When I first travelled to Eastern Europe, one of the things that fascinated me most was the sight of monuments from the communist era. Surviving sections of the Berlin Wall, huge statues of Karl Marx and murals that glorify the workers were not something I had ever been familiar with as a Londoner. But perhaps that’s because I had never looked hard enough. A friend once said to me “if you try, you can find anything in London from the rest of the world.” It turned out the guy was right, even when it comes to communist monuments.
Yes, you can visit the Berlin Wall in London. I first stumbled upon this whilst living between Lambeth North and Elephant & Castle. In Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park, you will find an authentic piece of the Berlin wall just outside the Imperial War Museum. It was acquired by the museum in 1991 and came from Leuschnerdamm, a street in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin.
The same park is also home to a Soviet war memorial. It is the only monument of its kind in the UK, paying tribute to the Red Army and citizens of the Soviet Union, 27 million of which were killed in World War II, saving Europe from the Nazis.
An archive, library, museum and cultural centre in Central London that looks like a shrine to communism. Built in 1738, it was originally a Welsh charity school but later became a radical printing workshop where from 1902 to 1903, Vladimir Lenin worked in the library whilst in exile. But it wasn’t until 1933 that Labour and Communist Party members turned the building into the Karl Marx Memorial Library, as a response to the Nazis’ ‘burning of the books’ which had happened earlier that year. Whilst browsing the library‘s rooms, it’s impossible to miss the busts of Marx and Lenin, posters from the Russian revolution, banners from the Spanish Civil War and colourful communist artwork.
As you leave, it’s worth having a pint in the Crown Tavern pub just outside. This is allegedly the place where Lenin first met Stalin in 1905. It’s a cool place for a beer and perfect for revolution-plotting.
Just behind the London Eye, is a monument to the 2,100 British volunteers who fought against Franco in the Spanish Civil War, of which 526 were killed. Although not specifically communist, it nonetheless resembles artwork of the old Eastern Bloc, flaunting a raised fist that rises from people struggling together as a collective.
A mosaic on Portobello Road, famous for its market, also pays homage to the UK’s Spanish Civil War volunteers in a mural entitled ‘Echoes of Spain’. Here, you can even spot the flag of the Soviet Union in a portrayal of British Communists who were active in Spain’s fight against fascism.
This looks like something straight out of East Berlin. Only it’s in North London, in Highgate Cemetery. Marx (1818 - 1875) lived in London from 1849 until his death. The tomb however, was built years later in 1956. During the 1970s it suffered vandalism and even two bomb attacks by opponents of Marx’s ideas. The structure still stands nonetheless, quite ironically in a cemetery where many other famous communists are known to have been buried.
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