Neue Wache – Memorial of the Victims of War and Tyranny

Neue Wache – Memorial of the Victims of War and Tyranny

Originally commissioned by King Frederick William III of Prussia in 1816 to be the new guard house for the royal family, The Neue Wache building, still very much intact, is used as the Central Memorial of the Federal Republic of Germany for the Victims of War and Dictatorship. Rich in history and architecturally significant, the Neue Wache building is a prodigious landmark in the capital.

Placed on the bustling boulevard of Unter Den Linden, it rubs elbows with Humboldt University and the Zueghaus. Its neoclassical architecture is thanks to Karl Friedrich Schinkel, who was the demonstrative figure in the Greek architectural revival movement that took place during his time. His intent was to keep the building as open as possible, as seen by the columns and the courtyard. Like many buildings in Berlin, it has seen many tumultuous political and social tides, bearing witness to monarchy, fascism, disintegration, and reunification. Starting as a royal guard house until the devastation of World War I, it now serves as a house of remembrance.

To step inside the Neue Wache today is to be confronted by a different memorial – with the similarly empty interior now interrupted by another eye catching detail – that of a small bronze statue of a grieving mother sits on the ground, holding her son who died in the war. It is placed directly under the Oculus and on top of the remains of the unknown soldier and concentration camp victim. The empty hall made the mother seem so weak and helpless, and the grief so great…

In front of the statue, you will sharply experience the pain of the mother who lost her son, and the cruelty and ugliness of war. This “old, lonely, remorseful woman” represents all the postwar mothers in the world.

The casualties of war are a number for a country, but for any mother, it is a life-and-death separation that can never be accepted!

Reminiscent of Michaelangelo’s pieta housed in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, this provocative sculpture was the work of Prussian artist Käthe Kollwitz – famous for her depictions of the effects of war and poverty on the lives of the poor. In this instance secularising traditional imagery of Christian suffering to address social justice issues.  

Greek philosopher Plato would say that only the dead know the end of war. While the suffering continues without conclusion, its victims have a memorial in Berlin waiting for them. A place of contemplation and peaceful reflection. In a country that has, in only the last 100 years, experienced so much conflict and destruction.

This is the most ingeniously designed museum I have ever seen. There is only one exhibit in the huge building. The sun rises and sets, and the projection and spotlight of the skylight are different at different times, but the focus is always on that one statue. This simple sculpture amidst empty space can sting people’s hearts and make people feel the pain of war.

Neue Wache – Memorial of the Victims of War and Tyranny




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