Ernst Thälmann Memorial

Within Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin, there stands a memorial dedicated to a figure responsible for much of the success in the rise of communism during the early 1900s. The East German government replaced a defunct industrial area with a park named after the well known communist activist, Ernst Thälmann. Created by Soviet artist Lev Kerbel, the 14-metre high sculpture at the centre of the park took 5 years to complete.

Ernst Thälmann was born in the 1880s to a working-class family. After his primary education, he worked as an unskilled worker, despite a desire to become a teacher. After a number of years, he served his time during World War I. He later claimed to have fought in many of the major events of the Great War, the battles of; the Somme, Cambrai and Arras, to name a few.

Thälmann deserted his post in 1917 with four other soldiers as part of the German Revolution. Upon his return home to Hamburg, he became a member of the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany. With this group, he spread awareness of the benefits of socialism after the change from Federal to Democratic power through the revolution.

Later in his political career, he moved towards communism alongside a change in party majority in Germany. A void grew between the extreme right and left-wing political groups in the 1920s and 30s bringing with it great tension in the country. Thälmann gained the support of the Russian dictator, Stalin, which was particularly helpful during the conflict and scandals of his career. Thälmann believed in bringing together many political parties and people to a similar way of thinking, in essence, a massive effort of democracy.

With the rise of extreme right-wing politics in Germany during the 1920s and 30s, communist and socialist party members were targeted by the German police and Nazi party’s SA (paramilitary). At least 32 people were killed at the hands of police in an attempt to stop demonstrations in favour of socialism and communism. A ban on open-air protests had come around after many occasions of conflict between political groups on the streets of Berlin.

This decline in political stability brought with it the end to socialist and communist parties, and the rise of the Nazi Party. When Adolf Hitler came to power in the 1930s, he demanded the capture of major left-wing activists, such as Rosa Luxembourg, Karl Liebknecht and Ernst Thälmann. At many different times, these people were executed or sent to concentration camps by the Nazis.

Ernst Thälmann was sent to prison in 1933 and spent much of the time until his execution in solitary confinement. Despite a Nazi claim that he had died in an Allied bombing raid, it was later uncovered that Thälmann was sent to Buchwald concentration camp and cremated after his execution. Thälmann leaves a legacy of bringing many different opinions together and attempting to create a fairer world for everyone. His teachings of socialism managed to keep major political figures happy, but also many of the working-class population too.

In contrast to this terrific story of creating a fair and just world for all, Thälmann is seldom remembered positively it seems, outside of previous or current communist states. The memorial park in Prenzlauer Berg has been severely vandalised, not to mention being in desperate need of maintenance. Despite the park following the design of many Eastern Block areas, there is still a great potential for the community in the park; wide-open spaces, a planetarium and a public swimming pool to name a few of the amenities.

Other parks, memorials and street names in Berlin that are related to communism have been removed or changed since the fall of communism, except for Ernst-Thälmann-Park. The seemingly lacking difference between these other communist figures and Ernst Thälmann brings the question of, why has this park been saved, yet has still been allowed to be mistreated? This could come down to Thälmann’s legacy being more around community than the image of communism the world knows today.

Communism tends to have quite a negative impression from many, regardless of political orientation, not to mention the strongly negative opinion in East Berlin. Many people suffered inhumane treatment at the hands of communism between the 1950s and 1980s. This could be one of the reasons this memorial has been forgotten. Ernst Thälmann’s legacy, however, has not been completely forgotten around the world, with many street names and parks still being in place today, not to mention a school in Vietnam and an island in Cuba.

Ernst-Thälmann-Park remains in place today due to his efforts to bring people together, despite the actions of his political preference destroying those values later on. Although there are many destructive characters associated with communism and socialism, there remain a few that were merely fighting to what they deemed to be the best political ideology. In a truly democratic world, these opinions would be respected by all, whether an understanding of them is prevalent or not.