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The Columbus Monument at Bremerhaven

Deutsche Version
How Germany honoured the discoverer of America

The place is a good choice for a Columbus statue: Bremerhaven, situated at the river Weser, is the seaport in Germany with the most intensive relations with America. After 1832 it became the central harbour for the mass immigration from central Europe to the USA. It was, besides Hamburg, the main harbour for the regular passenger's traffic across the Atlantic by steamships. After World War II it was built up as the one American forces harbour in Germany. Ships like the "United States" or the "America" regularly call at Bremerhaven. Elvis Presley first touched German ground here.

Columbus But when, about 100 years ago, Bernhard von Glahn donated the Columbus monument to his home town, he couldn't have known that. It was mainly a gesture of thankfulness to the United States, probably inspired by the 400th anniversary. Von Glahn became a rich man in America. After he retired he came back to Germany where he died in 1899 at the age of 73 years.

The impressive momument was designed by Ludwig Habich, then a student of the Academy of Arts at Munich. It was inspired by the very early Art Nouveaux. The oversized statue shows an energetic and vigourous man. The face doesn't look like any of the Columbus portraits. It is obviously idealized. Columbus stands straddle-legged over an anchor, with fluttering garment, the arms crossed, holding in his left hand a document or map which is half unrolled. His clear eyes are looking confidentially into the distance. In 1897 the bronze figure, cast by the Royal Foundry at Munich, was originally erected in a park on a huge granite pedestal. Two bronze plates on it showed the inscription "Columbus" and a stylized ship, undoubtly Columbus's flagship "Santa Maria".

Only 20 years later the statue was taken from the pedestal, apparently for ever. In 1918 the figure, as many others in the country, was melted down. At the end of World War I the German war industry desperately needed bronze for the production of grenades and other ammunition. Within a few years the statue seemed to have been forgotten. Only a few photos were left to remember it.

It was only in the late 1960s that Gert Schlechtriem, director of the Bremerhaven museum, discovered that the original plaster model which Habich had made was preserved at a magazine of the Academy of Arts at Darmstadt. Now there was a chance to bring Columbus back to Bremerhaven. But it took some ten years before a new financier was found and the statue could be cast again.

Columbus Center The new statue was erected in 1978 in front of the Columbus-Center, a complex of flats, shops and offices. The building, as many other localities in Bremerhaven such as the Columbuskaje (Columbus pier), the Columbusbahnhof (station), the Columbusstraße (street), a restaurant, and a pharmacy, are not directly related to the discoverer. They were named after the North German Lloyd's steamship "Columbus", which from 1924 on served the North America line from Bremerhaven. The pier and the station were especially built for this ship. The "Columbus" sank on December 17th 1939 after a fire was set by the crew to avoid that the ship was captured by the British war ship "Hyperion". Since 1997 Bremerhaven is home port of the new "Columbus", a German cruise ship.

Bremerhaven is one of 20 towns in Germany with streets and places named after Christopher Columbus (list of towns). But in only one case the sources prove that the naming was officially meant to honour the person and especially the 400th anniversary of the discovery. At Dresden, then residence of the Saxon king, a newly built street was named Columbusstraße on November 12th 1892.

It is moreover probable that the other early namings at Munich (1893), Bremen (1898), Muelheim (before 1902) and Duesseldorf (1909) were at least an echo of the 400th anniversary, of which was payed much attention in Germany. There were celebrations in many towns, mostly organized by geographical, technical or economical societies and institutions. The celebrations were an opportunity for the German educated classes to discuss and describe the German role in colonizing the world.

With the lost World War I and the growing nationalism in the 1920s and 1930s there was no need to honour any foreign discoverer in Germany. New namings were only possible after World War II, often under the influence of the American forces. At Aalen, Augsburg, Mannheim and Bonn, streets in American soldiers' quarters were named after Columbus. There also was and always is a need to name streets in new residential districts or industrial areas. These namings had no special intention to honour Columbus. The local authorities often choose general topics such as flowers, birds, musicians or just discoverers to name groups of streets in one area.

As well, political reasons forced renamings: in Duisburg the Tirpitzstraße, dedicated to Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, who built up the German fleet before the World War I, in 1946 became Kolumbussstraße by order of the allied military government. Two years after the fall of the Berlin wall, in 1991, the city council of Rostock in East Germany changed Nikolai-Kusnezow-Ring, which was named after an admiral of the Soviet Union, into Kolumbusring. This is the only naming related to the 500th anniversary.

The monument at Bremerhaven is not the only one in Germany to commemorate Columbus. Also in Hamburg, Germany's most important sea-port, there's a statue which was made by Carl Börner (1828-1905). She was erected in 1903 at the entrance to the newly built storage quarter of the harbour together with statues of Vasco da Gama, Fernando Magellan, and James Cook. The statues of Magellan and Cook were destroyed during an air blitz in 1944. In 1988/89 both the statues remaining statues of Columbus and da Gama were restored.

1998/2001 by Norbert Fiks
This article was written for Discovery!, the journal of the | Christopher Columbus Philatelic Society |.


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