The future of Bismarck statue: “History has both good and bad. Like people, not all controversial things will disappear. “


The future of Bismarck statue: “History has both good and bad. Like people, not all controversial things will disappear. “

In the trend of overthrowing the “problem” sculpture initiated by the black life is life movement, a series of figures statues related to the history of colonialism and racism, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, have become the focus of attention and controversy all over the world. Some people think that these sculptures are a way to praise and commemorate colonists and racists. When they are set up in public, they will propagate a wrong value and cause lasting harm to the oppressed. Some people think that these “problem” sculptures bear the history and have educational significance. To tear them down is to erase the history.

After the sculpture dispute was localized in Germany, Bismarck, the first German Prime Minister, became the primary target. This “bloody prime minister” is the primary hero of Germany’s reunification and the establishment of the empire. At present, there are more than 700 streets, 146 towers and 97 statues in Germany named after him. However, in recent years, with more and more reflections on the colonial history in German society, Bismarck’s role in the German colonial empire has been re-examined. During its reign, Germany, as a rising star of western European colonial power, became the third largest colonial empire in the world in a short time, and established colonies on several islands in East Africa, West Africa, Southwest Africa and the Pacific Ocean. From 1897 to 1918, Qingdao, China was also occupied.

Berlin -Citadel’s recent exhibition “Berlin and its Monuments” provides a debate space and a feasible answer to the question of sculpture. Although there are no sculptures directly related to colonial history in the exhibition, it preserves controversial sculptures in almost every period in Germany’s modern history, including military figures symbolizing Prussian militarism, a gift from Hitler to the German sports minister at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, and a 3.5-ton head of Lenin removed from East Germany after Germany’s reunification. Most of these sculptures were demolished from public places such as squares and streets after the establishment of the new regime.

“The museum is a safer discussion space. Urte Evert, director of the museum, said in an interview with Interface Culture (ID: BooksandFun). “In the museum, people can learn more background information through explanations, professional explanations or workshops, so that sculptures can get a’ context’. Different from other museums, visitors can touch all the sculpture exhibits of Berlin Bunker Museum. “These sculptures are all marble, some were blown up, some were damaged when they were moved away, and some were buried underground and dug up. “The museum decided to show them in their original state when they were discovered, because we wanted to show a tangible history,” Evert said.

In addition to the exhibits, the bunker museum itself also carries a heavy history. Located in a medieval castle in Spandau, Berlin, the museum was first mentioned in 1197. In the 16th century, the ruins of the castle were transformed into bunkers to defend the nearby city. In 1871, Prussia won the Franco-Prussian War and established the German Empire, where gold coins worth 120 million marks paid by France were stored. Half a century later, Germany was defeated in World War I, and these gold coins were pulled back to France. During the Nazi government, the Berlin bunker was transformed into a chemical weapons laboratory, where the German army developed nerve gas. After the defeat of World War II, Spandau was occupied by the Soviet Union and Britain, and later it was changed into a school and cultural place, and the military use of the bunker stopped.

Interface Culture recently interviewed Ute Evert, curator of Bunker Museum, and discussed with her the role of museums in preserving controversial sculptures, the colonial history of Germany, the future of Bismarck, and the history and identity of East Germany that was erased after the reunification of Germany.

Albrecht I (1110-1170), the first vassal of Brandenburg, nicknamed “Bear”, is considered as the man who brought Christianity to Brandenburg. Image source: Ye Ming
Interface culture: In the current discussion on historical reflection on colonialism and racism, Bismarck’s sculptures and monuments have become the focus of controversy in Germany. Bismarck, as an important military figure who unified Germany and the first German Chancellor, undoubtedly has an important position in history. On the other hand, he also helped to establish German colonies all over the world. What do you think of his sculpture?

Evert: The colonial history of Germany is only 25 years, which is very short, and it happened after the end of slavery, so we don’t have the colonial history like Britain, France and the United States, and we can’t compare Germany with other countries. Bismarck was not a direct supporter of colonialism. He doesn’t think Germany should pass on Christianity or the more advanced lifestyle in Western Europe to people in other countries. What convinced him was the economic interests of colonialism. It was Kaiser Wilhelm II’s crazy emphasis on colonization. He has always wanted to compete with Britain, want the strongest navy, and have territory in Africa and Asia like Britain. So I think Bismarck’s colonial history is a small part of him. We need to show this part to the public and provide some space in public places for people to watch, discuss and remember his history, but we should not completely remove his sculpture from public places.

In Witting, Berlin, there are also some streets commemorating African colonists and military figures. Now people are discussing whether these place names should be changed to commemorate those who suffered colonial rule. In a cemetery in New Coln, there is also a stone to commemorate the Prussian soldiers who died in southwest Africa, Germany. (Note: In southwest Africa, today’s Namibia, German colonialists committed genocide against the local Herrero and Nama people, resulting in 35,000-65,000 local deaths. Finally, in 2006, the name of a Namibian victim was added to the stone. I want to put this stone tablet in our exhibition. This monument to commemorate the colonists continues to be placed outside, and the harm to the descendants of the colonized people can be imagined. Although the colonial period has passed for a long time, today, the voice of colored people in Germany is finally heard.

Interface culture: Why didn’t Bismarck’s monument be demolished in the process of Prussia, the allied country after World War II?

Evert: At the end of World War II in 1945, the Allies did not want these sculptures representing Prussia and German militarism to appear in public view and ordered them to be removed. Because these sculptures are not directly related to the Nazis, they need to be removed from public places without being destroyed.

These sculptures were greatly damaged in World War II. At that time, people were worried that they would be more damaged, so they were buried on the land of Bellevue Palace in Berlin. In 1970s, Bellevue Palace became the office of the German President, and these sculptures were excavated again and moved to us. The statue of Bismarck is not always spared, but Bismarck is a respected figure of the Allies. He always wanted to form an alliance with Britain, but William II always wanted to compete with Britain, and later got rid of Bismarck. Although Bismarck was an important figure in Prussia, he was not an enemy of Britain and other allies.

Interface culture: What is the story of Lenin’s head sculpture in the museum?

Evert: This sculpture of Lenin is very famous. Its replica once appeared in the movie Goodbye Lenin. When East and West Germany were reunified in 1990, the sculpture was demolished by a crane, but in the film, the picture of it being lifted away by a helicopter was deeply imprinted in people’s minds. At that time, many people thought that every trace of socialist East Germany should be removed or even destroyed to show people that there was no socialism in Germany. I think that although the demolition process is legal and democratic, the West German government should allow more social discussions.

Urteever, curator of Berlin bunker, took a group photo with Lenin’s sculpture. Image source: Ye Ming
When Lenin’s statue was demolished, some East Germans felt that although I was in pain, I didn’t want it to be demolished, but wanted to show it to the public to commemorate our experience. Not all controversial things must disappear from public view, be destroyed or enter museums. Some problematic statues can be left in public on the premise of showing their historical problems. After Germany’s unification by merging East Germany into West Germany, the history of East Germany was covered up by the history of West Germany. Today, Germans still have some unhealed pains, which come from the division of Germany and the disintegration of East Germany during the Cold War.

Interface culture: As you mentioned in your previous interview, most of the reasons for the demolition of sculptures in Germany are the changes in government, political system and ideology. Especially after the reunification of Germany, the opportunity for East Germans to examine their own history was quickly erased by the West German government. Do you think its original intention is to do the right thing, or to show something else?

Evert: Both. During the Cold War, there was always political system competition between East and West Germany, and people grew up in this ideological competitive environment. After the collapse of East Germany, first of all, people breathed a sigh of relief that there was no war in Germany. Secondly, West Germans believe that this proves that their own values are correct and superior.

This sense of superiority has left some wounds for German society. Many East Germans have gradually discovered that everything in West Germany is not good. There must be many problems in East Germany-those who tried to cross the Berlin Wall and escape to West Germany were killed. But for some East Germans, the East German regime also has advantages. For example, its education system is much better than what we inherited from West Germany today. Although due to censorship, the history of East German school professors is incomplete and even contains many lies. However, its education system will not prematurely separate children according to their abilities, send those children whose families pay little attention to education to the track of vocational schools, and deprive them of the opportunity to receive higher education as they do today. At the beginning, West Germany should also listen to and learn from the good aspects of East Germany, instead of thinking that everything would be fine if we were in power. These pains are strongly manifested and become a big problem facing a unified Germany.

Bunker Museum showed the sculpture to the public after it was discovered. Image source: Ye Ming
Interface culture: What do you think is the difference between public streets and museums?

Evert: The museum is a safer discussion space. In the museum, people can learn more background information and get the “context” of sculpture through explanations, professional explanations or workshops. In outdoor public places, such opportunities are rare. But on the way, people can meet and discuss these public sculptures.

Recently, a sculpture in Thelen, a suburb of Berlin, was beheaded. This statue is called “Squatting Black Man”, and it was cast by German expressionist artist Arminius Hasselman. The people he carved were exaggerated and ugly, like animals. Hasemann used to have a studio in Lehndorff. After his death in the 1980s, people put this sculpture on a small road here. In Germany in the 1980s, no one thought that this sculpture would offend others. But he is a racist. He joined the Nazi party before the Nazi government seized power in the 1920s. In addition, the name of this sculpture bears the word N (a disparaging term for black people). Last year, under the lobbying of black civil rights organizations, the local government planned to move the sculpture. But two weeks ago, the statue was beheaded. Now the police are still investigating. We don’t know where the head is, who did it, or whether the saboteur’s purpose is racism or anti-racism. Before that, even people living there didn’t pay much attention to this sculpture. Now people are discussing this matter and how to deal with it.

Interface culture: Some people say that removing “toxic” sculptures means deleting history. Even if these sculptures are controversial and have problems, we should keep them so that people can learn history from them. What do you think of this?

Evert: I think the situation of each sculpture is different, so we should talk about it separately. Sometimes, it is right to choose to demolish, such as some statues related to racism. Those statues commemorating American federal slave owners or military figures were built long after the American Civil War, and they are industrial statues, not works of art built by artists, so I don’t think every such sculpture should be exhibited in museums. If you want to keep it, from the museum’s point of view, a statue of a slave owner is enough, and you don’t have to move it all to the museum. White people in the southern United States oppose the removal of the statue, probably because they are afraid that their history is not worth remembering, which also means that they are not worth remembering.

In Germany, many cultural relics, buildings and works of art were destroyed in World War II, so Germans especially want to preserve these things. Now, some Germans say that Nazi Germany only had 12 short years. Why do we always look at our country in the worst period in history as a benchmark, instead of looking at the great side of Germany? I think, of course, we can also commemorate the beautiful period in German history, but we should honestly show the good side and the bad side and show that we have not forgotten it, instead of showing the glorious side or claiming that we are the greatest country in history. The history of our country is like people, with good and bad.


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