FEATURE-Russian graffiti in Reichstag raises hackles
By Sophie Taylor and Clifford Coonan
BERLIN, Jan 26 (Reuters) - When Russian soldiers raised the red flag above
Berlin's Reichstag in 1945 to signal the end of the Third Reich, victorious
troops scrawled their feelings on the walls of the historic building.
Among obscene sexual references to Adolf Hitler stand the angry words
daubed in charcoal: "You got what was coming to you, you sons of dogs!" and
"It's you who ended up in the shit, you fascists, not Russia!"
But now a group of conservative politicians wants to remove a large part of
the graffiti and replace it with German national symbols which present a
more favourable image of Germany.
Nearly 80,000 Russian soldiers died and more than a quarter of a million
were wounded in the battle for Berlin in May 1945.
Revenge was high on the list of Red Army's list of priorities when it
finally fought its way to the Reichstag, a potent symbol of the Third
But the graffiti contains poignancy too. "Blessed are the dead for their
hands do not freeze," reads one message.
Johannes Singhammer of Bavaria's Christian Social Union has proposed
removing part of the graffiti because he says it is a burden on relations
between Germany and Russia.
"We don't want to remove the graffiti totally, but partially replace it
with German symbols like the constitution, portraits of former heads of
state, and regional shields," he said.
Singhammer says the graffiti and lack of German national symbols make the
Reichstag seem like a temporary, rather than established, parliamentary
"There are not enough German things there. It's confusing to people," said
Singhammer, who is head of a parliamentary of group of 69 deputies who want
the words covered up.
COMMEMORATION OF SOVIET DEAD
The graffiti resurfaced seven years ago during the four-year renovation of
the Reichstag by British architect Norman Foster, but he decided to leave
it there to commemorate the Soviet dead.
The smudged Cyrillic letters and defiant warlike phrases stand in sharp
contrast to Foster's sleek and airy building, topped by a huge glass dome
which symbolises 50 years of transparent federal democracy.
Some of the more graphic sexual references to Germans have embarrassed
visiting Russian dignitaries on occasion.
"Ivan was here, 1945" is scribbled many times on the walls of the
parliament building erected during the Prussian era of the Iron Chancellor
Otto von Bismarck.
Russia's ambassador to Berlin, Sergei Krylov, wants the graffiti to stay.
"This is an extremely dangerous trend," he said. "Those people who want to
destroy the graffiti also want to let the commemoration of millions of dead
Soviet troops sink into oblivion."
REFLECTION OF HISTORY
Tourists visiting the Reichstag back keeping the graffiti.
"I think that the graffiti is a reflection of that era," said Hans-Bert
Mingers, an architect from Alsdorf in western Germany.
Bernd Dahlmann, 56, a pensioner from Lahnstein said: "The insults and the
hate belong to that historical period."
Younger visitors agreed. "I would keep it -- it's a part of history, and
there is enough modern art in the building as it is," said Miriam, a
24-year-old student from Hanover.
Efforts to reduce the Russian influence on the Reichstag's gleaming halls
and replace it with more Germanic artefacts have found little resonance
among the ruling Social Democrats.
Gernot Erler, deputy parliamentary leader of the party, described the
proposal to remove the graffiti as "small-minded and provincial."
"It reminds us of the terrible consequences of the Nazi period, and the
liberation at the end of the dictatorship and the war," Erler said.
After German unification in 1990, the parliament was moved from Bonn to its
traditional seat in Berlin. Originally built in 1894, the Reichstag is
widely perceived as the birthplace of German democracy during the Bismarck
era of Prussian rule.