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Hindenburg’s massive square head, his bushy moustache, his broad shoulders, and decorated uniform featured in almost all depictions. In the present day, Hindenburg’s appearance fails to strike up the kind of admiration his contemporaries reserved for his looks. ⁷¹ The more popular he became, however, the taller he appeared in depictions, mirroring people’s perceptions of the Field Marshal as a true colossus. ⁷² Saying it with nails The 13-metre-high ‘Iron Hindenburg’ nailing statue, erected in front of the column of victory in Berlin on 4 September 1915, was perhaps the most famous visual manifestation of the Hindenburg myth.

At Tannenberg, situated between Gilgenburg and Hohenstein, the Poles and Lithuanians defeated the German Order in 1410. Now, 504 years later, we have taken revenge . ²⁶ This christening demonstrated Hindenburg’s acute sense of the politics of memory;²⁷ it ensured that the German public instantly perceived it as a victory of historic proportions—and in making himself Tannenberg’s godfather Hindenburg equally guaranteed that his own name would forever be associated with this supposedly seminal event.

He described being greeted by Germany’s wooden war hero from a distance when walking up the Siegesallee, fighting his way through the ‘wall of people’ around the memorial, queuing for a whole hour, and feeling more and more uplifted with every metre that brought him closer to his ‘great hero’. ⁸⁶ People were only allowed to drive nails into Hindenburg’s coat, the uniform, and the sword so as to spare his hands and face and avoid directly wounding his flesh. After the father had climbed the scaffolding, his heart was ‘throbbing in his chest’ when he hammered his nail into Hindenburg’s wooden leg, and his oldest son even said a quick prayer before hitting the hammer as hard ‘as if he wanted to beat his enemies to a pulp’.

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