. The Siegesallee (“Victory Avenue”) was lined with statues of different historical figures, particularly former German monarchs. Another addition of that time was initially known as the ‘Pracht Boulevard’ (“Magnificence Boulevard”), later Königsplatz. Toward the end of the XIX century, the huge park was complemented with the statues of well-known Germans: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Wilhelm Richard Wagner. In 1844 the area to the North gave birth to the founding of the famous zoo Garten. It is worth mentioning that the royal family had retained the rights for the area until 1881, and in the year 1914 and Charlottenburger Chaussee witnessed a parade of civilians, the hundreds of thousands of Berliners praising the outbreak of the First World War.
With the rise of Adolf Hitler as a supreme ruler and Albert Speer as the court architect of the Nazi regime, Berlin was supposed to be significantly changed, particularly the city center. Between 1938 and 1843 only a small fraction of the grandiose plans to turn Berlin into “Welthauptstadt Germania”, or World Capital Germania, were accomplished since the start of World War Two and the later loss of the war initiative. Along with that, the Tiergarten park got some changes. The Charlottenburger Chaussee, the central ax from West to East, was widened and in 1939 the well-known Victory Column moved from the Königsplatz (now Platz der Republik) to the Großer Stern (Great star) square, where it remains to this day. During the same period, at least three underground tunnels were laid under the park in the area of the later Soviet memorial in Tiergarten. The first one is 220 meters in length and laid down 16 meters under the surface, once dugout for a subway line G between Lübars and Marienfelde. The other two, approximately 90 meters in length each, were created with the idea of underground traffic. All three would be later used as air shelters and even as small local manufacturers in the late stage of the War.
The very first bombs which Berlin saw from the sky during World War Two, were British reactions to the German bombardments of London in the summer of 1940. The air raids on the capital of Germany intensified as early as mid-1943. Though August-September 1943 mainly damaged the military objectives and the city suburbs, November brought fire and death to the heart of Berlin. On the night of November 23, 1943, when Berlin still accommodated around 230 000 schoolchildren, 764 heavy bombers performed the most devastating air raid on Berlin since the start of the War. The raid mainly destroyed the central part of Berlin, the city’s Western part from Tiergarten to Spandau. 1,132 tonnes of high explosives and 1,331 tonnes of incendiary bombs caused the firestorm and made 175 000 people homeless, thus destroying and damaging thousands of buildings, including the well-known Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. When historians come to the total number of victims of the air raids over Berlin, it is estimated that around 50 000 men and women were killed from the sky until May 1945.
Toward spring of 1945, the heart of Berlin with its formerly splendid walking alleys of Tiergarten park looked like a battle zone of the times of the stationary warfare of the First World War. On March 23 Hitler’s bunker witnessed a dispute in regard to the idea of turning the Charlottenburger Chaussee into a huge landing strip. Hitler objected to the plan to take down all the street lamps and mow the trees 20 meters away from the street. The idea of moving the Victory Column once again did not impress Hitler as well and he gave a half-decision allowing aircraft to land within Charlottenburger Chaussee only with small aircraft without a massive reshaping of the area. On April 23, Hitler’s bunker got its emergency line of communication between the Reich chancellery and the OKW Command Staff at Zossen. This line of communication was laid with a cable particularly through the anti-aircraft bunker in the Tiergarten and would exist until April 29.
Followed by fierce fights to encircle the central part of Berlin, on April 27 Hitler’s ‘citadel’ was narrowed to a tight strip of defense 5 kilometers in width and 16 kilometers in length, the latter from West to East. A large part of this last defending line was formed by the landscaped Tiergarten park, now being attacked from three directions. The park now was shaped with multiple heavily fortified firing positions, as well as two huge anti-aircraft towers. On April 29 the soviet troops managed to cross a bridge in the south part of the park and rushed off to the besieged territory. On the same day, the forces advancing from the North got near the Reichstag. On the same day, Hitler was informed of the fact that the resistance may be held for not more than one day. On April 30 Adolf Hitler committed suicide. On April 28 or 29, somewhere on the terrains of Tiergarten, the German soldiers shot SS-Gruppenführer Hermann Fegelein, the husband of Eva Braun’s younger sister, after the court-martial and Hitler’s approval.
It is important to understand, that neither raising flag over Reichstag nor Hitler’s cowardly suicide brought an immediate end to the fighting within Tiergarten. Apart from the street fights on the ground, in the early hours of May 2, Soviet aviation performed local bombardments against the besieged German defenders in the central part of Berlin, including Tiergarten. With the end of fighting after May 2, the area was flooded with thousands of the Red Army soldiers, particularly next to Siegessäule (The victory column) in Tiergarten, who celebrated their ‘Victoria pyrrhica’, with a devastating toll on the victors. The occupational forces called the statue on the top the ‘tall lady’ and left some inscriptions on the historical landmark. Some of those cheering were already the living dead, as they drank industrial solvent and it took another three days for them to die.
Since the end of the War both in Berlin and in Europe on a grand scale, the former Berliners’ favorite place for a promenade was now a woeful spectacle. The devastated mansions of the pre-war embassies, thousands of sheared trees, the damaged military machinery from both sides, the toppled street lamps, damaged statues, dismantled pavement, and thousands of corps. The new occupational power wasted no time to issue a decree of restoring the greenery of the park, which, like many things in the communist regime, appeared to be a farce and lie. In fact, the document actually turned the former recreational area of 600 acres into a giant grassland ground. It was planned to bring at least 1200 goats and sheep, but the plan was never fulfilled. Instead of that, the very first after-war summer in Berlin witnessed the creation of a huge black market within the former Tiergarten area.
By living the idea of grassland, the Soviets brought thousands of Germans to clear the area from the damaged guns, corps, and trees, and as early as the summer of 1945 the former royal park was divided into plots of land for ‘agricultural activities’. In the simplest terms, Tiergarten park was turned into around 2500 vegetable gardens and the local population had no other alternatives than to cut down trees, both for leaving space for the gardens, and to use the wood during the cold winter of 1945/1946, as there was no coal. In the matter of the next few years, less than one thousand pre-war trees among 200 000 survived. Although the practice of public vegetable gardens existed until 1948, the very first plans for recreation of the former park were put into the debate just after this part of Berlin had been transferred to the Western allies. During the official ceremony on March 17, 1949, Lord Mayor Ernst Reuter, the later well-known figure in Germany, planted the symbolic first tree in the operation, which would finally restore around 250 000 trees, delivered from all over democratic Western Germany. The process of delivering the young plants would be preceded even during the Soviet air blockade: the Americans would take the trees to Tiergarten by means of the Berlin airlift despite difficulties.
With years of work and efforts in the Western sector of Berlin, the former Tiergarten has once again become the favorite place of recreation for the Berliners in this democratic part of the city and country, in contrast to the communist enclave. The Tiergarten park had been a place for annual Allied military parades. When in 1953 the Soviet occupational forces crushed the workers’ protest in East Berlin with rifles and tanks, the citizens of West Berlin expressed their respect to the countrymen beyond the barbed wire. To honor the bravery of the Germans under the Soviet regime, the Charlottenburger Chaussee was renamed 17 July Street, thus commemorating the July 17, 1953 revolt against the communist tyranny. The remaining statues of the former Siegesallee were moved to the Spandau citadel and the whole area was replanned. Tiergarten saw its latest ambitious renovation after the unification of Germany in 1990.
RAISING THE SOVIET MEMORIAL
All while thousands of corps of Berliners, who had been killed during the seizure of the city, were still lying in the streets in May 1945 (at best later buried within destroyed city cemeteries or in accidental graves), the occupational Soviet forces made themselves busy in burying the fallen Red Army soldiers in the first instance. Later on, the multiple initial burials throughout the area from Zeelov heights to the center of Berlin would be taken to a few assigned locations in the German capital, with the erection of monuments. The most well-known places would be: 1) Memorial in Treptower Park opened in 1949; 2) Memorial complex in Schönholzer Heide in the area of Pankow, also inaugurated as early as 1949. While the erection of those two huge complexes would be initiated as late as 1947, the very first and evidently most recognizable and disputable monument to the Soviets in Berlin in Tiergarten was scheduled for opening toward the end of 1945 already.
The decree, which prescribed the erection of three memorials in Germany (Berlin, Zeelov, Küstrin), was signed already in May 1945 and also forecasted another eleven burials in Poland only. As early as June 1945 the Soviet sculptor Lev Kerbel (1917-2003) and artist Vladimir Zigal (1917-2013) were accepted by Marshal Georgy Zhukov and introduced to the task. The opening of the first memorial complex in Berlin (at that time the exact place was still to be found) was scheduled for November and thus the anniversary of the Communist revolution. Nikolai V. Sergiyevsky would later join the initial duo of creators.
The choosing of the exact location for the new memorial was to become the first task for the creative group. Based on the previous Allied consultations and agreements, toward July 12, 1945, Berlin was divided into four sectors of occupation: Soviet, American, British, and French. Kerbel and Zigal, two masterminds behind the erection of the first among the three Soviet monuments in Germany, insisted on choosing a spot of land in their occupational zone. At the same time, the military engineers preferred the site in the Tiergarten park, symbolically next to the conquered Reichstag and on the crossroad of the never-finished “Welthauptstadt Germania”. Marshal Georgy Zhukov also gave his preference to the latter choice, thus rejecting a few locations within the Soviet zone in favor of the eastern Tiergarten. The exact spot of land looked like a wrecking yard with the damaged artillery pieces from the last days of resistance.
The choice of the location inside the British occupational zone resulted in a necessity to appeal for construction permission from the Allies. The meeting with the British commandant Lewis Lyne, a veteran commander from Northern Africa, took place as early as July 26, 1945. Followed by a brief mutual field inspection, those in charge gave their oral and later written permission for the construction, as well as assurances of favoritism. The neighboring preserved erections were reserved for the construction workers. In actual terms, the process of creating the sculptural compositions had been initiated prior to the construction works in Tiergarten, which was put into reality already in August, only three months prior to the scheduled opening. It is worth noting, that the lack of proficiency necessitated the sculptors to hire a few German companies and people of particular professions: molders, figure-casters, and general laborers. These men were happy to have a job, which was to help their families not to starve. Every worker was offered prospects of an everyday ration, yet they were denied work on the other projects.
The sculptors soon came to an obvious conclusion, that there was no chance to finish the whole project in three months, as a result, they had to resort to cunning. As there was no time to create the bronze statue of six meters high on the date, Kerbel, Zigal, and Sergiyevsky created a replica from the clay of the same proportions, painted in bronze color, as a temporary installment. They threw over the more sophisticated variants of the memorial complex and finally chose the quite simple one praised by Zhukov himself: a half-rotunda with the statue of a soldier in the middle. The construction site in the heart of the British sector was fenced with a wooden enclosure, thus safeguarding the 24-hour building up. In order to square away the foundation and the main platform, at least 37 000 cubic meters of soil were excavated, as well as 2400 cubic meters of concrete and 6700 tonnes of facing material (among this figure was 4500 granite plates) used.
The conservative estimates left the figure of 170 000 German marks as the total expenses for the creation of the Soviet memorial in Tiergarten park. It is worth noting that the Germans workers were mostly forced to work for food. When it comes to the head of loss, at least 95 000 marks were spent on both the clay replica and the bronze statue of the soldier, the latter was planned for replacement as late as April 1, 1946, five months after the scheduled inauguration. As if it wasn’t enough, the statue was not the only element of the composition behind time. Two sarcophagus plates and 3000 letters for the inscription were made of plaster with plans for finishing in bronze as late as January 1946. There is still a belief that the soviet memorial in Tiergarten was also made of the marble plates from Hitler’s new Reich Chancellery, ruins of which existed until 1949. This assumption or better to say an urban legend for the tourists, in fact, had no documented grounds in the extensive construction documentation, as well as was mentioned by none of the sculptors in their later books and recollections. Furthermore, granite and travertine were the main construction and facing materials, and marble was limitedly used only for the floor inside the central pill. Some other parts of the memorial, which may look made of marble, were in fact covered with polished granite.
The ceremonial opening of the War Memorial in Tiergarten, the first of its kind in Berlin, took place on November 11, 1945, in cold and rainy weather. Apart from the Soviet soldiers, which had flooded the area in front of the memorial and alongside Charlottenburger Chaussee, the event was visited by the Allied representatives and obliged to go through the formalities. Among the US guests were two respected military men. James Maurice “Jumpin’ Jim” Gavin, the commander of the legendary US 82nd Airborne Division, is now an Army Chief of Research and Development. George Bryan Conrad, brigadier-general of the US army, now Director of Intelligence, Allied Control Council for Germany. Exactly at 12 o’clock in the afternoon, Marshal Zhukov reviewed the Soviet troops and delivered a speech from the rostrum. The statue in the center of the memorial was unveiled in parallel with the symbolic artillery fire. To the joy of sculptors, neither artillery shooting nor the white cloth damaged the plaster and clay replica, particularly its arm. The monument was covered with flowers, and the first guard of honor took its place beneath it and would remain here for the next half a century. In contrast to the scenic festivity, the citizens of Berlin called the monument the ‘Tomb of the Unknown Rapist’, thus referring to the barbarism of the ‘liberators’ and the violence against hundreds of thousands of women.
MEMORIAL AFTER THE OPENING
In a way it was initially planned, a proportion of the elements of the memorial, such as plates and bronze letters, were finished as late as the start of 1946, and in Spring the replica statue was finally replaced with the constant variant, still visible today. ‘Hermann Noack Bildgießerei’ (Hermann Noack foundry), a family-owned art metal factory from 1897, which would later work on the restoration of the Brandenburg Gates and the Victory Column, was the key contractor. The major part of the initial facing made with travertine was now replaced with granite, and the main works lasted until 1948. Not all the bronze elements were in fact made of metal and had to be painted: some of them only in the 1960s. The lattice fence was made in 1969.
In regard to the mutual administration of Berlin under the four Allied countries, the start of the Cold War affixed its stamp. The city witnessed the last combined military parade on May 8, 1946. The event was attended by all four commandants of the four sectors: Frank A. Keating from the USA, Eric Paytherus Nares from the UK, Charles Lançon from France, and Aleksandr Kotikov from the USSR. In the years and decades to come, only the Soviet troops used to run May parades and festivities in front of the memorial in Tiergarten, whilst the November celebrations did not even get mentioned in the communist press. With the establishment of the so-called GDR, the puppet representatives from the East used to take part in the events here as well. Along with that, as early as 1946 the Soviet administration initiated additional works for refining the territory of the memorial, and a large sum of money was issued. The works of the area refinement took another two years and around 10 000 m2 were turned into a park area with trees and grass. The period between 1951 and 1953 witnessed another stage of renovations, and between 1966 and 1969 the greater proportion of the initial travertine elements of the facing was finally replaced with granite.
On August 13, 1961, the curtain of the Cold War in Europe was shaped with a barbed wire fence and anti-tank hedgehog, and later with a stone wall three meters high, which divided Berlin. In the course of the sixteen years between November 1945 and August 1961, the Soviet soldiers from the guard of honor used to take a bus to the Brandenburg gates and then proceeded to the memorial in Tiergarten. Since the city was divided, they now had to cross the border between two sectors at Invalidenstraße street, on the checkpoint across the Sandkrugbrücke bridge, approximately 2 kilometers to the North of Tiergarten. In a wider sense, the Soviet memorial would become a communist enclave on the map of the Allied sector for the next three decades, and the locals used to throw stones into the Soviet lorries passing through West Berlin, thus expressing the attitude. Since the closure of the wall, the flow of the Soviet and GDR delegations to the memorial became history and the site was visited mostly by the Soviet representatives, who worked in the embassies in Western Berlin. In order to provide order, for some time the British soldiers had to guard the Soviet guard unit and an additional watchhouse was erected nearby.
The greatest majority of the politically-active population of Western Berlin advocated for restricting Soviet access to the odious memorial, the symbol of barbarism against the civilians in 1945. On the night of November 7, 1970, the guard unit here came under fire from a small-caliber rifle: one soldier was wounded. The arrestee, a member of the German far-right organization, did not deny the political background of his deed and was later convicted (by the British court) to six years of detention. Soon after the accident, the memorial site was surrounded by a fence, an additional British guard unit, as well as the section of Strasse des 17 Juni 400 meters in length, was blocked off traffic. The forbidden access to the site would remain until 1987.
Followed by the unification of the two Germanies and in accordance with the agreements of 1990, the Soviet memorial and taking care of it was passed under the control of the Senate of Berlin. The so-called guard of honor performed its duties for the last time on December 22, 1990, and was temporarily replaced with the units of the German police. Toward that moment in time and history, the Soviets left the memorial behind in woeful conditions, thus the Germans would have to take care of the hateful symbol of the occupation. As early as April 1995 the bronze statue of the soldier (known as the ‘Unknown rapist’) was once again reinstalled in its place after four months of absence for renovation works. The last two years of the challenging XX century witnessed the renovation of the granite plates and pedestrian footpaths, as well as in 2001 saw the repair of guns and tanks in front of the memorial and the fountain behind it. Another wave of renovations in 2008 included the setting of the tap lights and the police guard left the site as well. The latest restoration procedure has been initiated in 2019.
TIERGARTEN MEMORIAL TODAY
The overall territory of the former Soviet memorial in Tiergarten with the adjustment park zone amounts to 60,400 square meters. At the same time, the area size of the main foundation, perched 1.4 meters above the street level, is only 7200 square meters. This foundation site is shaped by the semispherical colonnade, made of the central pylon and another six rectangular in shape, three on either side and 7.5 meters in height. The surface of each pylon includes the bronze letters with the names of 182 soldiers and officers, who were killed during the Battle for Berlin in April-May 1945. The central pylon is 13.5 meters high and it bears the key element of the same architectural composition: 6.5 meters high bronze statue of 5 tonnes. The rifle on the shoulder of the statue once symbolized the end of the war. The central pylon is hollow and includes the guardhouse and a hall of memory.
Every visitor of the site today may take notice of the bronze emblem of the communist regime on the surface of the central pylon, as well as the bronze-painted inscription in Russian:
Eternal glory to heroes who fell in the struggle against the German fascist invaders for the freedom and independence of the soviet union
The same phrase in German may be as well found on the side of the far-right pylon:
Ewiger ruhm den helden, die in den kämpfen mit den Deutsch faschistischen eindringlingen fur die freiheit und unabhangig keit der sowjet union fielen!
The third variant in English is recognizable on the far left pylon of the colonnade.
The staircase landing in front of the colonnade is a place for two large plates with the names of the Heroes of the Soviet Union.
Another element of the whole complex, worth attention, is the rectangular concrete portamentos on the corners of the site facing Strasse des 17 Juni street. Each of these pedestals serves for exhibiting Т-34-76 Soviet tank, the T-34 tank with the 76 mm gun. The very first T34 tanks were produced as early as 1940 and the units in Tiergarten were produced in 1943. These two tanks were among the 35 000 of the same model manufactured in total; both participated in the Battle for Berlin in 1945. The Western one (the left) still has a shell hole on its tank turret surface, and the Eastern (right) one was used from the battle for Leningrad in 1944 until May 1945.
While the pedestal with the two tanks forms the front-side corners of the memorial site, another two machinery units of WWII are visible. Initially, two 122-mm mortars known as M-30 (1938 model) were placed here as the symbol of victory. The total production quantity of M-30 once reached 20 000 guns. The photographs of the site from 1948 already revealed other models of artillery pieces, which are still here nowadays. 152 mm howitzer-gun M1937: 6884 of which were produced in total. It is believed that all four guns, the initial two and the latter, took part in the Battle for Berlin. The legend for tourists goes further to claim that these guns were the last to fire before the cessation of fire on May 2, 1945.
Memorial park behind the tanks, guns, and the colonnade is another source of disputes regarding the site. The official German sources bear reference to the old Soviet information, that a site is a resting place for more than 2000 Soviet soldiers. It is important to understand that there were no mass burials on the whole territory of the Tiergarten park neither during the fights nor after May 2: only individual graves throughout the area. The fact is, there is no factual evidence of the mass burial here neither in Soviet archives, nor in the extensive preserved construction documents of the memorial, nor in the post-war memoirs of the creators, nor in the repair works documentation of the later decades. It is worth mentioning that the 178 names on the pylons and plates include a number of grammar mistakes. The false characterization of the Soviet memorial in Tiergarten as the cemetery migrated in the Soviet press for decades, yet without any documented evidence. More than that, a few years ago the official organizations, which are responsible for the memorization of the fallen soldiers of WWII, made a statement officially in written form that the memorial in Tiergarten is a place of commemoration and there is no direct correlation between the 178 names and the indeed burials here, as well that there no mass burials here at all.
The large white guarding house from 1947, located behind the memorial within the park, at present provides informational boards with information on both the history of Berlin, the Wall, and reunification.
I am very grateful to war archives, museums, libraries, private collections, and writers for the historical photos in this article. To the extent that some author or a copyright owner may not want some of the above black-and-white photos to be used for educational purposes here, please contact me for adding credits or deleting the pictures from the article.