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Schwerin, Germany

Henry the Lion Monument

A city's controversial tribute to its founder depicts townspeople flashing their bare behinds.  

In front of the cathedral in Schwerin’s Market Square, there’s a strange monument that features a lion prowling atop a single pillar. Each side of the monument shows curious scenes associated with Henry the Lion, the city’s founder. One scene stands out more than others, as it depicts the duke riding through a bizarre passageway lined with people flashing their buttocks.

During his lifetime, Henry, Duke of Bavaria and Saxony, was one of the most powerful men in his region of the world. He founded the city of Schwerin in 1160, and also founded other cities like Munich (1157) and Lübeck (1159). During his reign, his territory spanned from the coasts of the North and Baltic seas all the way to the Alps.

The lion on the top of the monument references Henry’s heraldic animal. The reliefs on the sides of the pillar show several episodes from the duke’s conquests—and one scene depicting a row of several bare butts. This strange inclusion is an artistic representation of something Henry allegedly encountered while on a military campaign.

Legend has it that when Henry the Lion arrived in the town of Bardowick, its residents received him with their pants pulled down to reveal their bare behinds. They formed this “bottom parade” to express their anger at the Duke’s trade policy. During his reign, Henry had promoted Schwerin and Lübeck as important trading places, causing Bardowick to lose its prestige, much to the contempt of its citizenry.

The nearly 15-foot-tall monument and its four reliefs were built by the satirical (and often controversial) German sculptor Peter Lenk in 1995 to honor the 800th anniversary of Henry the Lion’s death.

Know Before You Go

The monument is located in the heart of Schwerin, the little capital of Mecklenburg. It's a close walk to the central station, which is well connected to Berlin and Hamburg by train.