No place for Lenin - Platz der Vereinten Nationen (Leninplatz)

It's a striking scene in the 2003 film 'Good Bye, Lenin!' where the huge Lenin statue is lifted up by helicopter and flies off over the city, pointing as it goes. As you might imagine, the scene was invented for the film, but there was a Lenin statue in Berlin and it did meet a fairly bizarre fate.

It was in 1950 that the former Landsberger Platz was given the name Leninplatz by the GDR, a name it would keep until 1992, when it became Platz der Vereinten Nationen (united nations square). A competition was held in 1967 to find a new scheme for the rebuilding of the square, which was won by a collective led by Hermann Henselmann and Heinz Mehlan.

What the pair presented was an experiment with prefabricated building parts, moving away from the standard rectangular building shapes towards more creative designs. It consists of a 77 metre tower block on one corner, plus a pair of curvy, longer blocks, one s-shaped, the other boomerang shaped, taking up the adjacent two corners. The fourth corner is home to a small low-rise supermarket building and a conventional rectangular housing block.

If that all seems a bit hard to visualise, this view from the Fernsehturm gives a good idea of how it's all laid out (I hope you'll forgive me for not including it here - as it's a summer picture, it didn't really seem to quite belong here).

At the development's focal point is a pile of rocks. Actually, it's a fountain in the summer, but it's a fountain amongst a pile of rocks. If that strikes you as an odd thing to put there, that would be because it replaces something that proved far more controversial: a 19 metre high statue of Lenin.

The statue was created by Russian sculptor Nikolai Tomsky from red Ukrainian granite and stood in front of the tower block at Leninplatz between 1970 and 1991. Of course, post-German unification, a giant statue of the founding father of the Soviet Union wasn't really something the authorities wanted in their city. As a result, they did something quite strange in 1991: they dismantled it and buried it in a sand pit to the south east of Berlin. While it was claimed that this was to stop it attracting any of the wrong kind of attention, to me it seems to have elements of a strange superstitious ritual.

They put the current fountain in its place, with boulders for each continent of the world. I can't say it provides the same sort of focal point. Considering how a number of East Berlin's tower blocks have been crowned with the logos of global brands since unification, I can't help wondering how it would have been if they'd just replaced Lenin's head with Ronald McDonald's instead - at least then the square would still have had a focal point.

Even without Lenin, there's something striking about the whole development. The tower block was the tallest residential building in the GDR and still seems fairly imposing now, while the coloured panels on the curved buildings lend them an almost Mondrian-like edge (though some of those are modern additions - the tower block was originally bare concrete). Either way, it's an interesting experiment and one which is now a protected monument. With any luck, that might mean that nobody buries it in a sand pit any time soon.

Platz der Vereinten Nationen 10249 Berlin


Made me smile when you mention how talkative Berliners are. I realized that too and really love it. It is possible to engage almost everyone almost everywhere in conversation.

This reminds me of the fate of the Stalin Statue that used to stand in the Stalinallee (now Frankfurter Allee) after it was secretly disposed of on the 14. November 1961.

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