Recycling Lenin And Digging Up the Past

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For 14 years, a giant statue of Lenin lay in a shallow grave in the Köpenicker forest. Occasionally, grave robbers would dig around the site, looking to chip pieces off the dissected remains and forcing the foresters to rebury him. Now, a move by locals to have the father of Soviet communism recycled has led to the likelihood of him being resurrected.

The Lenin in question is a 60-foot statue, made of Ukrainian red granite, that once lifted an admonishing hand over East Berlin's Leninplatz. In 1991, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it was toppled, cut into 129 pieces and buried under a mound of sand in a forest outside of Berlin. Annoyed at the growing number of souvenir hunters swarming the site, local district councilors recently suggested digging up the pieces and disposing of them in a more environmentally appropriate manner, shredding or grinding up the stone and turning it into construction material.

The matter might have gone unnoticed were it not for the fact that it is election season in Germany. Next month, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's Social Democrats face almost certain defeat, losing votes both to the right and to two parties further left, the reformed East German communists (PDS) and the newly founded Left Party. In Berlin, where the Social Democrats currently rule in a coalition with the PDS, Ingeborg Junge-Reyer, Social Democratic Senator for Urban Development, jumped to the rescue of the giant Lenin, suggesting that to turn him into kitchen counters would not be in keeping with the statue's historical importance.

Berlin's Senator for Culture, Thomas Flierl of the PDS, who had opposed tearing down the statue back in 1991, declared that the proper place for it would be in the city's German Historical Museum. The storerooms of that institution already house four Lenins -- though none is as large as the Leninplatz statue, which, if reassembled, would not fit into any of its rooms. But Mr. Flierl, explained his spokesman, Torsten Wöhlert, was not suggesting putting Lenin back on a pedestal.

"It is the monument in stone of an era. It was an art object and its pieces belong in the depot of a museum for future historical processing," says Mr. Wöhlert, using the word Aufarbeitung, which can also mean "recycling."

The question of how to recycle the Köpenicker Lenin is emblematic of a larger German dilemma. Nearly 15 years after reunification, East German "Ossies" are still poorer than their Western countrymen, and twice as likely to be unemployed. Like Mr. Wöhlert, few Easterners want to see the GDR and its giant Lenins resurrected. Yet there is a strong sense of wounded pride and nostalgia for the old country, typified by the success of films such as "Good-bye Lenin." In fact, the title of that movie refers to the giant statue, which in one scene is pictured flying through the air pulled by helicopter.

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