Counter-monument to the ‘31st monument’
The ‘31er-Denkmal’ (‘31st monument’) was dedicated on 4 October 1925. It had been commissioned by surviving members of the 31st Infantry Regiment after World War I and was designed by the architects Heinrich Esselmann and Max Gerntke. The monument is a pillar made of clinker bricks with oversized, half-naked warrior figures holding various antique weapons on each of its three sides. These figures are meant to represent militant heroism as a timeless virtue, where the individual must prove himself in man-to-man combat. This glosses over the reality of warfare, particularly that of World War I, in which ever larger ‘battles of material’ resulted in mass deaths on a scale never seen before. Even into the 1970s, former regiment members regularly held ceremonies here on Volkstrauertag, the German national day of mourning.
In 1994, the parish of St Johannis Church, on whose property the pillar stands, resolved to redesign the memorial, which it referred to as a ‘warrior cult monument’. The project was carried out with the help of students from the design department at Hamburg University of Applied Sciences. Various designs were proposed, and in 1996 the Altona-based artist Rainer Tiedje was commissioned to create the counter-monument. Tiedje installed three acrylic panels around the existing war memorial. Each of the panels, which are at eye level with the warriors on the original monument, depict men writhing in pain as a contrast to the heroic figures on the pillar. The panels are closely positioned around the original monument, making it impossible to hold commemorative events here without taking the images on the panels into account.