Relief by Ernst Barlach on the Rathausmarkt on the war memorial
After World War I, a ‘Heroes Hall of Remembrance’ was going to be built in the Ohlsdorf Cemetery to commemorate fallen soldiers. The project was eventually shelved due to its cost, and the Hamburg Senate decided at the end of the 1920s to erect a war memorial in the city instead. At the suggestion of Fritz Schumacher, Hamburg’s Chief Planning Director (Oberbaudirektor) at the time, the site chosen for the memorial was on the waterfront steps along the Kleine Alster on the Rathausmarkt square.
Following a design competition, a simple 21-metre-high stele made of shell limestone designed by the architect Klaus Hoffmann was erected on the site. Fritz Schumacher commissioned the sculptor Ernst Barlach (1870–1938) to create a seven-metre bas-relief for the stele. It depicts a pregnant woman and a child. According to Barlach, this was meant to represent ‘gathering courage in deep sorrow’. The relief primarily brings to mind the families left behind by fallen soldiers. Because of this, the monument was highly controversial among veterans’ associations, German nationalists and the Nazis, even before it was unveiled on 2 August 1931.
Focusing on the suffering of those left behind went against the Nazis’ concept of a military society. The Hamburg building authority therefore decided to replace the relief in 1937. The Hamburg sculptor Hans Martin Ruwoldt (1891–1969) created a new relief of a soaring eagle, which was dedicated in 1939. At the time, Ruwoldt was under pressure to conform to Nazi ideals of art, as some of his works had been branded ‘degenerate’.
After the war, the Hamburg Senate commissioned the stonemason Friedrich Bursch (1884–1968) to reconstruct the destroyed Barlach relief. Since then, the monument has been the ‘city’s official monument to fallen soldiers […] in memory of the dead from both world wars’, according to the text on the accompanying explanatory panel.