Controversal Memorials. The „Age of the Monument“ in Saxony, 1871-1933

Research: Sönke Friedreich

In Germany, the years around 1900 were the great time of monuments. While, in 1818, only 18 public statues were counted, in 1883 there were already about 800, with the majority of these monuments erected in towns. Although the number of critical voices increased since the turn of the century, and terms like “monument rage” or “monument plague” came up, the number of monuments again grew considerably until the outbreak of the First World War: for emperor Wilhelm I and Otto von Bismarck alone, between 800 to 900 monuments were erected until 1918. After the First World War, commemoration changed from personality cult to remembrance of fallen soldiers. In almost every larger town, but also in smaller municipalities, monuments of different size and form were installed. Many of those erected in Saxony referring to the Wars of Unification and the First World War resp. depicting national and regional heroes are no longer existent. Firstly, the destruction of the Second World war did not spare the monuments, and secondly, memorials were dismantled for political reasons. Today, the relation of the material memorial to newer (virtual) kinds of remembrance culture, leads to relevant questions about the approach to monuments as a public cultural asset. In a wider historical context, not only the monuments themselves as symbolic signs and carrier of meaning are of interest, but the concrete actions and discourses that led to their planning and erection as well.

The project explores the negotiation processes around the erection of monuments, the direction they took in Saxony, and the importance they possessed in the local and regional context. On the basis of selected examples, it will be analyzed which interest groups participated in the monument discourse, which arguments were used pro and contra the erection of monuments, and how the interaction of local conditions and supra-local discourse on monuments functioned.