The Many faces of Kreuzberg and the Wars of Liberation

Discover how the wars of liberation against Napoleon led to the many faces of Kreuzberg.

The History

Napoleon’s armies had ravaged Europe, they had pillaged to survive, burnt cities, sequestered art and monuments, dragging symbols of nations from where they belonged to Paris. Moscow had burnt, Berlin had fallen, Vienna was a puppet, and the ancient Holy Roman Empire was no more. 

However, as many Empires and Dictators had done before, and many after, he, Napoleon, fell into the traps of greed. His conquest of Western Europe was complete but he desired more. More meant moving east, into the vast open plains of the Russian Empire. His soldiers advanced, they took towns that were eerily empty, no people, no soldiers, no government. They marched on, they took Moscow, a Moscow abandoned and burnt by its own people, a tactic known as scorched earth.

Napoleon watches as Moscow burns

A Russian Winter

With no buildings to take refugee within, no food supplies to feed his armies, no shelter or warmth from the cold, things were grim for the once invincible Napoleon. He had hoped that with the fall of Moscow, the Russian Tsar, Alexander, would come to the table. Napoleon hoped peace would be negotiated, but like his armies and people the Tsar had retreated, they had left Napoleon in the cold. 

The cold would do the work. It would bite at and freeze Napoleon’s soldiers, the horses would fall stiffly dead into the snow, and the Grand Armee that had set upon Napoleon’s quest of taking Russia with numbers in excess of 450,000 would become a shadow of its former self. 

Not only did the winds and snow drifts hamper Napoleon’s inevitable retreat, but the Serfs, the landed slaves of the Russian Empire, who Napoleon had refused to release from the servitude took revenge upon his troops. When Napoleon finally crossed once more over the Berezina river, just 40,000 troops remained alive. 

The Grand Old Duke Yorck

Ludwig Yorck von Wartenburg 

Ludwig Yorck von Wartenburg by Gebauer

Whilst not the man of the English nursery rhyme, The Grand Old Duke of York, Graf Ludwig Yorck was instrumental in the future of Prussia. 

When Prussia had been conquered by Napoleon, King Friedrich Wilhelm III with his wife the majestic Queen Luise, had gone into exile in Memel (Klaipeda in today’s Lithuania). In exile he had dithered having been embarrassed by Napoleon and forced to wage war on Russia as Napoleon dictated. However, upon Napoleon’s defeat in Russia, and his long march home, it was not the King that pounced. It was Graf Ludwig Yorck. 

Yorck seized the initiative, came to a peace without the King’s consent with Russia in 1812 and had his armies move on Napoleon in 1813. Yorck’s troops advanced from East Prussia, he, not the King, declared war publically and to great celebrations on 17th March 1813 he rode triumphantly into Berlin. It was only now that Berlin was back in Prussian hands, did the King finally declare war. The wars of Liberation would follow. 

Liberation

Liberation came at a cost. The first major battle at Groß-Görschen (also known as the Battle of Lützen) was a defeat for Prussia. Then followed the Battle of Bautzen also a defeat. A small victory came at Großbeeren but Napoleon won a great victory at Dresden. However, these battles, as troops and armies moved into position would eventually culminate at Leipzig. 

At Leipzig the Battle of Nations unfolded. It was to be the largest battle in history until the 20th century. Over 600,000 troops took part, one in ten died. It was a major victory for the coalition of Prussia, Russia, Sweden, Austria and the British. It turned the tide in the war, and pushed Napoleon into hiding behind the Rhine. 

More battles would follow, more victories for Prussia and her allies, and on the 30th of March 1813 the great Prussian Field Marshal von Blücher rode victoriously into Paris. 

Napoleon Abdicates to the victors
Napoleon Abdicates

Napoleon was sent into exile but escaped. He marched through France and ruled once more for 100 days until the Battle of Belle-Alliance. It looked as if Napoleon would restore his former glory and defeat Wellington. However von Blücher rode in once more, charging forward with his soldiers. Napoleon’s victory turned to total defeat.

The wars of Liberation came to a close. Prussia was restored. Yet many of Prussia’s men lay dead. The people wished to thank the soldiers that had laid down their lives for Prussia and popular opinion was in favour of a monument. 

Remembrance          

The monument that sits atop the Kreuzberg (also known as Tempelhofer Berg a longer history of you can find here) designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel the preeminent architect of Berlin and Heinrich Strack, the architect of the later Victory column that stands in the centre of the tiergarten, provides one of the best and more relaxing views of Berlin. 

Initially, to remember the fallen soldiers, a large gothic cathedral was planned to be built at Potsdamer Tor, however it would have cost too much for a bankrupt Prussian state. Instead, above a sandy rise in the city a smaller gothic structure, cast in Iron would be built. Upon this structure remembrance of the battles and the soldiers would be inscribed.

Twelve niches surround the green gothic structure. Within the niches statues stand over names of the battles of the Wars of Liberation. Each statue also takes on the facial characteristics of a member of the royal house or someone important within the wars. 

Above Wartenburg, stands Yorck, banner in hand, who won a great victory in Wartenburg. For his victory, he was awarded the title von Wartenburg. 

Von Blücher stands over La Rothiere. Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm stands above Großbeeren, his brother Wilhelm over Bar-Sur-Aube. The King stands at Kulm, but most beautifully and most importantly, Queen Luise, who did not live to see her country liberated, having died in 1810, stands above Paris. The eternal beauty of a Queen untarnished standing over the city that fell to von Blücher and Prussia.

Where Now?

For a more detailed history of the hill on which the monument stands, read our blog post A View From a Hill.

You can learn more about Prussia and Berlin during the time of Napoleon and the wars of liberation with our Kings and Kaisers tour here. Where you’ll explore the birth of Prussia, the Kingdom’s History and how eventually the son of Friedrich Wilhelm III would become an Emperor. 

Also you can discover more about how the King was able to re-engage with his people after his dithering at the beginnings of the Wars of Liberation. How he readdressed his role within society and turned Prussia from a nation of Palaces and Parade grounds into a centre of the liberal movement, with arts, culture and museums at its very core, with our Museum Island Tour.     

You can also learn how the iconography of this period, of Queen Luise, and the Kreuzberg was used by the Nazis of Adolf Hitler with a Third Reich Tour.

And in the future we will be exploring more about Queen Luise so be sure to keep checking back at our Blog Homepage and follow The Berlin Tour Guide on instagram and Facebook.