Monument to the Battle of the Nations
The monument from above, looking North-East
|Location||Leipzig, Saxony, Germany|
|Length||80 metres (260 ft)|
|Width||70 metres (230 ft)|
|Height||91 metres (299 ft)|
|Beginning date||18 October 1898|
|Opening date||18 October 1913|
|Dedicated to||Battle of Leipzig|
The Monument to the Battle of the Nations (German: Völkerschlachtdenkmal, sometimes shortened to Völki) is a monument in Leipzig, Germany, to the 1813 Battle of Leipzig, also known as the Battle of the Nations. Paid for mostly by donations and the city of Leipzig, it was completed in 1913 for the 100th anniversary of the battle at a cost of six million goldmarks.
The monument commemorates the defeat of Napoleon's French army at Leipzig, a crucial step towards the end of hostilities in the War of the Sixth Coalition. The coalition armies of Russia, Prussia, Austria and Sweden were led by Tsar Alexander I of Russia and Karl Philipp, Prince of Schwarzenberg. There were Germans fighting on both sides, as Napoleon's troops also included conscripted Germans from the left bank of the Rhine annexed by France, as well as troops from his German allies of the Confederation of the Rhine.
The structure is 91 metres (299 ft) tall. It contains over 500 steps to a viewing platform at the top, from which there are views across the city and environs. The structure makes extensive use of concrete, and the facings are of granite. It is widely regarded as one of the best examples of Wilhelmine architecture. The monument is said to stand on the spot of some of the bloodiest fighting, from where Napoleon ordered the retreat of his army. It was also the scene of fighting in World War II, when Nazi forces in Leipzig made their last stand against U.S. troops.
The War of the Sixth Coalition and the Battle of Leipzig
Following the French Revolution, France had waged a number of wars against its European neighbours. Napoleon Bonaparte had taken control of the country, first as Consul from 1799, and reigned as Emperor of the French under the title Napoleon I since 1804. Over the course of the hostilities, the Holy Roman Empire had ceased to exist following the abdication of Emperor Francis II, bowing to Napoleon's pressure, including the foundation of the Confederation of the Rhine from various former members of the Empire.
The War of the Fifth Coalition in 1809 had ended with another defeat for the joint forces of the Austrian Empire, Great Britain, Spain, and Portugal against the French and their German allies. Following Napoleon's unsuccessful invasion of Russia in 1812, Prussia joined the countries already at war with France to begin the War of the Sixth Coalition in March 1813. During the early part of the campaign, the allied forces against Napoleon suffered defeats at Großgörschen (2 May) and Bautzen (20–21 May), being driven back to the river Elbe. However, due to lack of training in his newly-recruited soldiers, Napoleon was unable to take full advantage of his victories, allowing his enemies to regroup. Following a ceasefire, Austria rejoined the Coalition on 17 August. The French advantage in numbers was now reversed, with the Coalition forces counting 490,000 soldiers to Napoleon's 440,000.
Between 16–19 October 1813, the Battle of the Nations outside Leipzig was the decisive one in the war, cementing the French defeat and temporarily ending Napoleon's rule. The Emperor was exiled to Elba in May 1814, but briefly returned to power the following year, before being permanently banished following his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo. The Battle of the Nations was fought between France and their German allies against a coalition of Russian, Austrian, Prussian, and Swedish forces. About half a million soldiers were involved and at the end of the battle, around 110,000 men had lost their lives, with many more dying in the days after in field hospitals in and around the city. The scope of the fighting was unprecedented.
Remembrance of the Battle of the Nations between 1813 and 1871
In the immediate aftermath, both the Battle of Leipzig as well as the Wars of Liberation (Befreiungskriege), as they became known in Germany, soon established a controversial and divided culture of remembrance. For liberal thinkers and young, educated students, many of whom had fought in the wars, they resembled a starting point for a potential German unification into a national state. This sentiment was embodied in the mythologization of the Freikorps and Landwehr regiments, volunteer fighters against the French rule. On the other side, the monarchs of the German states as well as conservatives highlighted the role the princes had played in the struggle against Napoleon, seeing a growing desire for a German national state as an attack on their royal and noble positions.
Ernst Moritz Arndt, a leading liberal and nationalistic writer, called for a commemoration of the battle throughout Germany. The anniversary on 19 October should be marked by festivities with "burning fires, festive 'folk' clothing, oak wreaths, and the ringing of bells". In fact, the first anniversary of the battle was marked by celebrations across the German countries, including bonfires. However, in some territories such as Baden and Württemberg, such celebrations were prohibited, while in the Kingdom of Hanover, they were incorporated into the festivities around George III's jubilee on 23 October. In Berlin, the capital of the Kingdom of Prussia, the main celebration was organised by the Turner movement, gymnastic clubs led by nationalist Friedrich Ludwig Jahn. Taking place at the Hasenheide, a park outside Berlin, the event was attended by several tens of thousands of people. Similar celebrations were held the following years. These included the Wartburg Festival in 1817, a nationalistic event commemorating both Martin Luther's stay at the Wartburg as well as the Battle of Leipzig. However, following the Carlsbad Decrees of 1819 both the Burschenschaften, the nationalistic student groups, as well as the Turners, were outlawed, and commemoration of the Battle of Leipzig subsided over the following years. In the 1840s, the "Association for the Celebration of October 19" was established in Leipzig, partly reviving the remembrance of the event, however, only the anniversaries in 1838 and 1863 were "forcefully expressed". In 1863, for the battle's 50th anniversary, the city of Leipzig put up large festivities, inviting representatives from 200 German cities and several hundred veterans. The celebrations included nationalistic songs and the reading of poems, with between 25,000 to 30,000 people in attendance.
First proposals for a monument at the site of the battle
Shortly after the Battle of Leipzig, Arndt called for a monument to be built at the site. He demanded that it "has to be constructed in such a way that it can be seen from all the streets around from which the allied armies moved to the bloody decisive battle. If it is to be seen, it has to be large and splendid – like a collosus, a pyramid, a Cologne Cathedral". His plans included a 60 m (200 ft) high mound surrounded by oak groves, with a large cross on top. However, lack of political will prevented such a monument of being built at the time. Arndt, together with the painter Caspar David Friedrich, worked on a monument for Gerhard von Scharnhorst, who had died from injuries sustained in the Battle of Großgörschen, but received no support from state officials. In a letter to Arndt, Friedrich lamented in March 1814: "I am not at all surprised, that no memorials are being erected, neither to mark the great cause of the Volk, nor to the manganimous deeds of great German men. As long as we remain man-servants to the princes, nothing of this sort will happen." Other people came forward with plans for a large memorial as well, including Karl Sieveking and August von Kotzebue, the latter of whom suggested a 31 m (102 ft) tall Roman column with an Iron Cross on top, symbolising the victory of Germany against France, the "modern Rome". The architect Friedrich Weinbrenner proposed a fortress to be built outside Leipzig, at the top of which a pyramid was to be placed, with the quadriga that Napoleon had taken from the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin situated on it. On the other side of the political spectrum, the nobleman Adolph von Seckendorff put forward the plan for a simple monument to the Saxon government, which would bear an inscription reading "To the liberation of a strong land, Alexander, Franz, and Friedrich Wilhelm", honouring the three monarchs who led the fight against Napoleon. While none of the proposals for Leipzig gained any support, a monument for the Wars of Liberation was erected in Berlin in 1821. Designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel, it was a miniature of a gothic church tower situated on top of the Kreuzberg, bearing the names of twelve battles fought against the French. It's inscription, "From the king to the people who, at his call, nobly sacrificed their blood and chattels to the Fatherland", highlighted the role of the monarch over that of the people.
On the first anniversary of the battle, in 1814, a 18 m (59 ft) tall wooden cross was placed as a monument on the village green close to the burned out church in Probstheida. Attached to it was a collection box for donations in order to rebuild the church. Originally envisioned by both the citizens of Leipzig as well as the Russian military command as the place for annual celebration of the battle, the cross was removed by the winter of the same year, following the division of the Kingdom of Saxony at the Congress of Vienna. In 1817, a monument to Józef Poniatowski, a Marshal of the French Empire who had died in the battle, was placed by his sister and Polish veterans near the battle site. After the establishment of the "Association for the Celebration of October 19", more small monuments started to be built. The family of Karl Philipp, Prince of Schwarzenberg also placed a monument in his honour at the site, in 1838. In 1843, a sandstone monument was erected at "Napoleon Hill", where the Emperor had supposedly watched the battle. Two years later, the local government of Leipzig established another monument, commemorating the entrance of the victorious forces into the city. Until 1863, seven memorial stones were also placed to mark decisive points of the battle, which still remain to this day. In the same year, on the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Leipzig, city officials also funded the restoration of the monument they had erected in 1845. During the same festivities, a cornerstone for a future grand monument was placed, and 23 cities from all around Germany, including Vienna, Hanover, and Dresden, pledged money for its construction. However, the Unification of Germany and the subsequent foundation of the German Empire temporarily halted plans for a monument, since public conscience turned towards the more recent military victories. The commemoration of the Battle of Leipzig as a decisive one in German history was replaced by the Battle of Sedan and the city of Leipzig erected a monument to the German unification in its centre in 1888. Steffen Poser, head of the Museum of the Monument for the Battle of the Nations, wrote: "[T]he foundation of the German Empire deprived the monument project of what had been its basis for legitimacy so far—namely, the desire for German unification, the leitmotif, which had been missing at the time."
In 1894, Clemens Thieme (de), a member of the Verein für die Geschichte Leipzigs (Association for the History of Leipzig) learned during a meeting of the association about the past plans to build a monument. Interested in resuming the project, Thieme, who was also a member of the Apollo masonic lodge, proposed the project during a meeting and gained the support of his fellow masons. In 1894, he founded the Deutsche Patriotenbund (Association of German Patriots) which raised, by means of donations and a lottery, the funds necessary to construct the monument for the 100th anniversary. The projected cost was set at ℳ6,000,000 (€30,401,647 in 2021). The following year, the city of Leipzig donated a 40,000-square-metre (9.9-acre) site for the construction.
Two competitions to find a design were held in 1895 and 1896 and gathered a large number of entries with prizes for the best handed out. However, the Patriotenbund was unhappy with the results on the grounds that they were not innovative enough and none were eventually chosen for the monument. Bruno Schmitz, an architect from Berlin who had won fourth prize in the competitions, was ultimately commissioned to submit the final design by the Patriotic Association. He had earlier designed both the Kyffhäuser Monument in Thuringia as well as the Deutsches Eck in Koblenz. The financing, which had originally been thought to rely solely on donations and a lottery, ran out, leading the city of Leipzig to subsidise the remaining costs.
A ground-breaking ceremony was held prior to the start of construction on 18 October 1898, the 85th anniversary of the battle. A total of 82,000 cubic metres (107,000 cu yd) of earth were moved in the following two years until suitable subsoil for the foundation was found. Construction then commenced in mid-September 1900, at which time the original foundation stone from 1863 was moved to the new location. The foundation slab, 70 m (77 yd) times 80 m (87 yd) in area and 2 m (2.2 yd) thick, was constructed from concrete, as was a total of about 90 per cent of the entire monument. Concrete, a relatively new material at the time, was used for the first time in such a large structure. Proponents in expert literature argued for an iron construction as granting more stability, but the factors of cost and higher creative freedom ultimately led to the use of concrete. Work on the foundations alone took five years. In total, 26,500 granite blocks and 120,000 cubic metres (160,000 cu yd) of concrete were used for the entire structure. Due to the use of state-of-the-art machinery, such as traction engines, lifts, a concrete mixer, and a cable railway for transporting gravel, construction was finished on schedule, in time for the 100th anniversary of the battle in 1913.
On the 18th of October 1913 the Völkerschlachtdenkmal was inaugurated in the presence of about 100 000 people including the emperor Wilhelm II, and all the reigning sovereign rulers of the German states.
Design of the Monument
Schmitz constructed the monument over an artificial hill and selected a pyramidal shape for a clear view of the surroundings. The base is 124 metres (407 ft) square. The main structure, at 91 metres (299 ft), is as of 2013 still the tallest monument in Europe. Poser places the monument in a line of tradition of similar national monuments of the 19th century. The design deviates consciously from the style of the Wilhelmine period of the time, as the architects attempted to develop a distinctly German style in architecture and sculpture. A "multitude of symbols and metaphors", as Poser writes, "makes a clear characterisation of the Monument difficult even today." Many of the sculptures reflect the masonic ideas of the members of the Patriotenbund, aimed at introducing them to the general public through the monument. Unlike many monuments and buildings of the era, the monument lacks classicist style elements, instead borrowing from the architecture of ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt. Thieme, who made frequent adjustments to Schmitz's design, most often under the premise of cutting costs, worked together with the Art Nouveau sculptors Christian Behrens and his apprentice Franz Metzner. Following Behrens' death in 1905, Metzner completed the work, mainly on the sculptures on the inside and top of the monument.
Description of the Monument
Exterior of the structure
At the front side of the monument, a 19 m (21 yd) high and 60 m (66 yd) wide relief depicts a battle scene. The centre piece of the relief is a sculpture of the Archangel Saint Michael, symbolising the personification of God's support for the German soldiers. Above Michael, an engraving reads "Gott mit uns" ["God with us"]. To either side of the archangel, furies carry the firebrand of war, while two eagles symbolise the "newly won freedom". On both sides of the relief, lateral staircases with 136 steps lead to the second story and the entrance of the crypt. The staircases are decorated with large heads of Emperor Frederick I, better known as Barbarossa, reminding of the myth of a sleeping emperor and "as expressions of the people's hopes for better times". At the top of the monument, of the outside of the dome roof, stand twelve warrior statues, each composed of 47 granite blocks and 13 m (14 yd) tall, meant to remind of the Germans' will to defend themselves. In the inaugural text about the monument, these statues were described as "guardians of freedom and pillars of justice".
On the inside
In the circle-shaped crypt on the first floor, sixteen statues of warriors (Totenwächter) are present, symbolically standing guard, two each in front of a total of eight 6 m (6.6 yd) high death masks. The crypt was meant as a symbolic tomb for the fallen soldiers of the battle. In the Ruhmeshalle (Hall of Fame) on the second floor, four large sculptures are placed facing each other, each meant to symbolise an alleged virtue of the German people (bravery, strength of faith, people's strength, and sacrifice). Each of these sculptures is 9.5 m (10.4 yd) tall. Towering above the crypt is a 68 m (74 yd) high dome. Leading towards it, pillared windows are decorated with 96 smaller sculptures representing the suffering in war. The dome itself is filled with "324 almost life-sized equestrian statues representing the homecoming of the victors". The dome, 29 m (32 yd) in diameter, creates unusual acoustics which allow for concerts to take place within the inner hall. From the crypt, 364 steps lead visitors to the observation platform on top of the monument.
Schmitz also planned to create an accompanying complex for ceremonies that would include a court, a stadium and parade grounds. However, only a reflecting pool and two processional avenues were ultimately completed. Surrounding the monument are oaks, considered to have been a symbol of masculine strength and endurance to the Germanic people of antiquity. The oaks are complemented by evergreens, symbolising feminine fecundity, and they are located in a subordinate position to the oaks.
From the Nazi Third Reich through the Communist GDR to the present
During the Third Reich, Hitler frequently used the monument as a venue for his meetings in Leipzig. During WW2, an anti-aircraft gun (Flak) position was established on top of the monument. When the US Army captured Leipzig on April 18, 1945, the monument was the last stronghold in the city to surrender. 300 soldiers, men of the Volkssturm and boys of the Hitler Youth under the command of Oberst Hans von Poncet, were holding out in the monument, but after a direct artillery hit inside the structure, von Poncet was convinced to surrender following long negotiations.
During the period of Communist rule in East Germany from 1949 to 1989, the government of the GDR was unsure whether it should allow the monument to stand, since it was considered to represent the steadfast nationalism of the period of the German Empire. Eventually, it was decided that the monument be allowed to remain, since it represented a battle in which Russian and German soldiers had fought together against a common enemy, and was therefore representative of Deutsch-russische Waffenbrüderschaft (Russo-German brotherhood-in-arms) (although some Germans fought on the other side in the battle).
In 1956, the opening ceremony of the Gymnastics and Sports Festival took place in the memorial complex; the authorities stated that the monument could be interpreted as a symbol of "long-standing German-Russian friendship". The festival planners focused the spirit of the celebrations on German history, and the ceremony as a symbol of the desired German union.
Within a year of the monument's completion, it became apparent that water penetrating through the joints between the natural stone ashlars and the concrete core was a problem. Some stone pieces were moved significantly by ice and frost, while water entered the core with no way to escape, since dampening technology was not available for decades after the construction had finished. As an effect, stairs and pathways became crooked. Moreover, shelling by U.S. troops at the end of the war had left damages to the rear side of the monument not addressed during the time of Communist rule. In addition, the effects of nature and pollution had blackened the outside of the structure significantly. Until the 1990s, no considerable efforts had been made to renovate the monument. In 2003, such measures were ultimately begun, with a target end date of 2013, the 200th anniversary of the battle, for their completion. The black discolouring of the façade was gradually removed. The pavement in front of the monument was redone, while a large shell hole dating from World War II was patched up. Not all damages of war were removed however, deliberately leaving open some signs of bullets or shell splinters as a reminder. A new drainage system was added to the structure to safeguard the building from damage through water. The monument was also made wheel-chair accessible for the first time through the addition of a lift. While some work could not be finished until 2013, the work on the outside reflection pool was finished in 2018. Some more restoration is still set to be completed as of 2019[update].
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Völkerschlachtdenkmal.|
- "Monument to the Battle of the Nations". Stadtgeschichtliches Museum Leipzig (City-Historical Museum Leipzig).(Quicktime required)
- "Homepage of the monument's supporters". Voelkerschlachtdenkmal (in German). Archived from the original on 2009-04-23.
- "Homepage of the annual bathtub races" (in German). Archived from the original on 2005-12-15.
- "Homepage of the choir of the Monument" (in German).
- "7 panorama views and information". Virtualcity Leipzig.
- "Völkerschlachtdenkmal in the context of Metzer's career, with photos". Waltlockley.com. Archived from the original on 2008-11-21.