What is Neptunbrunnen?
Neptunbrunnen, or The Neptune Fountain in English, is a Baroque fountain Berlin commissioned by the city to commemorate the coronation of Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1888.
In 1888, following the death of his father from throat cancer, 29-year-old Wilhelm was crowned German Emperor and King of Prussia. In honour of his coronation, the city of Berlin commissioned this pleasing bronze fountain, known as the Neptunbrunnen (or Neptune Fountain). Unsurprisingly, at its centre on a huge shell sits Neptune, Roman god of the sea, grasping his signature trident in his left hand. Neptune is surrounded by cherubs, whilst tritons, the fish-tailed sea gods, carry his shell.
Around the edges of the basin sit four female figures who symbolise the principal rivers of Prussia at the time of the fountain’s construction: the Rhine (with grapes and a fishing net), the Elbe (with fruit and corn), the Oder (with goats and hides), and the Vistula (with firewood). The Vistula, however, no longer runs through Germany, as all German lands east of the so-called Oder–Neisse line were lost after the Second World War, although West Germany did not formally abandon its claims to these territories, most of them today in Poland and Russia, until 1990. Ethnic Germans expelled from these areas at the end of the war were an important, and often staunchly conservative, minority in West Germany, numbering around 10 million. Well into the 1980s, conservative politicians in particular publicly acknowledged the right of these families to return to the places they had once called home, but which now lay far beyond the country’s borders.
The fountain was designed by sculptor Reinhold Begas and originally erected in 1891 in front of the Berlin Palace. Upon the presentation of this gift by Berlin’s Mayor, Max von Forckenbeck, Wilhelm is said to have declined to shake his hand, appalled at the idea of having to so indulge a liberal politician. The fountain was removed in 1951 after the palace was demolished and installed here at its current location in 1969. Prior to that a brass fountain had stood in front of Berlin’s Town Hall until it was melted down as part of a national effort to collect strategically important metals on the occasion of Hitler’s birthday in 1940.
Just across the street, a gap has been left by the 1950s levelling of much of the rubble remaining from this part of Berlin’s historic centre. Known as the Marx-Engels-Forum, the name stemming from two large bronze statues of the political theorists installed there, the area has divided public opinion for decades, although the statues themselves have only been on display since 1986. Given the increasing commercialisation of much of Berlin’s public space, the city intends this one to remain a public park, dedicated to sustainability and political participation.
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