BERLIN – After seizing the Reichstag in May 1945 and raising their flag on its roof, Soviet soldiers left their marks in other ways, writing their names, feelings, thoughts and hometowns – including Almaty – on the walls of the famous building. The flag has long since changed, but many of the inscriptions remain, including some in the meeting room of the German Parliament.
In 1947, by order of the Soviet commandant, the inscriptions were censored. Obscene graffiti was removed and several ‘ideologically moderate’ expressions were inscribed.
In 2002, the Bundestag raised the issue of removing the inscriptions, but a majority vote rejected the proposal. Most of the surviving inscriptions by Soviet soldiers are in the inner rooms of the Reichstag, accessible only to guided tours. In addition to the graffiti, bullet marks on the inside of the left gable have also been preserved.
Guide Karin Felix, who worked on the restoration that uncovered the inscriptions, is passionate about sharing these fragments of World War II history. According to her, after the war, thin plaster walls were erected in front of the old Reichstag walls, hiding the Soviet soldiers’ markings from view.
“Everything that was built after the war, in the then-fashionable style of the Bauhaus, has been removed, and thus we found the inscriptions left by Soviet soldiers,” Felix said. The inscriptions were later preserved with a special solution, walls that had blackened with time were cleaned with dry, compressed air and the original soldiers’ sentiments made available for visitors to see.
“These inscriptions will stay here forever, as it is very important for us,” Felix said. In her opinion, “the inscriptions on the Reichstag are a part of our common history. As they say, the one who does not know the past does not have a future.”
Felix has created a small brochure, “When history comes to life…,” which tells the story of the confluence of history and geography through the inscriptions on the walls of the Reichstag.
Among the numerous inscriptions on the Reichstag are traces left by Kazakh Soviet soldiers. On one of the restored walls is the name Dzhilkibayev, and under it Alma-Ata, his hometown. The historical inscription was visited by representatives of the Kazakh delegation headed by Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov during his visit to Berlin last year.
British architect Norman Foster, renowned in Kazakhstan for his buildings in Astana, led the reconstruction of the German Parliament building. In 1999, a new grand dome of glass and steel with a diametre of 40 metres and a height of 23.5 metres was unveiled. Foster managed to maintain the historic look of the Reichstag and simultaneously create room for a modern Parliament, open to the outside world.
The top of the Reichstag, where 69 years ago the Soviet flag was raised, is now open for visits by appointment through the German Parliament’s website. After the Parliament’s return to Berlin in 1999, the Reichstag building has been visited by more than 13 million people from around the world.