Berlin blocks unearthing of giant Lenin statue head

BERLIN Thu Aug 21, 2014 8:55am EDT

A statue of Soviet state founder Vladimir Lenin stands in the yard of a removal company on the Western side of the former Berlin Wall borderline at the Spree river in Berlin July 14, 2009. The sign reads: ''sale''.  REUTERS/Thomas Peter

A statue of Soviet state founder Vladimir Lenin stands in the yard of a removal company on the Western side of the former Berlin Wall borderline at the Spree river in Berlin July 14, 2009. The sign reads: ''sale''.

Credit: Reuters/Thomas Peter

BERLIN (Reuters) - German authorities have blocked plans to excavate a 3.5 tonne granite head of Vladimir Lenin for display in a new Berlin museum due to logistical and cost concerns, the organizers of the exhibition and local media said.

The head was part of a famous 19-metre high statue of Lenin, founder of the Soviet state. It was demolished in 1991, two years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, broken into 129 parts and then buried in a forest on the outskirts of the city.

Monuments from Germany's Nazi and Communist eras are due to go on show in 2015 in the Spandau Citadel, a fortress in western Berlin, alongside other artifacts dating back to Prussian times in an exhibition of unpopular political monuments.

"The department of monument protection thinks it is not possible to find the location of the head," said exhibition organizer Andrea Theissen. "But that's not true, we know where it is."

Nobody from the city government was immediately available for comment, but the Berliner Zeitung daily quoted one official, Joerg Haspel, as saying the head should not be put on display without the other parts of the body.

"The location of the head and other parts cannot be precisely pinpointed," Haspel told the newspaper, adding that unearthing them all would require "comprehensive excavations" which would add greatly to the total costs of such a project.

The row highlights Germany's struggle to deal with its troubled past. After 1989 Berliners tore down many reminders of Communist rule in the former East Germany but in the last few years there have been calls for some to be resurrected.

The sight of the huge Lenin monument being ferried by helicopter above Berlin was famously dramatized in the popular 2003 film "Goodbye, Lenin!"

"Everybody knows this head, so of course we need this exhibit," Theissen said.

REMEMBERING THE PAST

Historian Alexander Koch said including the monument in the exhibition would improve awareness of the city's communist past.

"Regarding the conception of the display, I think the question of whether only the head or the whole statue is presented is irrelevant," Koch, president of the German Historical Museum, told Reuters.

"The exposition of the monument would be a great opportunity to sharpen the senses and especially the historical consciousness of today's visitors," he added.

Theissen, who says the exhibition "Revealed: Berlin and its monuments" is not about glorifying the past but educating younger generations, objected to leaving the artifact exposed to pilferers, saying she had heard one ear had already been stolen.

The head would have accompanied sculptures commissioned by Kaiser Wilhelm II which once adorned Berlin's "Victory Avenue". They were buried under Bellevue Palace, now home to Germany's president, after World War Two and unearthed in the 1970s.

"People didn't know what to do with such monuments," Theissen said. "So they put them underground and hoped people forgot about them."

(Reporting By Helen Cahill; Editing by Madeline Chambers and Gareth Jones)