I wrote yesterday about my visit to Berlin ten years ago. One sight that left a lasting impression was the Kathe Kollwitz Pieta in the Neue Wache, a Greek temple-like building on the Unter den Linden. When the wall fell, this memorial to the victims of fascism was transformed into a new national memorial with this replica of Kathe Kollwitz’s ‘Mother and Her Dead Son’. The inscription reads, ‘To the victims of war and tyranny’. It seems a fitting theme for a post on this day.
The Neue Wache (New Guardhouse) was built in1816 and served as the royal guard house until the end of the monarchy in 1918. In 1930-1 it was altered to become a memorial for the fallen of WW1. It was damaged in WW2, and in the late 1950s was reconstructed as a memorial for the victims of Fascism and Militarism. After the unification, it was transformed again (in 1993) into the central official Federal memorial site for the ‘victims of war and tyranny’. The centre of the chamber is now occupied by the Käthe Kollwitz Pieta.
Along the street is another space that offers a similar contemplative ambience – the Room of Silence (Raume der Stille) at the Brandenburg Gate.
The vision of creating a non-denominational Room of Silence in the middle of Berlin came about in the eastern part of the then still divided city in December 1988. After German reunification in 1990 a small action group was formed with the aim of creating a Room of Silence in a suitable building in the centre of Berlin near the former frontier between opposing military forces and hostile ideologies. The room was modelled on a similar room which Dag Hammarskjöld had commissioned for himself and his colleagues in 1954 in the United Nations building in New York; this room is still in use. The Room of Silence opened in the Brandenburg Gate on 27 October 1994.
The Room of Silence website states:
It is especially significant that the Room of Silence is located in the Brandenburg Gate, because this city gate, built by Langhans about 200 years ago, was conceived as the Gate of Peace. On top of the gate Schadow’s Quadriga with the Goddess of Victory enters the town. But underneath there is a Attic Relievo which shows the Goddess of Victory leading the triumphal procession of Eirene, the Goddess of Peace. Also the statue of Mars in the southern part of the gate is engaged to peace, for the God of War sheaths his sword. During the course of history, however, the gate’s message of peace receded into the background. In the wake of World War II – and even more so as the Berlin Wall was built along it in 1961 – the Brandenburg Gate was the symbol of a divided city and a divided world. When the Wall fell in 1989 the Brandenburg Gate became a symbol for a peaceful future in Germany and in Europe. Its Room of Silence picks up on the idea of the Gate of Peace in accordance with the original spirit of this locality.