The Biggest Monument in Europe

Did you know that the largest monument in Europe is in Leipzig? And why would Leipzig have such a big monument? We need to take a look back at history: Napoleonic times. The biggest battle of the French Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, happened in Leipzig. Yes! You heard it right. It didn’t happen in Russia (Borodino) or in Belgium (Waterloo) but in Leipzig, which is located in the former East Germany.


The Monument to the Battle of Nations or “Völkerschlachtdenkmal” -as you know, German is a complicated language-  is the most known landmark of Leipzig. Even the German railway company Deutsche Bahn added it to its most famous ad campaign Discover Germany (Palenque Mexiko). Not as old as the Mexican monument, but still quite impressive: with its 91 meters height, the Volki (short name that we love) it is considered as the largest monument in Europe. More than 300 thousand people visit the monument every year.

The Monument to the Battle of Nations, photo: Matej Eber

The Battle of the Nations

It was the biggest battle in European history before World War l. This Battle happened one year after Napoleon's unsuccessful invasion of Russia. 4 Kingdoms, (Russia, Austria, Prussia and Sweden) had to join forces to stand a chance against Napoleon. The battle  took place between the 16th and the 19th of October in 1813. After 4 days of intense combat Napoleon was defeated. Around 600.000 people were fighting and more than 100.000 men lost their lives.  Few months later Napoleon was exiled to the island of Elba, but returned to power and was defeated one more time in the Battle of Waterloo. In comparison, the Battle of the Nations was 3 times bigger than the Battle of Waterloo.

Overview of the Battlefield in 1813 (Source: open)

The growth of nationalism in Germany 

We all know what happened during the Nazi times in Germany, but nationalism actually started growing in 19th century. Germany is a young country and was for the first time reunified in 1871. Besides language they didn’t have so much common culture so they were searching for their identity. 

The Battle of the Nations was the first big battle where many german speaking people were fighting together against their common enemy. Some even called this battle The battle of Liberations. In 1894 the Association of German Patriots decided to build a gigantic monument on the 100th anniversary of the Battle. The monument was also finished just one year before the start of World War One to mock where French were defeated. 

Construction

It is hard to imagine how hard it was to build such an impressive structure more than 100 years ago. In 1895 the City of Leipzig donated 40.000 square metre of land, which is almost 7 big football pitches. The construction started in 1898 and was finished in 1913 and the monument cost around 6 million marks. Taking into account that the average salary at that time was 60 marks per month, it is quite a big number. 

It has a height of 91 meter and a weight of 300 thousand tonnes, which is almost 30 times heavier than the Eiffel Tower (10.100 tons). Around 90% of the monument is concrete and the rest are 26.500 Granite blocks and sandstone.

Construction of the Monument in 1910 (Source: Völkerschlachtdenkmal, Stadtgeschichtliches Museum Leipzig, 2000)
The opening ceremony was celebrated with more than 100.000 people on 18th of October 1913 (Source: Völkerschlachtdenkmal, Stadtgeschichtliches Museum Leipzig, 2000)

Style and design 

It is definitely one of the most nationalistic monuments in Europe. It has an archaic style that reminds us of Egypt or Mesopotamia and you will find a gigantic archangel Michael who is also the only archangel in protetestant religion and is the protector of Germany. Next to him there is a flying Eagle. The architect of the monument is Bruno Schmitz, the most famous German architect for gigantic national monuments.

In front of the monument there is a small artificial lake as a memorial for all the blood that was spilled during the battle. It is definitely worth it to go on the top. I hope you are in good shape because it takes 500 steps! Of course you can also take an elevator but this is cheating 😉 Whatever you choose: on the top you will have an amazing view. Inside the building there are more platforms. On the bottom you will find a memorial of the fallen soldiers, in the middle there is an impressive hall of fame where you see the four German values: Strength, Sacrifice, Fertility and Faith. 

In front of the Monument, Archangel Michael with a flaming sword defending a German land (Photo: Matej Eber)
Inside the Monument, The Hall of Fame - simbol of faith (Photo: Matej Eber)

During the Third Reich

This nationalistic monument was definitely one of Hitlers favorite spots. He used it for his speeches and his military paredes. During the Second World Word it was used as a stronghold. Many books were also stored there and it was where the last American battle happened in Germany. 

Adolf Hitler in front of the Monument in 1933 (Source: Völkerschlachtdenkmal, Stadtgeschichtliches Museum Leipzig, 2000)

From 1945 onwards

During the DDR they wanted to destroy the monument because it represented nationalism in the German empire. However, they finally decided to keep it because Germany and Russian were fighting together.

In 2002 a restoration started and finished in 2019. Today it is used for many activities including concerts. If you want to learn more about the battle and the monument come and visit Leipzig! And do not forget to join our special Napoleon Tour. 🙂 

Free Walking Tour Leipzig Team, photo: Justina Smile

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