Little-known is the fact that a replica of the statue of Baron Steuben was created at the same time as the original and presented by the Congress of the United States to Kaiser Wilhelm II and the German Nation in 1911. The gift was in return for a statue of Frederick the Great by Joseph Uphues that was presented by the German emperor to President Theodore Roosevelt and the people of the United States in 1904. For many years, this statue stood at Fort McNair in Washington, but public opinion during World War I and again during World War II caused it to be removed. In 1954, the statue was taken to the grounds of the U.S. Army War College, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
The history of the Steuben replica in Potsdam and Berlin is a story in itself that reflects the whole tortuous history of German-American relations in the 20th century. Commemorating German-American friendship since the American Revolution at the time of its unveiling in a place of special honor near the imperial Stadtschloss in Potsdam, the statue stood there until bombs pushed it off its pedestal during World War II.
At the time of its unveiling in 1911, the replica of the statue of Baron Steuben commemorated German-American friendship, as yet unbroken since the American Revolution. Two German-Americans, Richard Bartholdt, Congressman from Missouri, and Charles B. Wolffram, a prominent New Yorker, led the U.S. delegation on behalf of the Congress and President Taft. The festivities were held on a German holiday--the anniversary of Napoleon III's surrender at Sedan, associated with the unification of the German states and the establishment of the German Empire. The usefulness of this token sculpture of Steuben as a crossover point between Prussian imperial and military traditions on the one hand and ethnic Germans in the American republic (by 1911 also a colonial power) on the other becomes clear. In its heavy protective cloak and aristocratic hat, Jaegers' statue of Steuben allows the people at its feet to find a common ground where they can intermingle values, emotions, and politics that are otherwise difficult to blend: concepts of fatherland, discipline, bravery, stoicism, old Prussian nobility, and new German imperialism meet the American revolution, new wealth, young democracy, and populist German-American ethnic pride.
Positioned in a place of special honor near the imperial Stadtschloss in Potsdam, the statue stood there until bombs pushed it off its pediment on April 14-15, 1945, as World War II drew to an end in Europe (May 8) with the victory of the Allied Forces.
Following Germany's capitulation, Potsdam--largely unbombed in comparison with nearby Berlin--became famous as the location of the Conference (July 17-August 2, 1945) that brought U.S. President Harry Truman, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (replaced during the conference by the new Prime Minister, Clement Atlee), and the Soviet Union's Premier Joseph Stalin together to discuss the future of the war in Asia and decide the fate of Europe. The leaders met in the Cecilienhof Palace, built during World War I for German Crown Prince Wilhelm and his wife, Cecilie von Mecklenburg-Schwerin. Today, the rooms in which the fate of the postwar world was decided are set aside as a museum, while the rest of the former palace is a hotel. Naturally enough, given the physical and moral devastation that surrounded them, the survivors were little concerned with the fate of the Steuben Monument.
The division of Germany and Berlin into American, British, French, and Russian zones left imperial Potsdam--and the statue of Steuben--in the Russian zone, which later became the German Democratic Republic. After many years of internal debate about preserving the city's historic core--about half of which was severely damaged in the April 14, 1945 bombing--the GDR's government decided to retain and rebuild only a small part of it and thus get rid of what some saw as a reminder of Prussian militarism. In 1959-60, fifteen years after bombing had seriously damaged the building, the surviving ruins of the Stadtschloss were blown up and destroyed, leaving only outbuildings.
The statue of Steuben was placed in storage--Steuben being politically ambiguous at best in the GDR as a sign of Prussian military tradition and a sign of German-American friendship to boot. Somehow the statue made its way to West Berlin and in May 1987, as part of Berlin's 750 Year Anniversary, the statue was re-erected--thanks to the financial support of several German and American companies--in a green space on Clay-Allee across the street from the US Army's headquarters. The pedestal carries the following explanatory inscription:
FRIEDRICH WILHELM VON STEUBEN
PREUSSISCHER OFFIZIER UNTER FRIEDRICH DEN
BERLIN IM MAI 1987
This would seem to be the end of the story, but since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the unification of the two Germanies, Potsdam--now seat of the government of Land Brandenburg--has been seeking to re-imagine, recover and restore its history. As part of that effort, the once-famous Steuben Monument was re-installed not far from its original setting, this time behind the "Marstall," originally built in 1685 as an orangerie and transformed into stables in 1714, the sole surviving section of the imperial Stadtschloss. Since 1981, the stable-buildings themselves, beautifully restored, have housed the film museum, originally the Film Museum of the German Democratic Republic, now the Filmmuseum Potsdam.
One replica of Albert Jaegers's statue, presented by the American Congress in 1911, has become three: one in Berlin, a second in Potsdam, and another in Magdeburg. The monument has had a complicated life in its short history, but it apparently continues to speak in the mysterious language of culture, politics, and history.