Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Thursday, November 17, 2016

A Puzzling War Memorial

Below is a memorial for both World Wars located in Ettlingen near Karlsruhe, Germany.  A few years ago I posted it on our newsletter, the St. Mihiel Trip-Wire, and asked for an explanation of the symbolism of the lower section from our readers. (The upper "Grim Reaper" part is pretty clear.) Unfortunately, no explanation was forthcoming. I was very disappointed. 

Since I'm still seeking an explanation I've decided a) to present it to our readers at Roads to the Great War and b) offer a prize for the winning submission.  Information on contest prize and rules are below.  ***Additional detail added 18 Nov 2016:  We have learned through one of our helpful readers that the reference to 1939-1945 was added to the original 1927 sculpture after WWII. Consequently, the lower portion's symbolism was originally linked somehow to the Great War.***


The winning entry will receive our World War I Centennial Hit Parade CD.  Play list and details can be found HERE.


1.  The winning entry will be the best explanation/interpretation of the 1939-1945 section of the Karlsruhe War Memorial. At his discretion the judge may award multiple prizes. (Or not award any prizes at all.)

2.  The winning entry must include explanations of who the combatants are, whether they are fighting each other or some snake-like monster, what the bowling ball-like object represents, what exactly the thingamajig on the far right is, and why both parties are red-headed.

3.  Entries must be posted in the comments section of the article with emails included for contact information. Entries close at midnight Pacific Standard Time, 24 November 2016.

4.  Needless to say, all decisions by the judge are final.  

5.  The winning entry (if any) will be published on Roads to the Great War on 27 November 2016.


  1. It's a bas-relief, yes? I saw it in 1977. A then-girlfriend tried to explain it in her broken English and my poor German. As I recall it's a Wagnerian scene of two Germanic gods wrestling over the soul of man. The creator was supposed to have been associated with the anti-Hitler Resistance. How much she was pulling my gullible leg I don't know, but it made sense when she explained it to me.

    1. For the contest we need you to post your email address or send it to

  2. Replies
    1. Just the Banner was added post-WWII. Both sections of the sculpture, Grim-Reaper + Giants were apparently included in the original 1927 memorial.
      Posted 18 Nov 2016

  3. That's an awesome work of art. Chilling.

  4. I was intrigued by the discussion of the Ettlingen memorial so I did some web research that may provide further thoughts on the subject. The following specifically addresses the lower section of the memorial. As noted in an update on the original post, the reference to 1939-1945 was added later and was not part of the original memorial therefore that date reference is ignored for the following discussion.

    The original post asked for further information, specifically:
    “…explanations of who the combatants are, whether they are fighting each other or some snake-like monster, what the bowling ball-like object represents, what exactly the thingamajig on the far right is, and why both parties are red-headed.”

    The image presented in the original post appears to be of poor color quality compared to several others I have found. In particular take a look at the image posted here:

    Or perhaps this one even though it is rather blurry:

    These next two links describe the memorial content in very similar ways which I have combined and paraphrased below.,Len/startseite/Tourism+and+Leisure/War+Memorial.html

    1 - Created in 1927 by Ettlingen sculptor Oskar A. Kiefer
    2 - Found above the archway on the southern side of the town hall tower
    3 – Commonly known as a "Pacifist War memorial"
    4 - It is described as:
    A ravenous Death seated on a horse, swinging his scythe and mercilessly trampling human corpses underfoot – soldier and civilian alike. In the `underground´ area, a battle plays out between two brutal giants, wound in the coils of a snake.

    The post asks for the answers to the following questions. My interpretations are given below.

    1 - Who the combatants are
    2 - Whether they are fighting each other or some snake-like monster
    3 – What the bowling ball-like object represents
    4 - What exactly the thingamajig on the far right is
    5 - Why both parties are red-headed

    1 – The combatants are mentioned on the other sites as being two giants. My guess would be that they represent the opposing WW1 factions.
    2 – They are fighting each other and wound in a snake’s coils. To me the snake might symbolize being grasped by something tenacious that won’t let go – i.e. hate.
    3 – I am not sure what is being seen as a “bowling ball” unless it is the black area in the center just above the dash between the two dates that were added later. If this is the area referred to, a close look at one of the better images above should show that it is part of the snake’s body.
    4 – The thing on the far right is definitely harder to make out at the angle from which the photographs were taken but I believe it to be the snake’s head. I have not currently found a photograph taken more from the right which might confirm this thought.
    5 – The giants’ hair appears brown in the other photographs. I believe the apparent red tint to be a problem with lighting in the originally posted photograph.

    I would definitely be interested in seeing other people’s comments and thoughts on my interpretations.

    Paul Hurm

    ( Read about my (currently stalled) World War One project by starting at: )

  5. Two more links to photos. The first one shows the bottom section pretty well but still without a really good view of the snake head.

    The second shows great detail but unfortunately is not a complete view.

  6. I went back 42 years later I left ettlingen June 1980 and just got back november 12 2022. I was in the army 78th enginer battalion a 5 minute walk. I looked at this many times in ten days all I know is death. It was great to be back 42 years later.