Notes on German Culture, WWI...First World War

Large wooden Nail Man statues were set up in cities all over Germany and Austria in WWI.

The image here is of a 1915 poster from Königsberg, the capital city of East Prussia. The poster shows a large dark knight against a colorful German Imperial Eagle banner with text announcing the dedication of an Iron Warrior, known as Der Eiserne Wehrmann. The text explains that the event will be held to collect funds to benefit the survivors of fallen soldiers, specifically those of the First Army Corps who fought victoriously against the Russian invasion of East Prussia in August 1914.

The Königsberg iron warrior…Der Eiserne Wehrmann… was a typical Nail Man or Man of Nails (German: Nagelmann) and he was a popular method of fundraising for members of the armed forces and their dependents in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the German Empire during World War I. These large wooden warrior statues were set up in cities all over Germany and Austria in WWI. 

The Nail Men consisted of wooden statues…usually of knights in armor…into which nails were driven. Either black iron nails or colored silver or gold nails, in exchange for donations of different amounts. Some statues took different forms, such as pillars, shields or local coats of arms and crosses, especially the Iron Cross. The psychology behind these nail statues was to create a communal participatory act that would transform a wooden statute into a metal plated iron statue…where people could openly show their support and encouraging each other to completely cover the statue. 

The Königsberg fundraising poster is considered the most visually striking of all the German Wehrmann posters. However, of the actual physical statues, the most famous were the original Wehrmann in Eisen in Vienna and the Iron Hindenburg in Berlin.


The original Wehrmann in Eisen in Vienna…he is covered with large and small nails

In Berlin a 42 foot high wooden statue of Hindenburg was erected in 1915, near the Victory Column. Donations were made by purchasing nails…a golden nail cost a one hundred marks, a silver five, and an iron nail one mark. The huge Hindenburg figure was never fully ‘nailed’ and as the war progressed public enthusiasm diminished as people were worn down by the length and costs of the war.


Designed by Georg Marschall and inaugurated on 4 September 1915; Princess August Wilhelm drove the first nail into Hindenburg’s name on the plinth. 1.15 million marks were raised

Toward the end of 1918, revolution was getting a foothold, socialist and communist ranks were increasing…rioting and sabotaging the war effort…and the general population was starving due to the English blockade. German civilians and soldiers had become war-weary and radicalized by the Russian Revolution. The Iron Hindenburg’s day was over. Its wooden scaffolding and steps were gradually dismantled by rioters and stolen for use as firewood.

Are there any of these historic icons still in existence? I can only guess…
there were so many nail men and other nail objects all over Germany and Austria that I believe some of them must have survived as memorials. But I am only guessing and cannot find any examples.

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