I had to brave the traffic in the Tiergarten leading to the Winged Victory monument to get the shot below. It’s not a great shot. I was too far away, the film is grainy, and the construction wagons on the left don’t help the picture look all that monumental. But I am glad I have the picture. It was one of the first sights I remembered seeing on my 1975 visit to Berlin, and when I returned in 1983 I wanted to be sure to get a picture of it.
The timing seemed particularly appropriate, although any picture of the monument from 1945 through 1990 would have generated a similar sense of irony – a tower dedicated to military victories in the heart of a city associated with the greatest military defeat of the century. The unabashedly militaristic message of the monument, celebrated with three rows of cannon from three separate wars, seemed at odds with a city reconstructed from the ruins of war. The fact that the Allies didn’t just deliberately pound the hell out of the monument as a not-so-subtle message to the German people also surprised me. But there it stood, and there it stands. The setting for the monument is classically European – the middle of a circular traffic nightmare of four major boulevards all set in the heart of Berlin’s beautiful city park, the Tiergarten. By the end of the war, due to bombing and desperate Berliners denuding the park for firewood, the place was by all accounts a wasteland. It’s now a wonderful retreat, a place to escape the noise and energy of the city.
I used the grounds of the English Garden Tea House in the Tiergarten as the setting for a meeting between the malevolent Vasily Malenkov and the tragic Vanessa Porter in The Heraklion Gambit. Seemed like a nice pastoral setting for some threats of violence from a sadistic KGB operative. It’s all about the unexpected, and Berlin, for me at least, was full of the unexpected.