Berlin’s Siegessäule - Victory Column - is another of Berlin’s monuments that has reinvented itself through the ages - from symbol of Prussian military victory in the 19th century to that of Berlin’s thriving gay community and favourite tourist spot today. Berlin’s gay city listings magazine is called Siegessäule and yearly events such as Christopher Street Day and the Techno Love Parade have culminated here. As US Presidential candidate, Barack Obama chose the Siegessäule as the alternative spot to the Brandenburg Gate for his speech to 200,000 Berliners on July 24, 2008.
The 67m high symbol of victory originally stood in front of the Reichstag in the former Königsplatz and today’s Platz der Republik. It was relocated here, in the Tiergarten’s main roundabout by the Nazis in 1938. The Grosser Stern roundabout is a central intersection from which five avenues stretch out to different directions around the compass. According to plans by Albert Speer the architect and visionary of Berlin as the new capital of the German Reich – Germania – intended to enhance the East-West axis running through the Tiergarten.
Emperor Wilhelm I (1861-1888) who ruled and increasingly powerful Prussian State with territorial ambitions to unify Germany under Prussia, had appointed Otto von Bismarck – the Iron Chancellor – as Prussian prime minister in 1862. The Emperor presided over the unveiling of the Column of Victory on September 2, 1873 as a monument to Prussia’s victory in the Franco-German war. This ended the so-called Wars of Unification waged against its neighbours Denmark (1864) Austria (1866) and France (1871). The founding of Berlin as capital of Germany followed and the King Wilhelm I of Prussia was crowned Emperor – Kaiser Wilhelm I at Versailles in January 1871.
Built by Philip Drake, the gilded shaft is painted with enemy canons and martial scenes in relief from. The 8.3m tall statue on the top of the column represents both Victoria, the Goddess of Victory and Borussia the allegory and Latin name of Prussia. Her face based on the sculptor’s daughter and known, in Berliner lore, as the Goldelse (Golden Else).
The column is an interesting example of allegorical representations linking German traditional mythological symbols to its imperial days.
The frieze – or outer decorative band - bearing sculpture and lettering and the mosaics are good examples. Representations include those of Germania, Father Rhine with a crown of vine leaves, the enemy Napoleon seated on a cloud and Commander General von Hartmann uniting the Southern and German States. Anton von Warner’s mosaic of 1873 portrays Germania as an allegorical image, the breast plated female warrior. Along with Victoria the winged Roman Goddess of Victory and Marianne the French equivalent Germania was an important 19th century symbol for the abstract representation of nationhood which was used to unite the disparate German princes. The newly crowned Emperor Wilhelm I’s own image could not be used and the representation of Emperor was only possible as a Latin inscription – Loco Imperatoris.
The monument is reachable using a pedestrian underpass. Four neo-classical temples also built by Albert Speer indicate the entrance points. This is one of Berlin’s favourite sightseeing trips with children and youngsters who appreciate the view from the observation deck following the 270 steps required to reach it via a spiral staircase. The Café Victoria and Biergarten, just next to the monument, is ideal for refreshments and a break.