Vladimir Lenin's German comeback on Thursday did not look very majestic. Fixed with straps attached to an industrial crane, a gigantic granite Lenin head was unearthed in a forest near Berlin.
Shortly afterward, the statue was transported back to the city from which it had been banned about 24 years earlier. It did not return in its entirety, though. Historians were able to find only the head of the statue, which was originally part of a 62-feet-tall replica of the Communist leader. Workers had split the statue into more than 100 pieces when they tried to dismember it in 1991.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Germans wanted to get rid of most of the Soviet symbols as quickly as possible. Parts of the Berlin Wall are worth thousands of dollars today, but they were regarded as rubble shortly after its fall in 1989.
The Lenin statue always had a special meaning for eastern German politicians and supporters of the Soviet regime — which made it a particular target for the country's new, unified government. So it came as little surprise when Berlin's mayor, Eberhard Diepgen, ordered the statue to be removed after reunification. The scene was prominently featured in the German movie "Goodbye Lenin."
There are few symbols of the Soviet Union that eastern Germans remember more vividly than the Lenin statue, which was inaugurated in 1970 with about 200,000 people present. Historians had long demanded it to be dug up because of its significance.
Now, the remnants of the famous monument are supposed to be the prime attraction of a new exhibition that will feature a variety of figures who have shaped German history. On Thursday, visitors were able to take a first glimpse at the statue.
The giant Lenin monument in Berlin was certainly not the only Soviet symbol that was destroyed in the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Statues of Lenin and Marx were brought down almost everywhere across the former Soviet Union.
Unearthing such statues is a rare phenomenon. It is still much more common for statues to be destroyed, especially in eastern Europe, which is in a new standoff with Moscow.
Anti-Russian protesters pulled down hundreds of massive Lenin statues in Ukraine last year. To many western Ukrainians today, Lenin is a symbol of the Soviet Union and Russia's aggressive support for the separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.
Despite the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union, which resulted in the split between Russia and Ukraine, hundreds of monuments to the founder of modern Russia survived the transition, as WorldViews reported earlier.
This map — based on accounts of activists — shows the massive demolition of Lenin monuments in Ukraine in 2014 alone.
"To many Ukrainians, Lenin represents not only the communist regime, but also radical separation from Europe and Western civilization more broadly," Steven Fish, a Russian studies professor at the University of California at Berkeley, told the Los Angeles Times.
But in Germany, Lenin statues do not provoke such strong emotions anymore.
Although Germans managed to delay the unearthing of Lenin in Berlin, it wasn't for political reasons: Environmentalists had discovered a species of endangered sand lizards in the area that had to be resettled first.