Riding my bike down Behren Str., I was surprised to see that the Vladimir Lenin head that used to be on a swimming pool facade behind the Russian Embassy had been removed. It couldn’t have been that long ago, it’s still intact on Google’s street-view:
East Berlin was very important for the Soviet Union so it was very important to have prominent depictions of Lenin there. The most well known and largest one was carved from red Ukranian granite and towered over Leninplatz:
In 1991-92, the statue was dismantled and buried in 129 pieces in a forest on the outskirts of the city. The plaza has been renamed the United Nations Square and now holds this rather unassuming, gurgling fountain/sculpture/rock formation:
Many East Berliners tried to prevent the Lenin statue’s demolition (one giant hand-painted banner hung on the statue read: “To the West German occupying forces -are you even afraid of a stone Lenin?”). The poignancy of its removal was depicted in the 2003 block-buster comedy “Goodbye Lenin” about a family coming to terms with the end of the GDR:
Back to Behren Str. though, what’s surprising is that the Lenin head lasted so long. Just a block away another head of Lenin graced the garden of the Russian Embassy on Unter den Linden. I never saw it though, because by the mid-90s a box had been built around it. This fascinated me, since I knew that facing the back of the embassy was the swimming pool Lenin. Why cover one and not the other?
Of course back then, the Russian Embassy had only just stopped being the USSR Embassy. The swimming pool on Behren Str. was part of a network of buildings built for Soviet citizens in Berlin to work and play in. I was inside the swimming pool once in 2000. There was a spa, a sauna and a lounge with large blue lava-lamps. The pool itself was in a white tiled room that had definitely seen better days. I remember that classical music was piped into the hall, so that every time I lifted my head from the water to take a breath, I would could hear a tinny orchestra bouncing off the rotting tile.
Now the pool is closed and Lenin is gone. According to the Tagesspiegel, the building is being renovated but no one is sure if Lenin will be back. The article calls it “one of the last Lenin heads in Berlin.” Are there still others?
As an interesting footnote, there is an effort afoot to exhume the head of the Leninplatz statue for an exhibition of all the buried and forgotten sculptures in the city. The Spandauer Citadel is planning the show called “Revealed: Berlin and its Monuments,” which will contain works from the 19th century to the present. This means sculptures of Queen Luisa, Aryan idols and Lenin will all stand next to each other inside a 16th century fortress -exactly the mixed-nut history that makes me love Berlin.
The metaphor of the city’s buried past resurfacing is too perfect. I am certain that the Behren St. Lenin will also reappear someday.