Rubble Mountain: My Favorite Attraction in Stuttgart, Germany

Attractions in Birkenkopf Stuttgart, Germany

My favorite attraction in Stuttgart is not one of the several castles, nor is it one of the cities’ fine museums.

It’s not even the world famous Opera House, nor is it one of Stuttgart’s many festivals.  My favorite attraction in Stuttgart is in actual fact  a big pile of rubble – 15 million cubic meters of it to be exact.  After World War II Stuttgart, like many cities in Germany were left flattened.  Stuttgart alone was air raided 53 times, destroying 45% of the city.  That’s a lot of rubble.  What do do with more than 15 million cubic meters of rubble?

Build a rubble mountain!  In Stuttgart, the rubble mountain is called the Birkenkopf, but more generally rubble mountains are called “Monte Scherbelino” meaning “mountain shards” in child-like language, or “Schuttberg”  meaning a “debris hill”.  There are other names for them as well and most major cities in Germany have at least one rubble mountain as a memorial to all the people that died in WWII.

Rubble at the top of the Birkenkopf Stuttgart, GermanyI had heard the view from the Birkenkopf was one of the finest in all of Stuttgart, but I didn’t know what to expect.  Would we be crawling over the actual rubble climbing our way to the top?  Would we even know we were on a pile of rubble or had it all been hidden away?

Path to Birkenkopf Stuttgart, Germany

The path to the Birkenkopf

As we started along a tree lined path, it seemed just like any other path walking through a forested area, covered with grass and lined with stones.  I would never have guessed that it was all sitting on top of a very large pile of ruble or that the stones lining the path were actually rubble from WWII.  Then as we got closer, we saw a plaque telling us that the Birkenkopf sat at an elevation of 511 m, the highest point in inner Stuttgart.  That was the only sign that this was no ordinary mountain.  Then as we came around the corner almost at the top of the Birkkenkopf  it hit us.  Rubble was on either side of us and piled up along 3/4 of the top of the mountain.  It hit me like a ton of bricks (pun intended) to actually see  with my own eyes the destruction of war, and the lives lost, and that was not counting the 40m of rubble that I was already standing on. We were greeted by a memorial plaque in German that loosely translates as “This mountain was built after WWII from the rubble of the town to stand as a memorial of the the dead and a warning to the living.”

Birkenkopf memorial plaque in Stuttgart, Germany

The memorial plaque at the Birkenkopf.

I noticed an elderly lady solemnly sitting on a bench looking out, but not really appearing to be enjoying the vast view of the city.  Perhaps she was thinking of loved ones lost in the war?  I didn’t have a chance to ponder any longer as I was interrupted by several laughing children engaged in a game of hide and seek.    It turns out rubble makes for excellent hiding places.

Children playing in rubble at the Birkenkopf Stuttgart, Germany

Rubble from WWII makes for a good game of hide and seek.

Once I pushed the destruction from my mind, I set out to enjoy the 360° view.  From the Birkenkopf you can see all the way to the Swabian Alps and to the Black Forest on a clear day.

View from Birkenkopf Stuttgart, Germany

View of Stuttgart the surrounding area from the Birkenkopf. Unfortunately it was a cloudy day.

View of Stuttgart from the Birkenkopf, Germany

View of Stuttgart from the Birkenkopf.

The Birkenkopf is my favorite attraction in Stuttgart because it blends the past with the present.  You cannot help but think back to WWII when the destruction is sitting there starting you in the face.  It is a place for contemplation and reflection.  I always feel a bit melancholy when I visit the Birkenkopf, but it is also a place for hope.  I was amazed that the trees growing on the pile of rubble looked the same as the ones that were growing on a nearby natural hill.  Seemingly impossible but yet possible.  I could not help but think how far Stuttgart and Germany have come since WWII when looking out at the metropolis of Stuttgart and that from the terrible, unspeakable tragedy of WWII something has been learned, and that past mistakes will not be repeated.  Hope and peace have emerged from the enormous pile of rubble.

The Birkenkopf in Stuttgart is located:

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“Schuttbergs” or rubble mountains can be found all over Germany. I would highly recommend one visiting one if you are in ermany. Check with the local tourist office of the city you are visiting.

Comments

  1. eastgale says

    Very interesting memorial, I have never heard about it! I wonder whether Munich has one of those as well. I think they are not too well-known to tourists, and one of the reason I have speculated is that Germans have always been very very quiet about mourning WWII for themselves, I don’t think they publicize about how they mourn about their dead because of the enormous shadow of Nazi crimes, and hence very likely to keep everything related to the mourning of its own dead low key – in other words, it is for themselves, and not for everyone else.

    But of course it is only my speculation. Nonetheless, it is a very interesting but sombre memorial. I would have loved to visit one if I ever get another chance to visit Germany.

    And oh, “Perhaps it’s just a German thing?”, it could be…Germans do seem to be a lot more sombre with regard to memorials, did you know about the Germany WWI cemetery in Belgium (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Langemark_German_war_cemetery)? I think it makes a great contrast with allied cemeteries. It is heavy and sombre just from looking at the photos – and of course, not being the victor in the war probably contributed a lot to the sombreness.

  2. Laurel says

    @Norbert – I didn’t know this either until I moved to Germany.

    @Debbie – The best list I found of all the rubble mountains in Germany is on Wikipedia: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schuttberg. From there, I think the easiest thing would be to ask the tourist office of the city you were in, as I’ve found it difficult to find info regarding location, etc. on them.

    @Eastgale – Munich has several (see http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schuttberg) which I haven’t been to yet. I think your idea of why Schuttbergs are not made well known to tourists makes a lot of sense. Thanks for sharing the link to the WWI cemetery. It is very sombre looking, but I can understand that given the circumstances. That’s why I was really surprised to see children playing on the rubble, which while isn’t a cemetery is a memorial, but no one there seemed too mind.

  3. Eastgale says

    @Laurel
    Thank you for the wiki link! I have checked it out and it turns out that I lived right near to one. The Olympiaberg at the Olympiazentrum is one of them and I have been there. I am dismayed now that I didn’t know the story back then.

    When we visited there it just looked so normal, a park with a small rolling hills with beautiful grass covering it. Now that I think back, I can finally understand what the cross on top of the hill is for! At that time I remember puzzling with my friends, now everything made sense. But the place looked exactly like a normal (and beautiful) park! Kids playing, people reading, strolling around, etc etc. I guess it should be a sign of hope that something this sombre can turn into something beautiful, eh?

  4. Chris says

    Thanks for posting this. I didn’t know these existed, and especially that they could be found all over Germany. I wonder if any other countries have them?

  5. Martin Stock says

    As you found out – the Birkenkopf is now the highest point of Stuttgart with 511 meters. To have a mountain higher than 500 meters was the reason why the piled up the rubble exactly there. Otherwise they could have picked any other location at lower altitude and easier to reach. The inner city was the most severely destroyed part of the city. Thus they had to move these 15 million cubic meters rubble 200-300 meters in altitude to pile them up on the Birkenkopf.

  6. Lori says

    Fascinating! Thank you for posting! I lived in Stuttgart from 1952-56. My Army officer father was stationed at Robinson Barracks, a large U.S. Army installation. The post included a large apartment complex for military families. The apartments were located next to a beautiful orchard in a valley. The kids played in this orchard, where there were many bomb craters. On the other side of the post, there were woods and a line of concrete “teeth” that had been part of the Siegfried Line. My father was in the infantry during World War II; landed with his 90th Infantry Division on Utah Beach, D-Day, and fought across Germany, France, Belgium, Luxomborg throughout the war. He was an attorney, and served with the JAG Corps in Stuttgart in the 1950s. Part of his job was to assist German citizens seeking to relcaim their homes that had been abandoned during the war. At that time there were still many bombed out buildings in the city center, but rebuilding was ongoing. I had no idea that this rubble monument existed. I have always wanted to return for a visit, and if I get my wish, I will seek out this site.

    • David says

      Robinson Barracks- in a somewhat smaller form- still is on top of the hill you remember from your childhood. In the 1980’s when I was stationed at Kelley Barracks across town, Robinson Barracks was mainly a large housing area and the site of the community PX & Commissary. After the Cold War the PX/Commissary complex was closed and returned to the Germans and is now a dense housing community compared to the rest of RB. Robinson Barracks is now fenced in and closed to the public.

      As to the Birkenkopf, remember that a significant portion of the rubble from the Bombings was collected and reused as Germany was very poor in the aftermath of th war. I do not know what percentage of rubble was reused versus piled up on the hill, but the hill would have been much higher had the Germans not reused all that could be recovered. The Trümmerfrau or Rubble Women did much of the clearing of debris and recovery of the city after the War. Theirs is a story largely forgotten outside of Germany.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trümmerfrau

  7. Cheryl k says

    Thank you so much for posting this… I lived in Stuttgart in 2004, and went here… But most of my pictures didn’t turn out and I had forgotten its name… I appreciate this more than words can tell you.

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