The memorial for the Ulans in Demmin

In Demmin (see map) a huge memorial was erected in 1923/24 and can be seen there today (a brief account of its history is given by Quadt and Ehlert 1995). The site was built under the direction of the artist Fritz Richter-Elsner for the Bund der Ulanen in 1923/24. Its function was to commemorate the dead of the 2. Pommersches Ulanen-Regiment Nr.9 (known as "Weiße Ulanen"), which had been based in Demmin from 1860 until 1920 and fought in the wars of 1864/66, 1870/71 and 1914/18.

The Ulanendenkmal during the late 1920s or 1930s and today (1995).
Photograph (left) by the late Max Ehlert, courtesy of Foto-Studio Edelmann (Demmin).

Some of the stones were taken from megaliths in the neighbourhood, including the megalith of Quitzerow which was completely destroyed for that purpose. On 10.2.1924, the local newspaper Demminer Tageblatt published an account of the visit by Fritz Richter-Elsner to the megalith of Quitzerow. The report concluded with a statement that, since the megalith could not in any case be preserved in its present condition, Richter-Elsner had decided to document its present state, then to excavate and remove the stones, and finally to erect them anew as part of the memorial for the Ulans: the Ulanendenkmal. In this way, it would be possible to preserve at least the 'omen of these sacred stones' that let the 'spirit of the fathers' rise again. The original passage reads (links added)

"Da die Grabruine inmitten des Ackers doch nicht vor weiterem Verfall zu schützen ist, so wollen wir, was von der Anlage noch erhalten ist, im Bilde genau festlegen, vorsichtig ausgraben und am Denkmalshang des Ulanenstandbildes, bei den Sandbergstannen, wenn möglich neu erstehen lassen. Wenigstens das Omen dieser uralten geheiligten Steine soll um uns sein und den Geist der Väter neu erstehen lassen, deren Sonnensehnsucht immer wieder den Weg zum Licht, zur Höhe fand."

"Since it will not be possible in any case to protect the ruin of the grave from further decay in the field, we want to record in images what remains of the structure, excavate it carefully and let it re-emerge at the slope of the Ulanen monument, near the Sandbergstannen. Then at least the omen of these ancient sacred stones would be around us and would allow the re-emergence of the spirit of the fathers, whose yearning for the sun again and again found the path to the light, to the highest." (my translation)

The re-use of the stones of the megalith was hence a deliberate act in order to include a token of the prehistoric past into the memorial.

The Ulanendenkmal is also full of teutonic symbolism, including runes (see Weissmann 1991, espec. p. 97), and references to Germanic mythology and religion. It was opened on the 3.8.1924, exactly 10 years after the Ulanen rode off to World War I. A chain was put at the entrance to the site and an inscription reminding everyone of Germany's situation after the treaty of Versailles:

"Denke dran, wenn du schreitest über diese Ketten,
es gilt des Vaterlandes Ehre und Freiheit zu retten."

"Remember, as you step over these chains,
both honour and freedom of the fatherland must be rescued."
(my translation)

After Hitler had re-introduced military service in Germany in 1935, the chain was broken in a symbolic act and its ends fixed on either side of the entrance stones. In 1946, after the war was lost, the memorial was shut down, the Germanic symbols were removed, and this site of former pride gradually dilapidated and became a huge rubbish pile. It was only very recently restored to its present condition, after German unification.

The life-history of this memorial reflects only too obviously the changing cultural memories of this century.

  1. In the 1920s a huge memorial was built for the war heroes, with many symbolic references to the prehistoric past, teutonic ancestors and Germanic mythology, thus strengthening German nationalism. The stones of the megalith of Quitzerow became part of this memorial, which
  2. was later re-appreciated in Hitler's Germany of the 1930s as a political symbol for the Reich's new power.
  3. After World War II, the site became an embarrassing document of past failure; it was deserted with the hope that it would somehow go away by itself.
  4. Only after the collapse of the socialist GDR the original megalithic stones, together with the whole memorial, were restored to their present condition and became appreciated as an historic monument of German history.

Changing views of the past found their reflection time and again in transformations of its remains, which were carried out each time with distinctive prospective memories.


Literature

Richter-Elsner, Fritz (1924) Am Hünengrab bei Quitzerow. In: Am Pommerschen Herd. Beilage des Demminer Tageblatts Nr. 6, 10.2.1924.

Quadt, Heinz-Gerhard, and Max Ehlert (1995) Aus der Geschichte des Ulanendenkmals. Demminer Nachrichten 5, no.15 (1.8.1995), 16f.

Weissmann, Karl (1991) Schwarze Fahnen, Runenzeichen: die Entwicklung der politischen Symbolik der deutschen Rechten zwischen 1890 und 1945. Düsseldorf: Droste.

© Cornelius Holtorf, last updated on 10 July 2001