Episode 284 – The Cemetery As A Stage

Berlin is full of statues, monuments, and memorials related to both positive and negative historical events; history is intentionally not forgotten here, so that lessons can be learned from it.

Ted and I often visit old cemeteries when we travel, and I’ve always thought of them as another window into history, but a couple of days ago we were given a different perspective: the cemetery as a “stage” on which the (admittedly dead) actors can continue to dazzle their audience with their achievements by way of imposing monuments and flowery inscriptions.

Only 1 km from our apartments is the Dorotheenstädtischer Friedhof (Dorothea’s City Cemetery), named after Dorothea, the second wife of the “Great Elector” Friedrich Wilhelm, where the gravestones and memorials read like a Who’s Who of Germany’s intellectual elite. A walk through this fairly small cemetery, which was opened in 1762, is a walk through German cultural history; this is where important figures from Hegel to Brecht were laid to rest.

While Ted and I didn’t recognize many of the names on the larger monuments, they often had detailed descriptions of the deceased’s accomplishments engraved on them so that we’d be sure to realize how important they had been in life.

The cemetery adjoins the original French Huguenot Cemetery of Berlin, with the two sections separated by a wall with an entrance at either end.

Because we didn’t instinctively know who was noteworthy and who wasn’t, Ted’s photos focus on the graves that he and I found most interesting. Among others, we completely missed philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, but we did take note of some prominent players in late 18th and early 19th century Imperial governments, as well as some more recent names from literature and media.

One of our favourites was the happy looking bust of JOHANNES GRUTZKE (1937-2017). His gravestone reads: MAUER. BILDHAUER. DICHTER. REDNER. ERLEBNISGEIGER. VATER EHEMANN UND FREUND. (Builder, sculptor, poet, speaker, “Erlebnisgeiger” (a member of a Berlin underground literary and music society of that name), father, husband, and friend). He was a famous artist in Germany and Europe, and looks like someone it would have been really interesting to know.

Several of the more recent graves featured busts, rather than statues or cameos. One such was Heinrich Mann, a German novelist (and brother of Thomas Mann, the 1929 Nobel Prize winner for literature). Although Heinrich fled to the U.S. to escape Nazi persecution, and died in Santa Monica, he is buried in Berlin.

Christoph Meckel (1935-2020) was a multi-award winning Getman author and graphic artist, whose gravestone reminded us of Han Solo encased in carbonite by Boba Fett in Star Wars.

The master builder Friedrich Hitzig (1811-1881) was a great-grandson of Daniel Itzig (1723-1799), banker to Friedrich II and an important figure of the Enlightenment in Prussia. The Mausoleum Hitzig (above) is the final resting place of the important Jewish architect Friedrich Hitzig and his family. In terms of cultural history, it is one of the most important monuments in the cemetery. It is also the only monument to feature frescoes.

Peter Louis Ravené’s tomb features a gilded ceiling and guardian angels. Ravené was a descendant of Huguenot refugees from France, and is buried in the French side of the cemetery. He was an ironmonger, but by the end of his life had established himself as a major patron of the arts.

Stüler’s plinth describes him as the “secret chief architect of the King”. I’m not sure why it is worded that way, since it was no secret at all that King Frederick William IV of Prussia officially designated him Royal architect in 1842.

Ole Christiansen was a philosopher, photographer, painter and graphic artist.

A more classically beautiful monument was at Franz Bendel’s gravesite. Bendel was a Bohemian German pianist and composer who died of typhoid at age 41 (in 1874) while on tour in Boston, but was returned to Berlin for burial.

The cemetery’s monuments range from old to new, ornate to simple,traditional to avant-garde. It’s interesting that the monument of a linguist and folklorist like Wolfgang Steinitz looks like it has no connection at all to folk tradition.

Honestly, we have no idea. The grave marker simply says “Martin”. No dates. No other names. But – admit it – you’re curious too, right?

Lots and lots of other personages left their mark on this cemetery “stage”. Until today, the names below meant nothing to me. Now I feel as if I know a tiny bit more about Berlin through these people.

Top row L to R: (1) Friedrich Anton Hermann Schievelbein (1817-1867) sculptor, professor, and member of the Royal Academy of the Arts. His wife Marie also buried here. (2) August Boeckh (1785-1867), German classical scholar and antiquarian. (3) the ornately fenced plot of the Rudolf Ferdinand Rofseck family. The plot is one of the most impressive in the cemetery, yet I couldn’t find out what made the family either wealthy or important enough to merit such a tribute.

Centre row L to R: (1) Peter Christoph Wilhelm Beuth (1781-1853), a Prussian statesman credited for much of the Prussian industrial renewal in the early 19th century (2) Max Spitta (1842-1902), the German/Prussian architect of over a dozen beautiful churches in Berlin and the surrounding areas.
(3) Johann Friedrich August Borsig (1804-1854), a German businessman who founded the Borsig-Werke locomotive and railroad machinery manufacturing factory.

Bottom row L to R: (1) Carl Friedrich Rungenhagen (1775-1851), Professor,composer, music teacher, member of the senate of the Royal Academy of the Arts, Director of the Sing-Academy of Berlin.
(2) the family plot of the Schwartkopf family, with its inscription “love never ends”. The patriarch, Louis Victor Robert Schwartzkopf (1825-1892) was a German entrepreneur and founder of the Berlin Mechanical Engineering Company (BMAG).
(3) Johann Heinrich Strack (1805-1853) was the German architect a German architect who designed the Berlin Victory Column.

There were also several quite nondescript common graves, maintained by the city within the cemetery, containing casualties of the Battle of Berlin in 1945. The marker below lists the names of 44 of the people buried there, with the sobering words at the bottom “20 more remain unidentified”. There are similar mass grave markers in each of Berlin’s major cemeteries. War, too, is a stage, on which are played out human tragedies.

Of all the people buried here who were familiar with being “on stage”, Bertold Brecht is certainly one of the most well-known ones to visitors here. His writing, plays, and musical collaborations are famous world-wide. Who doesn’t know “Mack the Knife” ? And yet, his grave marker , a rough-hewn rock in a shadowy corner (beside his wife’s) is strangely modest.

If, as Jaques says in Shakespeare’s As You Like It, “all the world’s a stage”, then I suppose it’s only natural that not everyone wants to step off it without leaving an imprint.

5 comments

  1. In the Pietà, Christ is looking away from Mary. Do you know why? I read about the symbolism but forgot

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  2. I discovered your blog when I started following some on the world cruise. (I was curious to see what that kind of cruise was like.) I have really enjoyed your adventures! As a retired European history teacher, I loved your pictures and comments today (although I would’ve been excited to see Hegel’s monument in the cemetery). Thanks so much for taking us with you on your journeys!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. When your world cruise ended I felt somewhat bereft when your blog ended too. Imagine my delight to see it resurrected. I so enjoy reading your blog Rose and appreciate the time and effort both of you make in putting it together. Living in the UK, where there has been much political theatre in recent days, what a pleasure it is to see another instalment waiting to be read when opening up my email. Thank you so much.

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