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Leipzig’s Monument to the Battle of the Nations (1:55)

Leipzig, Germany

A monument in Leipzig commemorates the bloody 1813's Battle of the Nations, which pitted Napoleon’s army against a coalition of Prussian, Austrian, Russian, and Swedish fighters. Napoleon’s defeat marked the beginning of his downfall.

Complete Video Script

Just outside of Leipzig is a gigantic monument to an earlier struggle. It commemorates a pivotal battle in 1813 that involved forces from all over Europe. Called the “Battle of the Nations,” it pitted France’s army under Napoleon against a coalition of Prussian, Austrian, Russian, and Swedish fighters.

With half a million soldiers and 100,000 casualties, it was the largest battle in European history until World War I. The Battle of the Nations marked the turning point in the fight against Napoleon. He was routed here, and forced to retreat to France.

Basically, it was Germans who turned back the French invaders. And exactly a century later, in 1913 — during a surge of nationalism following the unification of Germany — Leipzig inaugurated this towering memorial on the site of this bloody battle.

The archangel Michael straddles the main door with the same message that accompanies most military monuments: “God is on our side.”

Entering the monument, you stand under a towering atrium. It’s ringed by more soldiers, in front of giant death masks, heads respectfully bowed to honor the sacrifice of those lost in battle. Above them, four enormous statues represent the virtues of the German people during wartime. And high above, in the dome, hundreds of life-sized soldiers on horses return from battle. It feels religious, but it’s strikingly secular — a powerful monument to more than a battle: to the power of nationalism and to the fact that war leaves even the winners saddled with grief.

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