After 38 years in seclusion, eight famous 19th-century statues are finally leaping over the Berlin wall -- eastward.And some Germans, at least, hope they may initiate a new concept of common cultural trust to replace bitter squabbling over the inheritance of artistic treasures in a divided Germany.
The eight statues -- which have languished until now in a West Berlin canal pumphouse --are of Carrara marble and represent the development of a boy into a mature hero, companioned by the Greek deities Nike and Athena. The occasion of their return to their pedestals on the Palace Bridge (now Marx-Engels Bridge) is the 200th birthday of their creator, Karl Friedrich Schinkel, the early 19th century architect, painter, graphic artist, sculptor, furniture and stage set designer, 1830s architect-general of Prussia. He was the man who gave the Prussian capital the neoclassical look that for a century was synonymous with Berlin.
The donor of the statues is the city of West Berlin, on the personal decision of the new mayor, Hans-Jochen Vogel. The recipient, Mr. Vogel stresses, is every Berliner, whether from West or East.
The reinstallation of the statues on the Palace Bridge will go part way toward restoring Schinkel's original ensemble along Unter Den Linden, the tree-lined boulevard leading from the Brandenburg Gate to the Imperial Palace.
Today East Germany's new-found reverence for things Prussian should assure the bridge figures a worthy reception.
The Social Democratic West Berlin mayor's gift of the Schinkel statues to East Berlin has raised protests from opposition conservatives. They ask if this means that West Berlin will soon offer up Nefertiti, the queen who before the war resided in a museum now part of East Berlin -- and before that, was smuggled out of her native Egypt, a country that is her third claimant today.
West Berlin conservatives also fear the return of the Schinkel statues might prompt East Berlin to ask for other West Berlin treasures back: Rembrandt's "Man with a Golden Helmet," Mozart's original score of "Idomeneo," and thousands of others.
Mayor Vogel's reply to his conservative critics is that it surely is better to have the statues on display in East Berlin than hidden away in a West Berlin pumphouse .