In Flanders, the name Käthe Kollwitz is nearly always associated with The Grieving Parents, the famous pair of sculptures at the German military cemetery in Vladslo. In Berlin, people are more inclined to think of the Pietà (Mother with Dead Son) in the Neue Wache on Unter den Linden.
In Flanders, the name Käthe Kollwitz is nearly always associated with The Grieving Parents, the famous pair of sculptures at the German military cemetery in Vladslo. In Berlin, people are more inclined to think of the Pietà (Mother with Dead Son) in the Neue Wache on Unter den Linden.On 12 September 1990, the treaty was signed unifying East and West Germany. This was made visible in the most spectacular way by the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. The Brandenburg Gate was opened and Unter den Linden once again became the main street of Berlin. Three years later, in 1993, the Neue Wache on Unter den Linden became the East German memorial for the victims of war and the tyranny of the Federal German Republic. Chancellor Helmut Kohl had an enlarged bronze replica of Käthe Kollwitz’s Pietà sculpture placed there.
This decision became the subject of much political controversy. The building was emotionally loaded as it had been the symbol of the kingdom of Prussia. The socialist Weimar Republic turned it into a memorial for the victims of World War I, and in World War II the Nazis transformed it into a place of honour for the fallen of that war.
Later in the twentieth century, Käthe Kollwitz was not much loved in the West German art world. She was considered a highly conservative artist and her popularity was attributed as a response to the artist as a person. Her pathos and empathy with proletarian poverty was no longer compatible with the ironic and hedonistic sense of self of the modern German artist.
In East Germany, however, Kollwitz was used as a national heroine and figurehead of social realism. In the West, her iconic poster Nie wieder Krieg was often used during leftist demonstrations. That this figurehead of leftism should be recuperated as a symbol of German reunification and, logically, also of the fall of communist Germany, was hard to digest.
Nevertheless, Kollwitz, who died before the end of the war, was in no way affiliated with communism. In her diaries she often wrote about the political independence of art, and although she was a great humanitarian and pacifist her nature was conservative, in life as in art.
Her tireless social commitment as the wife of a doctor in a poor working-class environment and the power of her empathic art meant that she was a hero of the people in pre-Nazi Germany.
It is hard to envisage a finer emblem for the reunification of Germany.