How do you lose a 3.86-ton sculpture of Lenin’s head?

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A statue of Lenin being dismantled in Berlin in 1991
The granite head being removed from the larger statue in 1991.
Image: AP Photo/Hansi Krauss

Next spring, Berlin will hold a long-planned exhibition bringing together 100 cast-off monuments of its troubled past, including statues from the bloody Nazi era and the long years of Soviet rule. Missing, though, will be the planned centerpiece: a 3.5 tonne (3.86 ton) sculpture of Vladimir Lenin’s head made from red Ukrainian granite. When the exhibition’s organizers went to retrieve it from the Berlin forest where it was last seen 23 years ago, they came up empty-handed.

So how do you lose the monumental head of a Russian revolutionary? It was once part of a 62-foot-high statue in East Berlin’s Lenin Square (now United Nations Square). In 1991, after the reunification of East and West Germany, the statue was decapitated, broken into 129 pieces, and buried beneath a pile of sand in Köpenick Forest at the southeastern limits of the city. The trouble is, today no one knows exactly where. To make matters worse, the site had been pillaged by vandals and thieves over the years.

Finding the head would be technically challenging, expensive, and time consuming, so the city has decided against mounting a search. That doesn’t sit well with the organizers of the exhibition, which has been five years in the making and will cost 14 million euros ($18.7 million). The curator, Andrea Theissen, told the Berliner Zeitung, “I am bitterly disappointed that we are only now hearing about this decision and that this central object cannot be exhibited.”