There are angels over Berlin, or so Wim Wenders visualised in his 1987 film 'Wings of Desire' (Der Himmel über Berlin). And one of their meeting points was on top of the Siegessäule (Victory Column) beside the greatest angel of them all, Goldelse!
Goldelse is the affectionate nick-name given to the 35 tonne, 8.3 meters high statue designed by Friedrich Drake. 'Else' (pronounced 'EL-sə') is a German woman's name and is a diminutive of Elisabeth. 'Gold' is 'gold'. So her name translates as something like 'golden Lizzy'.
or 'Golden Lizzy'
With an eagle perched on her head, she could also be a personification of Borussia (the latin name for Prussia). And in fact, it is said that she is modeled in the likeness of Victoria, then Crown Princess of Prussia, who was the eldest child of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom and Prince Albert, and was born at Buckingham Palace.
The Crown Princess Victoria - also a princess to the UK throne of course - was often known as die Engländerin because of her background and her liberal Anglophile views. She was married to Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia, who on 9th March 1888 would become Emperor (Kaiser) Friederich III of Germany (and she Empress and Queen of Prussia). Poor Freddy only reigned for 99 days, as he died of throat cancer on 15th June. 1888 wasn't a good year for German emperors - there were three that year, causing it to be known as the Year of the Three Emperors. German schoolkids remember this with the mnemonic 'drei Achten, drei Kaiser'. The third Emperor was Victoria's son, Kaiser Wilhem II, who led Germany into the First World War.
It is somewhat ironic really that the likeness of Crown Princess Victoria, the liberal Anglophile who was always at odds with the authoritarian German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, stands atop a monument commemorating the victory of Prussia over three other European countries that Bismarck had war-mongered.
These triple victories were The Danish-Prussian War of 1864, The Austro-Prussian war of 1866, and The Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. When architect Heinrich Strack - an apprentice of Karl Friedrich Schinkel by the way - first began the Siegessäule project in 1864 it was to be just to mark the victory over Denmark. But you know how it is with project-shift; the goal-posts kept changing as Prussia kept winning wars. When the Siegessäule was finally inaugurated on 2nd September 1873, Strack had designed in three rings to the column, to commemorate each of the three victories. For good measure he also added gilded cannon barrels captured from each of the three conquered armies.
|Die Berliner Siegessäule|
|Gilded cannon barrels and golden garlands.|
Stages three and four of the Siegessäule Sky-Rocket.
Anyway, back to reality.
The Siegessäule stands in the middle of a traffic island called the Großer Stern, and access to it is through subways whose entrances are four vaguely-neo-classical 'temples' also designed by Albert Speer.
|One of four entrances to Siegessäule Island|
The Straße des 17. Juni in which the Großer Stern lies had been widened by Speer to make a magnificent East-West Axis for the planned new World capital. This was no doubt wonderful for holding awesome processions of the Wehrmacht army on a totalitarian scale (and in the last days of the war as a last-ditch landing strip for flying generals in and out of Berlin), but it also provided a direct route for the Red Army tanks moving on to the Reichstag and then the bunker under the Reich Chancellery where Hitler and the rump of his military leaders. That the Siegessäule was still standing at the end of the Battle for Berlin was not so much luck than it was an obvious landmark the Soviets could direct their soldiers to make for.
|Bullet holes on Speer's entrance hall|
|Light installation in the subway tunnel|
|Base of the Siegessäule looking up at the hall of pillars.|
|Prussia victorious! Love the pickelhaube helmets!|
|Priest with a hole in his head gives the Sacrament to a headless soldier. Strange times indeed.|
The mosaics are very OTT about the historical imperative of Prussia defeating her enemies and leading to a unified nation of the Germanic tribes under the one Kaiser and a second Reich etc. etc. You can sort of understand why the French wanted to dynamite it all. But from a bit of temporal distance, they are quite interesting to look at from an historical point of view. Anton von Werner might have been the hottest must-have patriotic painter of his time, but he was no Michelangelo.
|Glass mosaics at the Siegessäule|
|The 'Kaiserproklamation' of German Unity|
After you have admired or otherwise the mosaics, it is time to ascend the 285 steps to the viewing platform. Needless-to-say, there are no disabled facilities here. By comparison, The Monument to the Great Fire of London has 311 steps, but you do get a certificate if you climb them.
When we first visited Berlin (for The Cure 'Trilogy' concert in 2002) the walls beside the steps up to the top were covered in graffiti. I must admit that I added my own, declaring our love for one another. The Siegessäule has since been renovated (2010-2011) and our little addition to the monument has been painted over, which is sad in a way, but we have to admit that the Siegessäule does look a lot better for it. Goldelse herself got a new gilding of 1,200 grammes of pure gold leaf, leading to comments that she was getting 'das teuerste Kleid Berlin' (the most expensive dress in Berlin).
The panoramic view from the top is truly marvellous, and gives you a good sense of scale of how big the Tiergarten - that wonderful oasis of Green in the centre of a capital city - actually is.
|Straße des 17. Juni looking East towards the Reichstag Building and the Brandenburg Gate.|
This was Speer's planned East-West axis for World Capital Germania.
|Statue of Field Marshall Roon on the left, the Bismarck Denkmal on the right|
|Looking down at the entrance to the subway|
|Getting close up and intimate with Goldelse!|
|Straße des 17. Juni looking West towards Charlottenburg,|
the other side of the planned East-West axis
|Doesn't everybody look like ants down there!|
|View NE towards Schloss Bellevue|
The Field Marshall Moltke Denkmal is bottom left.
I disagree, and am gladdened when I catch a glimpse of Goldelse, often unexpected as you are walking around West Berlin. I deplore the militarism it originally stood for, and its integration into Speer and Hitler's megalomaniac plans. Nowadays that is all behind Golden Lizzy, and instead of military parades she smiles down on drunken revellers celebrating football victories on the Festival Mile, exuberant New Year rock bands and firework displays, or people running the Berlin marathon.
Her complete rehabilitation must have come when the Siegessäule became the centre of Berlin's infamous Love Parades in the 1990's, and was taken as the name for the magazine for Queer Berlin's LGBT communitywww.siegessaeule.de. Old Bismarck would have exploded in apoplectic rage at the very thought!
|Auf wiedersehen, Else!|