Mother with Her Dead Son, a memorial

I’m sorry I haven’t posted much this past week. I took some time off from blogging to celebrate birthdays and Thanksgiving with my family. I actually wanted to write this post on Thanksgiving because it seemed so appropriate, but alas, with all the cooking and cleaning and lounging about because I had too much turkey and pie, I never got around to it.

I was so delighted to discover that there is a Kathe Kollwitz museum in Berlin. A few years ago, I wrote about how her art impacted me so much in high school. Unfortunately, the museum is a little further out of town, and we just didn’t find the time to visit before it closed for the evening. But Kathe Kollwitz designed a sculpture at the Neue Wache Monument near Museum Island. We had actually passed it by in our eagerness to get to the museums. It wasn’t until after we were wearily trying to decide what to do next that we realized we missed it and decided to head back. I’m so glad we did. It ended up being one of my favorite experiences in Berlin. I wish that I could truly share it with you. Sometimes it’s so hard to convey through words or images the emotions and thoughts I felt.

Here is the Neue Wache building. It’s beautiful – classic and stately. I actually took this picture on our way to the museum not knowing what the building was.

It seems like any typical monument. There weren’t many people about when we got there. I think we hit a lull in the traffic. It was perfect because the sculpture inside invites a solitary viewing. It’s intimate and personal.

The room was basically empty inside, except for Cristen and me and I think one other man. That emptiness is significant to my experience. In that vast space, the mother and son seem small, confined, but so central. There is a skylight above them and it feels like the whole world revolves around them in a way. That relationship. That sorrow.

It’s a variation of a pieta and invites comparison to Mary holding Jesus after his crucifixion. Her dead son was also a sacrifice.

The two figures are wrapped together, as though the mother is shielding her son. Even though the sacrifice is for the greater good, for so many people, in this moment, the only thing that matters is that a mother lost her son.

The way her hand caresses his fingers is the part that really just kills me, though. It is so tender, so lingering, so heartbreaking.

I was showing pictures from Berlin to my 9-year-old niece, Claire, and when we came to these photos, she asked me about it. I told her it was a memorial to let people know the cost of war. That every person who dies in war is someone’s son or daughter, brother or sister, husband or wife, friend. It doesn’t matter what side they are on. Here I was in Germany, and this memorial was for those who fought against America and essentially caused the rows upon rows upon rows of graves that I saw in the American Cemetery in Normandy, but what I loved about this memorial is that it is so universal. A dead son is a dead son. And I know that a war had to be fought to protect other sons and daughters, but this sculpture reminds me (and hopefully all who see it) that life is precious. That our loved ones are precious. And we have to make their death — if it must happen — mean something.



  1. goldenfever · November 26, 2012

    Perfect. Remind me to show you the sculpture similar in Golden.

    • katie · November 29, 2012

      Oh, I can’t wait to see it!

  2. S. Wilde · November 26, 2012

    Katie, I love this sculpture. Especially after just finishing The Book Theif. made my eyes water all over again looking at your pictures and reading your words. Thanks for being a wonderful friend and reminding us how sacred love and life really is.

    • katie · November 29, 2012

      Thanks Sally! I’m glad you liked The Book Thief! It’s so good. It really is the kind of book that makes you want to be a better, more courageous person.

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