In the middle of last year, presidential candidate Barack Obama gave a speech in Germany which caused a controversy among its pundits. The International Herald Tribune reported that his choice of site was less than inspired. Indeed, Obama had chosen to speak at the base of a monument associated with the Nazis.
BERLIN: The decision by Senator Barack Obama to speak at a landmark monument in Berlin this Thursday has opened up yet another controversy, with conservative and opposition politicians saying the site recalls Germany’s Nazi past and Prussia’s militaristic tradition.
Obama is planning to address what organizers expect will be huge crowds at the Siegessäule, or Victory Column, which is located in the center of a long and busy intersection that straddles the lush, public Tiergarten gardens and stretches up to the Brandenburg Gate.
The monument in question is the Victory Column in Berlin. You can see a picture of the column by following the link and a larger one from Wikipedia is after the “Read More”. At the summit of the column is the statue of Viktoria. Wikipedia has an article describing the history of the column and Obama’s speech before it.
Of course, the statue and the column are inanimate objects and have a complex history of associations. As Wikipedia explains the cultural connections of the monument include movies, rock groups, Obama and the SS.
The column is featured in Wim Wenders’ film Wings of Desire as being a place where angels congregate. The golden statue atop the column was featured in the music video to U2’s “Stay (Faraway, So Close!)” and inspired Paul van Dyk’s 1998 trance music hit, “For an Angel”; the column was also featured in his music video during the Love Parade in 1998. “El Ángel” in Mexico City bears a more than passing resemblance to the Berlin victory column, while both echo the earlier examples of the victory column crowned by an angel, notably the Alexander Column in Saint Petersburg. (A full description and history in the terms of true European history that is not necessarily limited to angels is given on the http://www.monument-tales.de )
The Victory Column served as the location for Barack Obama’s speech in Berlin during his visit to Germany on July 24, 2008. The choice of site was somewhat controversial in Germany as it symbolises German war victories in the past and is still seen as a Nazi symbol. Obama talked about cooperation between the United States and Europe in the speech and ended his speech with these lines: “With an eye toward the future, with resolve in our hearts, let us remember this history, and answer our destiny, and remake the world once again.”
The unfortunate statue of Viktoria was the subject of the SS marching song, Seig Heil, Viktoria, one of the more catchy Nazi marches, represented in video below. Notice how happy the crowds were. Another Wikipedia entry notes the the Sieg Heil expression and its association with Viktoria:
The expression itself is older than Nazism as it is a salute to Lady Victory, or Victoria, atop the Berlin Victory Column. A popular marching song of the Nazi period was “Sieg Heil Viktoria”, attributed to the SS. It has been said that Joseph Goebbels used “Sieg Heil” in a meeting and all supported the phrase (however an early associate of Hitler, Ernst Hanfstängl, claimed to have devised its use for the Nazi Party). Since Nazism argued that war was a way to determine the superior race and that Germans were that superior race, hailing war was to hail the struggle that would eliminate all others and establish, in a social Darwinist manner, the “New Order.”
When we take the place of our elders and tread in their footsteps, we somehow think ourselves above the mistakes of past. Take the Depression. For sixty years the memory of the Great Depression was implicitly accompanied by the assumption that we would never be so foolish as to find ourselves in it again. That was what grainy people in old news reels had to suffer through. But humanity’s basest passions change but little and consequently we often reprise the mistakes of the past. The Nazi era is reminder of the mass manias that can grip an educated people — the most educated people in Europe — in the aftermath of despair, when every father of that nation sought a safe harbor and thought he found it in Hitler, only to find the horrors of a World War. Sieg Heil Viktoria. That’s a long way from God Bless America, but not so very far from God Damn America.