The Opera - The Prussian statues

This is how the Staatsoper Unter den Linden area looked short time after the end of the war in the summer of 1945: a mass of ruin and rubble.

[Photo by Hildegard Dreyer. Deutsches Historisches Museum (GOS-Nr. BA010457)]

Before the end of World War Two, next to the main entrance of the Opera house at Unter den Linden were three statues of prominent Prussian generals in pedestals, installed in the 19th Century and commissioned by König Friedrich Wilhelm III.

Today, next to the Opera portico at left we see two majestic statues again, but actually they are not the same… why is this? Here is their full story…

[Here we see the same location before the destruction caused by bombings and street-fighting. These photos were taken in 1941 in colour film by Karl Lutz during a Wehrmacht parade at Unter den Linden. We can see a 3-statue set on pedestals, located next to the Staatsoper. Notice that the Zeughaus armoury (today the Deutsche Historisches Museum - German Historical Museum) and the Dom’s coupula are at right behind the statues, this is because the images are flipped.]

[Photo by Karl Lutz / Stadtarchiv Speyer.]

[Photo by Karl Lutz / Stadtarchiv Speyer.]

They were part of a 5-statue field commemorative monuments made in 1855. The trio of generals next to the Opera was composed by August von Gneisenau (1760-1831), Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher (1742-1819) and Ludwig Yorck von Wartenburg (1759-1830), all of them instrumental in the Prussian army during the European Napoleonic Wars.

The Nazi-regime tried to protect these sculptures from the Allies’ air-bombings by covering them with some urns made of bricks, and they get some protection during those terrible days, but by war’s end one of the statues is missing from her pedestal, as we can clearly see in one of the accompanying images.

[Hitler arrives at the state funeral for Admiral von Trotha (1868-1940) in Unter den Linden, 11 October 1940, with the Prussian statues and the Staatsoper as a background.]

[Photo: Hoffmann NY Public Library.]

[April 10th, 1941. The Opera was hit by some incendiary bombs during an attack by British bombers the night before. The bombs narrowly missed the trio of Prussian statues on this time, seen at left of the image].

[Photo: Scherl/Süddeutsche Zeitung Photo (0011586).]

[In this Hoffmann photography we can see the securing work following Luftschutz instructions to protect the Staatsoper’s statues at Unter den Linden from the Allied bombing raids.] 

Photo: Heinrich Hoffmann/ Bayerische Staatsbibliothek - hoff-32757.

[This is “Berlin, Opernhaus und Unter den Linden, 1845”, oil on canvas by Eduard Gaertner (1801–1877), a painting in which we can get an idea of how the site was in Prussian times.]

[Photo: © Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid.].

Until Cold War-year 1950, the statues of Generals von Wartenburg, von Blücher and von Gneisenau stood at this point surrounded by ruins and rubble. The statues were dismantled in the postwar period by the new socialist government, during the reconstruction of the theatre that year as the symbology of the war heroes did not fit with the ‘3rd World Festival of Youth and Students’ (Weltfestspiele der Jugend und Studenten), an international event that was to be held in East Berlin in 1951.

[Another view of the battle-damaged Staatsoper in Berlin Mitte and her statues after the war.]

[Photo: Freydank, Ruth. Theater in Berlin: von den Anfängen bis 1945. Berlin, 1988.]

[Opposite view of the Prussian statues at the same time in 1945. Note that von Wartenburg statue is missing and heavy battle damage to Humboldt-Universität’s eastern wing in the background.]

Photo by Willy Römer: bpk/ Kunstbibliothek, SMB, Photothek Willy Römer.

[The reconstructed DDR-era Opernhaus in October 1957 without the statues and pedestals.]

[Photo by Klaus Morgenstern / © ddrbildarchiv.].

Now here stands the two remaining statues of the 5-set, which represent General Friedrich Wilhelm von Bülow and General Gerhard von Scharnhorst. They were sculpted by Christian Daniel Rauch (1777-1857) in marble on pedestal with reliefs (these ones made by Karl Friedrich Schinkel) and a height of 2.7 metres.

[Last summer view of today’s location of Generals von Bulow (at left in the foreground) and Scharnhorst (at center) next to the restored Unter den Linden’s Opera.]

[Photo by the author / August 2018.].

[Photo by the author / August 2018.].

This pair is the one that was originally placed on both sides of the Neue Wache (‘New Guard House’), flanking the memorial that honored the Unknown soldier. Having survived the destruction of the battle and air-bombings, and located within the Soviet zone of occupation, the statues were dismantled from their pedestal and put into storage.

[The marble statues at their original location, both sides of the Neue Wache as seen in 1939, just before the outbreak of the war and the incoming Armageddon of the city.]

[Photo by A. Frankl / Bundesarchiv B 145 Bild-P014770.].

[The ruined Neue Wache at Unter den Linden as seen in 1946, notice one of the Prussian statues at right.]

[Photo: © Bildarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz.].

In 1961, the statue of Scharnhorst was placed in its current situation next to the Opera, re-established by the DDR government. Later, the Scharnhorst Monument was restored in 1990 after the German reunification and rebuilt in 2002, set up again with the statue of von Bülow, which has been stored since 1950.

But … where did the 3 original statues on the roadside of the Opera go?

The trio of Generals von Wartenburg, von Blücher and von Gneisenau was re-established in 1961 in the back garden of the Opera: the so-called Prinzessinnengarten (‘Garden of the princesses’). Today they are still located there but in different place, recently restored after the reformation workings on the Staatsoper started in 2009 and with a new design of the adjacent area including a square and gardens.

[Denkmal für Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher. This is a view of the figure and base before re-erection in 1961.]

[Photo by Roland Handrick. SLUB /Deutsche Fotothek (df_hauptkatalog_0146393).]

[The current location of the original three statues set, now at the Prinzessinnengarten, designed by landscape architect Birgit Hammer. Notice that the pink facade of the Opera house is barely visible behind.]

[Photo by Bernd Lampe, 2007.].

[Berlin’s Staatsoper den Linden with the Prussian statues at left as seen today.]

[Photo by the author. 2018.]

The reasons behind these statues have not been re-established at their original location by Berlin authorities is unknown, but at least they are all intact and exposed to the visitor, and not stored in an old warehouse as happened after the war.


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Source:

  • Berlin: Staatsoper Unter den Linden. CARTHALIA - Theatres on Postcards. Andreas Praefcke’s postcard collection of theatres and concert halls worldwide
    <http://www.andreas-praefcke.de/carthalia/germany/berlin_staatsoper.htm>
  • Einhard, Luther.(2012). Oper in Berlin – Heiß umkämpft und stets unter Feuer. Pro Business.
  • Freydank, Ruth. (1988). Theater in Berlin: von den Anfängen bis 1945. Berlin.
  • Friedrich, Jörg. (2002). Der Brand: Deutschland im Bombenkrieg 1940-1945. Propylaen Verlag, Zweigniederlassung der Ullstein.
  • Kellerhoff, Sven F. (2011). Berlin im Krieg: Eine Generation erinnert sich. BASTEIBBE.
  • Middlebrook, Martin. (2014). The Bomber Command War Diaries: An Operational Reference Book. Casemate Publishers and Book Distributors.
  • Moorhouse, Roger. (2011). Berlin at war. Life and death in Hitler’s capital, 1939-45. Vintage Books, London.
  • Overy, Richard. (2013). The Bombing War: Europe, 1939-1945. Allen Lane.
  • SCHLOSSDEBATE. <Wie wurde die Staatsoper in der DDR rekonstruiert? <http://schlossdebatte.de/>
  • STAATSOPER UNTER DEN LINDEN <https://www.staatsoper-berlin.de>

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