Seelow Heights museum memorializes Battle of Berlin 75th anniversary
In the last days of World War II, allied forces moved toward Berlin from all sides. The Battle of the Seelow Heights to the east of Berlin was a bloody massacre. The small Seelow Heights museum and memorial features exhibits, artifacts, and graves documenting the Battle of Berlin and the tens of thousands of lives lost in just three days.
The Battle of the Seelow Heights east of Berlin was one of the last major assaults in the battle for Berlin and the fight to finally put an end to World War II. In 2020, the world memorializes the 75th anniversary of a horrific battle: During three days, from April 16-19, approximately 80,000 entrenched German soldiers made a last stand against a Russian army with nearly one million men. It was a bloodbath. Tens of thousands of Soviet, German and Polish soldiers died along with countless citizens of the Oder River area.
Although the battle represented a major step toward the precipitating the war’s end in 1945, Seelow Heights (Seelower Höhen) in the Oder River swamplands near the Polish border with Germany has but a small museum to memorialize the battle. The museum sits on the highest point overlooking the Oder basin farmlands where the battle was waged. With exhibits, artifacts, and war graves, the Museum Seelower Höhen (Seelow Heights Museum) remains an incredibly moving destination for anyone even remotely interested in the Battle of Berlin, history of World War II, world history or wars, and Europe in general.
Battle for the Seelow Heights casualties
In the spring of 1945, a ragtag army of German soldiers made up of old men, boys, and remnants of other divisions, stood before the massive oncoming ranks of Russian and Polish armies intent on taking Berlin and exacting revenge for Nazi atrocities. Just 90 minutes from Berlin, the museum provides a visual trip back and to the front lines. There, in mid-April 1945, many hundreds of thousands of soldiers, 14,000 artillery pieces, 5,000 armored vehicles and thousands of aircraft along with untold numbers of fleeing refugees all met in what became horrific killing fields in the lowlands and highlands of the so-called “Oderbruch” swamplands region of the Oder River, the border between today’s Poland and Germany.
On April 16, 1945, the last large-scale Soviet offensive began, finally breaking through the German resistance and, only a few weeks later, ending the war. Tens of thousands of soldiers from Germany, Russia, Poland and other nations died during the fighting at the “Battle for Seelow Heights” on their march to take Berlin and end the war. In addition, since area villages were essentially evacuated and flattened, a unique cultural landscape was forever destroyed.
Seelow Heights museum near Berlin
The museum itself is a small and simple building. Built in 1972, it was designed to look like the bunker used by the Russian commander, Marshal Zhukov to direct the battle. The exhibits inside the museum, which were updated in 2012, are superbly done, and presented in both German and English. It is a small exhibit in one room with artifacts, videos and displays, but highly educational. Another small viewing room shows a short film documenting the final months leading up to the fall of Berlin. It is visually compelling and extremely informative – do not miss it!
In addition, the museum houses an extensive archive and library of nearly 14,000 media and historical reports. It is available for use by historians, journalists and visitors but registration is required. Thus, for good reason, the Museum Seelow Heights, with its extensive archives, has become an extremely important meeting place and destination for those looking to research, analyze and remember the horrors of the Second World War – especially in light of the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Berlin and the end of the war.
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Museum memorial at Seelow Heights for all fallen soldiers
When you exit the Seelow Heights museum, a path continues up to the Russian memorial located at the top of the hill. There, you are quickly reminded that until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, this site was only a memorial to then-Soviet victors, not to the battle itself or losses inflicted on both sides.
While a part of former East Germany, the memorial was used to commemorate GDR politics and thinking, as well as used as a meeting place for the swearing in of officers of the National People’s Army and for East German military youth groups. In fact, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, much discussion ensued about the building’s exhibits, and many were slowly removed or changed to eliminate any political leanings. Today’s final version of the museum was achieved in 2012.
Tours and visits to the Museum Seelow Heights
With so few English-speaking tourists and a location in the countryside, English tours are not a regular part of the program at the time of this writing. Regular tours are in German and last about 90 minutes. Please check on timing since they formerly had been on Sundays only and, we quote, “about 11 a.m.” Currently, the Seelow Heights museum website is not specific about tours and their timing. If booked in advanced, one can arrange English group tours for an additional fee. Also available are lengthy tours of the area and grounds (six hours), also only noted in German, but it never hurts to ask.
The museum is accessible from Berlin by car, bike, train or bus, although a car is the most convenient because of its countryside location, with a drive time depending on traffic of 75 minutes to about two hours. For those seeking public transportation, use this link to find your route and input this address for your destination: 15306 Seelow, Mittelstrasse 10. (Public transportation from Berlin’s main train station will take approximately two hours with two to three changes and a walk of a quarter-mile to just over a half-mile at the destination.)