The Pedestal on Goetheplatz

Today Goetheplatz, known as Karlsplatz prior to 1946, is located on the northwestern edge of Weimar’s central city. Formerly located   outside of the historical city walls, it was situated in the so-called “Scheunenviertel”, which burnt down in 1797.
The city took advantage of the empty space after the fire to plan  a representative square as part of the expansion of the city towards the west. The proposed design for the square – like several other urban-planning concepts for Weimar – originated from Johann W. Goethe. Besides one dominant Renaissance building, the main post office, the architecture of the square is of the Classical period.

The square is Weimar’s point zero, as stated on a small plaque fixed to the wall of the main post office. All the distances to the surrounding towns and settlements were measured from here, and the square was considered to be the center of the entire princedom: The design of the square itself and the monument to Carl Alexander, which was later erected here, relate to this fact.

It was not until 1860 that the reading museum “Erholung” was built according to plans by Carl Heinrich Streihan. This building was used for concerts by Liszt and for theatrical performances. Today the “Mon Ami” houses a youth center and a cinema. The façade provided a classical backdrop for the memorial to Carl Alexander.

Carl Alexander, the grand-duke of Saxony-Weimar-Eisenach, was born in Weimar on 24.6.1818 as the son of Carl Friedrich and Maria Paulowna. Carl Alexander was educated together with Goethe’s and Herder’s grandchildren, and for that reason his tutors were chosen by Goethe. At age 16 he became a second lieutenant in the Grand-Duke’s army, during 1835/36 he studied law, natural science, history and languages in Jena. He followed a military career, but his priorities were cultural education and a simple lifestyle. After marrying his cousin Sophie (1842) and being made commander in chief of the Cuirassier Regiment by the Prussian king, Friedrich Wilhelm IV (1846), Carl Alexander took over his dukedom in the year of his father’s death. His reign is known as the “Silver Age” and during those years the emphasis was on the preservation and extension of Weimar’s cultural reputation and the promotion of the following cultural institutions:

1859 German Schiller Foundation, 1860 College of Art, 1864 German Shakespeare Society, 1869 State Museum, 1872 Orchestral College, 1885 Goethe Society, Goethe National Museum, 1896 Goethe and Schiller Archives. In addition, he initiated the erection of the Goethe-Schiller memorial, the Wieland memorial and the equestrian self-portrait.)

He gave employment to numerous artists at his court, including Liszt and Böcklin. His attitude towards military questions, even during the war between Germany and France in 1870/71, was a policy of “wait-and-see” and it is often emphasised that he was not directly involved in fighting, but served as a medical orderly. Various buildings in the centre of Weimar are dedicated to the Grand-Duke and his wife; for example the Alexander Sophie fountain and Jubilee Square (Jubiläumsplatz) marking the 25th anniversary of their reign (now August Baudert Platz). Their golden wedding anniversary was organized as a huge public celebration. The prince royal, the son of Carl Alexander and his wife Sophie, died in 1894. The Grand-Duke was thus succeeded by his grandson, Wilhelm Ernst, in 1901. Carl August died on 5.1.1901 and was buried in the Goethe-Schiller Mausoleum. The Carl Alexander equestrian statue was erected on what was then Karlsplatz in1907.

The monument itself, made by the Weimar sculptor Adolf Brütt,  was inaugurated on June 24, 1907. Because of the formal restraint of this equestrian statue, and above all because of Carl Alexander’s cosmopolitan and liberal attitudes, the monument was moved by the Nazis and re-erected in 1938 on what is today named the Carl August Allee in 1938. The spiked helmet was too closely associated with the First World War, the Empire and of course its’ defeat. In addition, there were plans for a tribune to be built on Karlsplatz during Hitler’s visit in 1938, so that SS and SA could file past and salute. The sculpture would have been standing behind Hitler and would also have been saluted, and this was to be avoided at all costs. After the Second World War, in 1946, non-ferrous metals were plundered, and the sculpture was melted down due to both lack of raw materials and an anti-monarchical attitude. The pedestal was buried and Karlsplatz was renamed Goetheplatz.

In the year 2001, after a construction company had unearthed the pedestal by chance, an initiative developed around the Weimar “Circle of Friends of the Goethe National Museum” to reconstruct the monument and thus counter any disrespect for Carl Alexander, who had been “a guardian of Classicism”.
The monolithic pedestal had nearly been given to a stonemason in Chemnitz, who wanted to break it down into gravestones: At the last minute, as a result of a citizens’ initiative, it was transported back to Weimar and re-inaugurated - without a statue - on its original site on June 24, 2001, Carl Alexander’s birthday.

On August 28, 2003, this was followed by a temporary sculpture by the artist Dieter M. Weidenbach, “Relief Profile”. This work refers to the proportions of the lost memorial. The nailed wooden sculpture with its blood-red coloring and intestine-like relief structure denounces the violation of the equestrian statue and demands some form of “reparation” from the city. The Office for the Preservation of Monuments viewed this temporary sculpture as an illegal intervention.

The main argument for the reconstruction of the equestrian statue is the importance of Carl Alexander for Weimar Classicism and the entire surrounding region. Carl Alexander initiated the Goethe- Schiller memorial and founded the Goethe National Museum, as well as rebuilding the Wartburg in Eisenach. Not only is the design of the square focused around the memorial, but it also the first of a series of monuments that one encounters on the way from the train station into the central city, all of which represent the “the prince to whom it is due, this largely unchanged view”- Carl Alexander.

Today Goetheplatz is the main, high-volume traffic intersection because all of Weimar’s bus routes pass this central bus stop. Besides the main post office and the City Museum on the western edge, the regional newspaper offices and the “Kunsthalle” - an exhibition space in the north, the student club “Kasseturm” (former customs tower and fortification of the city walls), and the “Mon Ami” the cultural center and cinema mentioned above. The town’s largest taxi stand is in fromt of the “Mon Ami”. Besides this, Goetheplatz is surrounded by different stores. On the southwest side of Goetheplatz is one of Weimar’s most expensive hotels, the “Russischer Hof”. On the south corner a pedestrian zone leads to the Theaterplatz and links Goetheplatz with the city center.

Vor-Reiter Weimars, Die Großherzoge Carl August und Carl Alexander im Denkmal, eds.: Freundeskreis des Goethe National-Museums, Glaux Verlag Jena, Jena 2003


Goetheplatz Weimar von oben
Reiterstandbild Carl Alexander