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Germany: Parliamentarians Dispute Names Of Russian Soldiers On Reichstag Wall

  • Roland Eggleston

A small group of German politicians want to remove from the walls of the federal parliament building in Berlin -- the Reichstag -- an unofficial reminder of its capture by Soviet soldiers in 1945. The politicians appealed this week for the whitewashing of a wall on which hundreds of triumphant Soviet soldiers had scribbled their names in charcoal. The Russian ambassador in Berlin says he is shocked at the proposal. RFE/RL correspondent Roland Eggleston reports.

Munich, 10 May 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The proposal to remove the names of the Soviet soldiers from the Reichstag walls came from a small group of parliamentarians belonging to the conservative Christian Democratic Union, or CDU, the main opposition party. They made their appeal 56 years to the month after Soviet troops seized the building and -- in a photo that went around the world -- mounted the Soviet flag on the roof of the blackened building.

Officials at the Reichstag told our correspondent the appeal fell largely on deaf ears [that is, evoked no strong positive response] and that there are no plans to implement -- or even to hold a debate on -- the proposal.

About 100 meters of wall at the now-rebuilt Reichstag is covered with hundreds of signatures scribbled by the victorious Russian troops. Many of the names have been blurred over the years, but some are still legible.

The conservative group argues that 56 years has been long enough. It says now that Berlin is once again the capital of Germany and the federal parliament has moved into the renovated Reichstag, it is time to move on and whitewash most of the wall.

The group proposes that a few of the Russian names be preserved in a side room, with a tablet explaining what they are and the circumstances in which they were written

A CDU parliamentarian, Hans Bierlein, says the historical value of the Wall of Names, as it is sometimes called, was limited. He dismisses the scribbled names as "graffiti:"

"It is our opinion that their historical value is limited. About 95 percent of the graffiti is just names. It does not make any sense to retain this graffiti with no special historical value on more than 100 meters of wall."

At the Russian Embassy, Ambassador Sergei Krylov said he was shocked that such a suggestion could be made. Krylov recalled that some 100,000 Soviet soldiers lost their lives in the capture of Berlin in May 1945. The Wall of Names, he said, could be considered a memorial to their sacrifice. He also said the wall was indirectly a memorial to the millions of people who had lost their lives in the war against Nazi Germany.

In place of the names of conquering Russian soldiers, the conservative group suggests covering the wall with the emblems of the German states (Laender), mounted on wood plaques.

But Sonja Degener, who represents a group seeking reconciliation between Germany and Russia, says it is important for the new, democratic Germany that the names remain.

"This is history," she says. "The graffiti is part of the Reichstag building and should remain there as a reminder of a black period in our history."