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Berlin Unearths Giant Head Of Vladimir Lenin Statue For Exhibition


Almost a quarter-century after it was buried to protect it from vandals, the head of Berlin's infamous Lenin statue was dug up today and hauled to its new home. The four-ton granite sculpture will be part of a new exhibit called "Unveiled." It features German history told through lost or forgotten monuments. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson was on hand for the delivery.


SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: In the 2003 comedy film, "Good Bye Lenin!" a helicopter flies the head and torso of the goateed communist leader through a newly unified Berlin. Today's trip of the statue's head to its new home here in the Berlin district of Spandau also had its farcical aspects. A camera drone buzzed overhead as two workers unhitched the sides of the flatbed on which the tarp-covered sculpture was tightly strapped. A large forklift then hoisted the covered head onto a wooden pallet that bent under the weight.

GERHARD HANKE: (Speaking German).

NELSON: Spandau cultural official Gerhard Hanke jokes, "no one will steal him; he's too heavy."

HANKE: (Speaking German).

NELSON: He adds, "I can't say he was a great man, but he's a big statue." The 62-foot monument that once towered over East Berlin's Lenin Square was toppled like most such statues were during the public backlash in the waning days of the Soviet bloc. The first mayor of the reunified Berlin, Eberhard Diepgen, ordered its removal in late 1991.

EBERHARD DIEPGEN: (Speaking German).

NELSON: He says the statue sent the wrong symbol for German democracy at the time but that it make sense to bring it back for the exhibit given Lenin is a part of German history. But the stone head almost didn't get dug up thanks to endangered sand lizards discovered near the grave. The curators say it cost more than $13,000 to remove a handful of the creatures living in the area. American filmmaker Rick Minnich, who is a fan of the statue, predicts the Lenin head will be a big exhibit draw.

RICK MINNICH: Well, there was some debate within city government in Berlin about, you know, should we dig him up, or should we not? And some of the Western people, who are, like, very anti-Communist just didn't want to dig him up. Once he's in the exhibit, it'll get discussed a little bit, and then it'll just be normal, it's just, like, a part of Berlin history.

NELSON: The curators say the exhibit will open early next year.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Spandau. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.
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