Posts Tagged ‘Neue Wache’

The Four Faces of the Neue Wache Memorial

Monday, July 4th, 2016

 

The Neue Wache (New Guardhouse) in Berlin is located on the boulevard Unter den Linden between Deutsches Historisches Museum (German History Museum) and Humboldt University. Since 1993, the Neue Wache is a memorial to the victims of war and tyranny. However, during its 200-year history, it had four distinct faces. The building’s interior has seen even more configurations during that time.

History of the Neue Wache

In 1818, on the occasion of Germany’s victory in the Wars of Liberation against Napoleon, King Friedrich Wilhelm III ordered the construction of the Neue Wache. Originally, it was erected as a guardhouse for the Prussian royal family and a monument to the victims of the anti-Napoleonic wars. For the next 100 years the Royal Guard was stationed at the Neue Wache. It was the Neue Wache to which Wilhelm Voigt, the bogus “Captain from Koepenick,” took the mayor and the city treasurer of Koepenick in 1906 while impersonating a captain in the Regiment of Foot Guards. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/the-captain-from-koepenick-ruse/

One hundred years later, in 1918, the German monarchy abdicated and the Neue Wache was converted into a memorial for the victims of World War I. During World War II the building was severely damaged by bombs.

Following the division of Germany in 1945, the Neue Wache was located in the Soviet sector of the divided city. In 1960, the East German government transformed the restored building into a memorial to the victims of fascism and militarism. It housed an eternal flame in a cube above the remains of an unknown concentration camp prisoner and an unknown fallen soldier. A Soviet honor guard stood watch and marched in front of the memorial.

Change of the Soviet Honor Guard in front of Neue Wache - photo © J. Elke Ertle, 1990, www.walled-in-berlin.com

Change of the Soviet Honor Guard in front of Neue Wache – photo © J. Elke Ertle, 1990, www.walled-in-berlin.com

The Neue Wache Today

In 1993, the Reunified Germany turned the Neue Wache into its main monument for the commemoration of the victims of war and tyranny. The building now houses Kaethe Kollwitz’s sculpture “Mother and her Dead Son.” An open, circular skylight provides the only light and leaves the sculpture in the center exposed to wind and weather. An underground room still houses the remains of the unknown soldier and soil from battlefields and concentration camps.

Kaethe Kollwitz sculpture "Mother and her Dead Son" inside the Neue Wache, Berlin - photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2016, www.walled-in-berlin.com

Kaethe Kollwitz sculpture “Mother and her Dead Son” inside the Neue Wache, Berlin – photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2016, www.walled-in-berlin.com

Who was the artist Kaethe Kollwitz?

Kaethe Kollwitz, a well-known German artist, was born in eastern Prussia in 1867. With the outbreak of the First World War, her sons Hans and Peter volunteered for service. Peter was killed just months into the conflict and Kollwitz never recovered from the loss. Several of her sculptures, including “Mother and her Dead Son” were inspired by Peter’s untimely death.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Captain from Koepenick Ruse

Monday, May 30th, 2016

The Captain from Koepenick was an out-of-work ex-convict who became a legend in Germany after impersonating a Prussian First Guard officer. His real name was Wilhelm Voigt. His is a true story. Voigt decided to masquerade as a military officer because he was caught in a vicious circle: He could not get a passport because he was unemployed, and he could not get work because he didn’t have a passport. The Captain from Koepenick (Der Hauptmann von Koepenick in German) has been the basis of numerous films, plays, television shows and musicals.

Who was the Captain from Koepenick?

Wilhelm Voigt was born in 1849 to a shoemaker’s family in Tilsit, East Prussia (now Sovetsk, Russia). From the age of 14, he was in and out of prison for petty crimes. Upon his umpteenth discharge from the penitentiary in 1906, Voigt decided to start an honest life but found himself caught in a dilemma: His prison record made it impossible for him to obtain residency, and without prove of residency he could not get work. A passport could have fixed his problem. Therefore, he purchased a used captain’s uniform and commandeered several grenadiers to Koepenick’s Town Hall near Berlin, Germany (now part of Berlin). Indoctrinated to obey officers without question, they followed his orders. The fake Captain from Koepenick then arrested the mayor and city treasurer and ordered them to be hauled to the Neue Wache in Berlin for questioning (http://www.walled-in-berlin/j-elke-ertle/neue-wache-in-berlin/). In the meantime, Voigt tried to steal a passport from the passport department. When he found out that Koepenick’s Town Hall did not handle passports at all, he turned to Plan B and ordered confiscation of the entire town treasury. The faux Captain of Kopeenick made off with 3,557.45 marks (about €21,000 in today’s money). http://www.bz-berlin.de/berlin/treptow-koepenick/hauptmann-von-koepenick-hat-behoerden-probleme

The unmasking of the Captain from Koepenick

Despite returning the money, Wilhelm Voigt was sentenced to four years in prison. However, two years into his sentence, Prussian Emperor Wilhelm II pardoned him, and Voigt was a free man. After his release, the faux Captain of Koepenick immediately capitalized on his newfound fame: He gave speeches, toured in Europe and the United States and published his autobiography. Finally, in 1910 he was issued a passport to Luxembourg where he remained until his death in 1922.

What makes this a timeless story?

The Captain from Koepenick ruse demonstrates the absurdity of unconditional obedience and absolute authority. Uniforms (clothes) should not make a man. Even today, Wilhelm Voigt is still considered a hero in Germany. His story is taught in German schools as an example of courageous resistance to unjust government and authority.

The Captain from Koepenick Legacy

First buried in Luxembourg, Wilhelm Voigt was reburied in Berlin in 1999. A statue of the “Captain from Koepenick” in uniform stands in front of Koepenick’s Town Hall. The uniform itself is on exhibit inside the Town Hall. A plaque describes the deception.

Statue of Wilhelm Voigt impersonating the Captain from Koepenick, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2016, www.walled-in-berlin.com

Statue of Wilhelm Voigt impersonating the Captain from Koepenick, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2016, www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

To watch a video of the 1956 movie “Der Hauptmann von Koepenick” online, visit veoh.com/watch/VZ0971446te9AhXaw. For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com