Although I am not a military buff (my own military service cured me of that), I do enjoy looking at 16th and 17th century citadels, particularly since I have visited the ones designed or strengthened by Vauban (1633-1707) in French cities such as Belfort, Besançon and Lille.
The Citadel in Berlin-Spandau was built in the 16th century (before Vauban’s time) in response to increased artillery power that was making the old medieval castles obsolete.
The Citadel is entirely surrounded by water, partly by a moat (as in the photo below) and partly by a body of water that looks like a lake but is actually just a wide place in the Havel River.
The Julius Tower (Juliusturm) is not only the oldest part of the Citadel, it is also the oldest building in Berlin. This might seem surprising, since it wasn’t even built until the 13th century, but by European standards Berlin is quite a young city. Unlike many other European cities, which can trace their history back to the ancient Romans or even earlier, the area that is now Berlin was mainly swampland until the late Middle Ages.
After the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1871, France (as the loser) was forced to pay reparations to Germany in the form of 1200 crates full of gold coins, which were stored behind thick walls in the Julius Tower until the end of the First World War. Then Germany had to return them to France under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles.
Inside the tower there is a staircase, so it is possible to climb to the top, which we did. There are 145 or 153 steps, depending on which website you believe.
The buildings in the Citadel of Berlin-Spandau now house several museums, exhibitions and galleries. My favorite was the new permanent exhibition entitled “Unveiled. Berlin and its Monuments”, which shows “political monuments which were once part of Berlin’s urban landscape but have been removed.”
A constant topic of local politics in Berlin is what sort of monuments and memorials should be erected (or removed) and why and by whom. Statues that were erected with great pomp during the 18th and 19th centuries may have seemed impressive at the time, but later generations found them merely embarrassing, so some of these statues (unfortunately not all of them) were taken down and put into storage. After the Second World War the Nazi statues and monuments rapidly disappeared (to this day it is illegal to display Nazi symbols in public), and the same happened to most of the ‘socialist realism’ statues that were erected in East Berlin during the Communist era.
Now some of these rejected statues have been found, dusted off and re-painted, and are now on display (since April 2016) in a brilliant new museum in the Citadel, on the ground floor of a large building that was formerly used as a Provisions Depot.
In some of the rooms the interior walls have been painted white, so the white statues look like ghosts in front of the white walls.
The heroic-looking man with the cross in this photo is supposed to be Albrecht der Bär (Albert the Bear) (ca. 1100 to 1170) the first Margrave of Brandenburg. The statue dates from the 1890s and was made by Walter Schott, one of the favorite sculptors of the German Emperor Wilhelm II.
The best known exhibit is Lenin’s head. This huge head was at the top of a 19-meter granite statue of Lenin that was put up in 1970 on the Lenin Square (now Square of the United Nations) in Friedrichshain, which was then part of East Berlin. After German reunification the statue was removed and for some reason the head was buried in the woods, where it was rediscovered years later.
Address: Zitadelle, Am Juliusturm 64, 13599 Berlin
The nearest subway stops are Zitadelle and Altstadt Spandau, both on the U7 line. There are no Call-a-Bike stations in Spandau, but the future NextBike system will probably provide some.
My photos in this post are from 2016. The text was last revised in 2017.