“A monument is not a descriptive account of history, but instead a historical artifact that tells a story about power.”
I have a new bucket list destination: the Citadel Museum.
The eight-ton Lenin’s head used to be attached to the statue of the Soviet leader that stood at Leninplatz, in East Berlin, which as you’ll recall is where I worked while employed for three weeks by the parks department in the capital of the GDR in the summer of 1989.
The statue was taken down after unification in spite of neighborhood opinion in favor of it remaining, and it would appear to have been dismembered. The head was exhumed in 2015.
I highly recommend clicking through and reading the article.
The Museum Where Racist and Oppressive Statues Go to Die, by Daniela Blei (Atlas Obscura)
Germany has found ways to display problematic monuments without elevating them.
LAST YEAR, URTE EVERT RECEIVED a 400-pound church bell imprinted with a small but unmistakable swastika, and she faced a conundrum. Evert is the director of the Citadel Museum in the Berlin suburb of Spandau, and the bronze bell—cast in 1934 for the ascendant Nazi regime—hung at the nearby Evangelical Church of Hakenfelde until the astonishingly recent date of 2017. Evert hoped to add the Nazi artifact to the museum’s permanent collection of toxic monuments: busts of militaristic Prussian rulers; statues of Aryan athletes and warriors; and an eight-ton granite head of Vladimir Lenin, which took two years of political and bureaucratic wrangling to dig out of the ground. But first, Evert had to weigh the risks of exhibiting a church bell installed during the Nazi period. What would the bell represent, and what could visitors learn from it? And could it become a kind of shrine for members of far-right or neo-Nazi groups?
Evert’s job at the Citadel Museum, which is housed in the former provisions depot of a Renaissance-era fortress, is to critically examine the culture of monuments. Rather than scrubbing the area of statues that symbolize racism, antisemitism, and other forms of violence and oppression, the museum aims to contextualize the past, putting uncomfortable realities on display in productive, educational, and sometimes challenging ways.
“Inside the museum, visitors confront at eye level statues and monuments that used to represent power,” Evert says. “You can touch everything. Nothing is put on a pedestal. You can talk about what makes you mad.” Since December, the Nazi church bell has been on permanent loan. It inspired a special exhibition on Spandau’s churches under National Socialism, a collaboration between college students and the museum …
… The idea for a museum of spurned monuments came from Andrea Theissen, the former director of the Spandau Citadel, who curated the opening in 2016. Each statue was left in the condition she received it—many were dismantled under orders from the Allies—complete with bullet holes and damage from bombs. The museum’s message is clear: A monument is not a descriptive account of history, but instead a historical artifact that tells a story about power. In a setting that invites scrutiny, visitors can study Berlin’s monuments to grasp more clearly who had power and how that power was used.