CONTRIBUTED BY SARAH FORTE
Rewind over 200 years. It’s mid-October 1813 in Leipzig. Across the ocean, James Madison is the President of the United States. In Leipzig, Germany as we know it doesn’t exist (Germany didn’t because a nation until 1870) and the city is the site of the battle between Napoleon and his troops and the Sixth Coalition. It was the largest European battle until World War I. It was called the Battle of the Nations and involved troops from all parts of Europe from Portugal to Russia, Sweden to Italy.
The battle ends with a victory for the Coalition. Napoleon is forced to order his troops to retreat. It’s a turning point in the war and eventually Napoleon is driven back to France and then into exile on Elba.
The city of Leipzig has had a front row seat to a major world event. Over 100,000 men were wounded, killed, missing or captured in the fields surrounding the town. Like any city that has been the site of a major historical event, they immediately started to wonder how to commemorate the event.
It took them awhile to figure it out. There were many plans on what to build that would be suitable. An author from Leipzig suggested, “a large and magnificent (monument), like a colossus, a pyramid, or the cathedral of Cologne.” But there were no definite plans made or followed through. Fifty years after the battle a corner stone was laid for to start a monument, but nothing further was added.
In 1894, they started to get serious about building. Plans were drawn, funds were raised (one of the biggest money raisers turned out to be a lottery – some things never change) and a site was chosen. The site was the place where Napoleon had finally ordered his troops to retreat. Finally in 1898 construction began.
The monument was finished in 1913, a century after the battle, and it truly is a “large and magnificent” monument. The best way to appreciate how large and magnificent is to visit the tower. You can appreciate the art-nouveau architecture and climb the 364 steps to the viewing platform at the top. Along the way you can listen to the history of the monument.
Here’s a recap of our trip: Parking was easy and free. There is a large, free, gravel parking lot. It is on the far end of a reflecting pond and a great start to the visit. From there we could see the whole monument, take some pictures and start walking closer to the monument.
The visitor center is to the left of the entrance. Inside we purchased tickets to see the monument and audio guides to help us appreciate our visit. We could have also purchased tickets to the museum on site, which commemorates the Battle of Leipzig. We didn’t visit the museum this time around.
If you are short on time, you can visit the outside of the monument without tickets of course. You can also climb to the first balcony with exterior stairs and this will give you a quick view of the exterior of the monument.
The audio guide has a few stops on the outside of the monument to help explain the original battle and the century between the battle and the completion of the monument. It is told through the perspective of one of the designers.
Once we entered the monument, our first stop was a wordless video presentation about the history of the monument up through 2013, the 200th anniversary of the battle and the 100th anniversary of the monument. From this stop you can also look into the guts of the monument’s foundation. It was originally built on a rubbish heap, but eventually the garbage needed to be cleared out – partially because of the smell! Pilings were driven down to secure the foundation and now this space is large and cavernous.
The next main level is called the “Krypta” or Crypt. It’s not the final resting spot for any of those lost in the battle, but in their memory. Here is where we started to see the enormity of the monument from the inside. Our eyes rose to the layers above us eventually to the domed top of the giant space.
Then it was time to start our cardio workout of the day. The stairs kept coming and we huffed our way up to the “Sangergalerie” or Singer’s Gallery. From there we could look down on the “Ruhmeshalle” or Hall of Fame. We could also look up and realize that our workout was only half done. There was still a lot of space between us and the top! There’s only one thing to do – get a move on it!
The next stop is the “Stifterkuppel” or Founder’s Dome. This level was only a round (netted for safety) hole looking down on the monument. After that we got the green light to proceed to our final destination – the top!
As we were catching our breath we could look out on the city of Leipzig. The audio guide does a good job of orientating you so you know what you are looking at. It also points out what the city would have looked like during the last two centuries.
A word (or more) about the stairs and going up and down: It’s a tight squeeze on most of the trip up and down. There is no passing in most sections. Between landings it’s easy to get clumped up between the slowest mover. So if you are claustrophobic, or can’t handle stairs, you can take an elevator to the lower levels. I wouldn’t suggest the rest. Strollers are out.
The monument’s stairs are designed that there is one way up and one way down – usually on separate sets of stairs. I can’t imagine if we would have had to deal with two-way traffic. For the last set of stairs between the founders’ dome and the observation platform, there is a red light/green light system so that the single stairway is used by either up or downwards traffic at one time.
The architecture of the monument is very art-nouveau and expressive of the mentality of pre-World War II Germany. Germany as a whole is considered more highly than the individuals. Sacrifice is a virtue. The sheer size of the monument as a whole, but even each individual statue and relief, humble the mini-humans walking around in and outside. The space muffles your individual voice.
This is definitely one of the grand monuments of Germany and worth a trip up the 364 steps!
Tips For Your Trip:
April – October
November – March
School students and children under 6: Free
€1.00 per guide
(You will need to leave a form of identification behind to insure you return the audio guide. If you are a military family, remember your OPSEC and don’t leave a DoD I.D.)
Audio tours are in German, English, Spanish and French, there is also a special option for German-speaking children.
For that price, I don’t think it’s worth sharing!
Straße des 18 Oktober 100,
Tram route 15 from Leipzig central station to “Völkerschlachtdenkmal” stop