Isted Lion in Copenhagen

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The Isted Lion ( (very archaic name: Flensborgløven), or ) is a Danish war monument originally intended as a monument of the Danish victory over Schleswig-Holstein in the Battle of Isted (Idstedt) on July 25, 1850 — at its time the largest battle in Scandinavian history. Others perceived it more as a memorial for the Danish dead in the battle.

Originally erected in Flensburg, Schleswig, it was moved to Berlin by Prussian authorities and remained there until 1945. It was returned to Denmark as a gift from the United States Army and was located at Søren Kierkegaards Plads in Copenhagen. In September 2011 it returned to Flensburg.


Following the Danish victory over Schleswig-Holstein in the First War of Schleswig (1848–51), Danish sculptor Herman Wilhelm Bissen was commissioned to create a monument to the ordinary Danish soldier. Although not an actual Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, his monument reflected a similar idea. This monument Landsoldaten (the Foot Soldier) was unveiled in Fredericia in 1858. At the following banquet, it was decided to start a public subscription of funds for a second monument, and one of the options discussed was a statue of General Frederik Rubeck Henrik Bülow, the commander of Fredericia during the German siege of the town. Through the intervention of politician Orla Lehmann, it was decided that the funds would instead be used for a monument commemorating the Battle of Isted. Like the previous monument, this commission was awarded to Bissen.

The lion is derived from the arms of Denmark and Schleswig which contain three and two blue lions, respectively. In order to create a perfect image of a lion, Bissen travelled to Paris to study a lion held in the Jardin des Plantes and created a life-size model before returning to Denmark. On the copy, the reliefs of the four Danish officers were replaced with a single image of the German officer Prince Frederick Charles of Prussia, in effect reversing the meaning of the original monument. Such a request was promptly delivered by Danish Foreign Minister John Christmas Møller. Møller said, "The removal of this sepulchral monument, which in this country is considered a national sanctuary, and its erection in a German military academy, caused a resentment which till this very day is still alive in wide circles of the Danish people."<ref name="nazi contraband"/>

In the autumn of 1945 the paperwork had been completed, and an American army convoy headed for Copenhagen, where it arrived on October 5. On October 20, the lion was officially handed over to King Christian X. In what was considered an interim solution, the lion was placed in a courtyard on the rear side of the Royal Danish Arsenal Museum (Tøjhusmuseet) and placed on a mere wooden plinth.

From 1945 to 1947, a large number of Danish politicians advocated for a re-annexation of Southern Schleswig, and in particular Flensburg - resulting in a fierce political debate. As the debate ended with a confirmation of the existing border, the same politicians ruled out the possibility of returning the statue to a German-ruled town. On a number of occasions, controversy over the monument resurfaced, as a new generation of politicians began advocating for its return to a German-administered Flensburg.

In 1999, construction of a new public square near the museum began, prompted by a relocation of the Danish Royal Library to a neighbouring site. Debate about moving the lion to this more prominent position began, and the Ny-Carlsberg Foundation volunteered to pay for the relocation. The wooden plinth was replaced with a bigger one made of brick, and the statue was reunited with its four reliefs for the first time in more than a century. The finished result was unveiled on the 150th anniversary of the battle, July 25, 2000, by Danish Minister for Culture Elsebeth Gerner Nielsen. In her speech, she expressed the wish that the statue would be returned to Flensburg.<ref name="Milhist"/> In a Parliament debate on November 20, 1998 she had previously stated that the statue should be returned to Flensburg, since this was the wish of the Danish minority there.

A committee in Fredericia, already the home of Bissen's other main work, the statue of the Foot Soldier, was lobbying for moving the monument there.<ref name="Volden"/>

Return to Flensburg

At the request of the city council of Flensburg, the Danish Government decided to return the Isted Lion to its original home in Germany. On September 10 2011 it returned to the military cemetery, where it was first erected. The ceremony was attended by HRH Prince Joachim of Denmark.


  • Part of the information regarding the copy in Berlin is based on the on the German Wikipedia, accessed on 12 June 2006.
  • Den Store Danske Encyklopædi, CD-ROM edition, entry Istedløven

External links