History - World War II, Berlin
Close to the Bell Tower at the Olympic Stadium there is a little known memorial to commemorate the victims of Nazi military justice at Murellenberg. The hilly area has been used by the military since the 1840s and included barracks and shooting range, part of it is still used by the police. Most of this has now gone and it is now popular for walks and jogging. Between August 1944 and April 1945 approximately 230 soldiers were executed on the Murellenburg having first been tried at the Reich's War Court mainly for desertion or undermining military force. Most of those that were executed at now buried at Fort Hahneberg, Spandau. On 08 May 2002 a memorial designed by Patrica Pisani inaugurated. The memorial starts close to Waldbühne Concert Venue. It consists of a 700m forest path with 104 traffic mirrors placed along the route with 16 of the mirrors have lasered text of the events that happened.
To most people the name Johann Georg Elser is unknown unlike the name Claus von Stauffenberg. Both tried to assassinate Adolf Hitler by setting off bombs and both failed for different reasons. Elser had worked as an engineer and a carpenter and used these skills to make and hide his bomb. Elser opposed National Socialism and did not trust Hitler's claims to want peace. With war breaking out on 01 September 1939 this made Elser more determined to complete his plan.
Every year on the 08 November Hitler attended the anniversary of the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch in the Bürgerbräukeller, a large beer hall in Munich to give a speech to the surviving veterans of the Putsch. Elser had attended the anniversary speech in 1938 and had judged the security at the hall as poor and decided he would try to assassinate Hitler the following year when he gave his speech. Elser went to Munich weeks before the annual speech and regularly attended the beer hall hiding in the building each night. Each night Elser slowly hollowed out a pillar behind the speaker's rostrum intending to place a bomb inside it. Hitler's speech's were usually long winded affairs that went on for hours. Hitler had intended to fly back to Berlin after the speech but fog caused the flight to be cancelled. Due to the inclement weather Hitler started his speech earlier than usual so he could travel back to Berlin by train. The speech was also much shorter than usual and Hitler left the Beer Hall, 13 minutes before the bomb exploded killing 8 and injuring 63.
Luck was not on Elser's side and he had already been arrested before the bomb went off as he tried to cross the border into Switzerland. As the parts fell into place and suspicion fell on Elser, he was tortured, confessed and was sent to the Sachsenhausen and then Dachau Concentration Camps. As the war was drawing to a close, Elser was shot dead on 09 April 1945 at Dachau and this was made to look like the results of an air raid.
As Elser and the assassination attempt, which could have changed the course of history, become more well known several memorials have been erected. One of those was inaugurated on the 08 November 2011 in Wilhelmstraße adjacent to where Hitler's Reich Chancellery once stood . It was designed by Ulrich Klages and the sculpture is a 17 metre high silhouette of Elser and is lit at night giving it an eyrie appearance as you pass it. Close to the sculpture are information boards detailing the assassination attempt.
The memorial to the Sinti and Roma of Europe murdered under National Socialism was inaugurated by the German Chancellor and President on 24 October 2012. It is estimated that half million Sinti and Roma died during the holocaust, The memorial was first planned in 1992 but it has taken 20 years to finally completed it due to disagreements over its design by the various associations. The memorial is located in the Tiergarten between the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag. There is a circular reflecting pool with a small triangular retractable concrete plinth on which flowers are placed daily. There are broken slabs of stone surrounding the pool. A line of boards given an account of the Chronology of the genocide of the Sinti and Roma. The memorial is open 24 hours a day and was designed by the artist Dani Karavan.
I love to find places that can be seen, walked past but are missed because it is not known they exist. One such place is a huge well preserved Bunker that is close to the House of the Wannsee Conference. I should say at the start that the building is not open to the general public at this present time and can only be view from a distance. The bunker can be seen either from the far corner of the car park used by visitors to the House of the Wannsee Conference or walk further up the road to Am Großen Wannsee 80 to view the other side of the building. A building complex was built between 1938/9 by the architect Eduard Jobst Siedler for the Reich Defence School. The bunker which has 4 metre thick reinforced concrete walls and has 6 floors was completed in 1943. It served as a command post to coordinate the air defence for Berlin and a large area of Germany during WW2. Towards the end of the war the entire command staff of the armed forces moved there from Zossen Wünsdorf. After the end of the war the bunker was used as a telegraph transmitting station and post office by the US Forces. Later on the surrounding buildings were used for a TB Clinic and are now part of the Blood Transfusion Service. The bunker has been used as a mortuary and in the 1985 work was started to convert it as an emergency 600 bed hospital. The work was not completed until 1993 when the cold war had ended. Since then the equipment been given away to previous enemies of the cold war. The Berliner-Unterwelten have access to the bunker but have no plans at present to provide tours and there is information and photos of the bunker on their website but only in German.
'Heaving bearing body'
Dreaming of Germania Hitler had this built in 1941. The idea behind the 12,650 tonnes of concrete was that if it sank fewer than 6cm the soil would be considered as acceptable on which to go about building the meglamaniacal Germanian arch of triumph! It sank 18cm!
At the end of WWII it was decided that the cylinder could not be blown up because it is in a residential area.
The structure is 59ft tall. That was the height that the road would have been! Madness!
There is not really much to see, other than the craziness of the cylinder itself. There is a set of step opposite the cylinder so that you can see it from the top - to get a littl emore perspective on the size! There are some rusting pieces of equipment etc... inside the cylinder.
Visiting the concrete, going inside it and up the steps is free.
It can be combined with a trip to the Former SA prison as all are within former Prussian army estate.
Opening: Tuesday, Wednesday: 14 -18 hrs Thursday: 10 - 18 hrs
Sunday 13 - 16 hrs
On 1 May and 17 May the heavy load body 10 to 18 clock is open
Platform 17 at Grunewald Railway Station is a memorial to the 50,000 Jews from Berlin, who were transported from this station to various concentration camps during World War 2. The 2 platforms have been re-laid with metal grilles, which have cast along the edge the numbers, dates and camps the Jews were sent too.
Whilst searching on the internet for bunkers in Berlin I came upon this website that wetted my appetite. Later on I watched a TV program about the numerous tunnels, bunkers, flak towers and buildings that were used as shelters and the new Germania. I was aware of the flak towers that had been constructed for defence during WW2 but that’s where it ended. I therefore made up my mind to visit the remaining flak tower in Berlin. Most people are unaware of its existence because after WW2 the flak tower in Humboldthain Park was partly blown up on the southern side by the French. The explosives only damaged about half the tower and the concern was that if the rest of the building was blown up it would fall on to the railway cutting below blocking the line. Therefore it was decided to cover over the building with debris and earth to hide it. The 3 flak towers formed a triangle to defend the airspace over Berlin. The park was reconstructed and things seemed to settle down over the years. Over the passage of time a new interest has been born into the history of the tower. The tower in Humboldthain Park was the last of the 3 towers to be built in April 1942. It was originally planned to build 6 towers but lack of materials and cost halted the project. Each flak tower had a command post that was located 300 to 500 metres away and they were linked by underground cables. The command posts were also known as L-Towers had powerful radars and range finders on the roofs. The flak tower had a huge twin barrelled anti aircraft gun on each of the 4 corners. The Humboldthain Flak Tower only had 105mm flak guns until late 1943. This information from the command posts was processed and communicated to the roof top of the flak towers and distributed to the four large corner tower mounted Flak 44 128mm twin mounted flak guns, these had a range of 15,000metres. These guns were protected by smaller calibre machine guns. All three pairs of towers were fitted on their lower platforms with various light flak guns generally of the 20mm and 37mm calibre range, primarily for offensive operations that could engage small low flying allied aircraft. All the weapon systems on both flak towers are also capable of fulfilling a defensive role against both ground and airborne targets. The tower had a compliment of 160 men to man the guns. Towards the end of WW2 the towers were used as a shelter by the general public and they could hold thousands of people. All 3 towers survived the war but the rush was on afterwards to destroy them in case they became a symbol to the Nazis.
I went on a group tour with an enthusiastic English speaking guide, who was happy to answer any questions and processed an excellent knowledge of the history of the tower. A warm coat and sensible footwear are advised. The website gives good directions where to purchase tickets for the tours. Check times & dates for the various tour tours as some are closed during the winter.
The Bendlerblock was originally built to house the German Naval Offices and it was extended to house the Headquarters of the Wehrmacht during WW2. The story would have ended there, had the courtyard not been used to execute some of the failed conspirators, involved in the plot to kill Hitler on 20th July 1944 including Claus von Stauffenberg. There is a memorial to the executions in the courtyard. The profile of the building has recently been raised after the screening of the film Valkyrie some filming of which took place at the building. On the second floor of the building is an exhibition to the history of German anti Nazi movements. The whole exhibition, which is free to visit, is all in German but audio guides are available for free, an id needs to be left. The first floor is used for special exhibitions that are regularly changed.
This building was a huge public air raid shelter during WW2 and is now the Chamber of Horrors. It now contains 3 different exhibitions on 3 floors. There are monsters, skeltons and medieval medicine on the upper floors. The lower floor contains an exhibition of the shelters’ original use during WW2. The upper floors are popular with children and the lower floor with the dads. The building has some unusual opening times so check out their website. The cost of entrance for an adult is 9.50 euros.
While out walking in Berlin I came across a site which was the Former headquarters of the Gestapo. Having a big interest in military history I was interested to view the sinister site
Located behind The Berlin Wall Monument this particular site was formerly The Hotel Prinz- Albrecht , originally the "Romerbad Hotel" built in 1887-88 and considered a first rate Hotel then in the Weimar Republic a very common and popular meeting place for the National Socialist German Workers Party ( N.S.D.A.P.) even before 1933.
The decision was made in 1934 to turn it into the "SS House" by the then SS leader Heinrich Himmler when he decided to move the important offices of the SS from Munich to Berlin. The Headquarters for the Secret State Police was known as Prinz- Albrecht Strasse 8. These buildings located the Offices of the Secret State police from 1933-45 . The Headquarters for the SS Reichs leadership from 1934 and the Reichs Security main Office (RSHA) 1934-45.
These buildings covered a large area with today little remaining .There are many information signs located all around the site depicting where all the different buildings were with very informative text.
. The SS House was almost completely destroyed by a bomb in 1943. Two cobblestone driveways are to be seen on the eastern side of the building and the remains of the cellar walls are still visible.
This group of figures, designed by Will Lammert, was the first memorial in Berlin to the Jewish victims of the Nazis. Thirteen sculptures originally intended for the foot of the stele have stood in the Old Jewish Cemetary in Berlin Mitte since 1985.
The sculptor Will Lammert (1892-1957) joined to KPD (German Comunist Party) before Nazis rule of Germany, also, his wife was a Jewish. In 1933 he was forced to emigrate to Paris, escaping from Nazis prosecutions. After only a year spent in Paris he was expelled from France and forced to flee again, this time to Soviet Union. Meanwhile, almost all his works in Germany were destroyed by the Nazis, after the press was stirring up hatred against Bolshevist artist with close Jewish relations. His work was declared "entartete kunst", degenerate art.
Lammert was allowed to leave Soviet Union only in 1951. After returning to Germany (GDR) he dedicated himself to his composition of the memorial site at the former Ravensbruck concentration camp. Some of his design, however, were realized only after his death in 1957.
Berliner Unterwelten run a tour of an underground World War 2 bomb shelter located at the Gesundbrunnen Underground railway station. As you walk down the steps to this deeper than usual for Berlin underground station you pass a green door. This is the entrance to the bomb shelter. You immediately get a sense of how depressing, cold and dank these shelters were. The tour guide try to recreate what life was like in the shelters during the prolonged air raids with the British bombing by night and the Americans during the day. There are numerous rooms inside of different shapes including toilet facilities with original fittings. There were limits to the number of people that could be admitted as the air could become depleted and there are signs in each room. Those to suffer first were children who were closer to the floor where the air ran out first. Candles were used to indicate the lack of air as they went out with the increase in carbon dioxide. If too many people try to enter the shelter the excess number would be ejected and left to their fate outside the metal door. One room had a coat of the original paint that would become luminous when the lights were turned out which frequently happened during air raids. There are various artefacts from the time on display including benches, bunks, original fitting and photographs. The guided tour costs 10 euros and tickets can be purchased from the new office of Berliner Unterwelten located just outside the entrance to Gesundbrunnen underground station.
About halfway along Unter den Linden, on the southern side opposite Humboldt University and adjacent to the State Opera House, is a large rather bare-looking square. This is Bebelplatz, and it played a significant role in the inglorious story of the rise to power of the National Socialists. On May 10th 1933, more than 20,000 books by Jews, Communists, and Pacifists, including Bertholdt Brecht, Thomas Mann, Karl Marx and many others, all considered subversive by the Nazis, were looted from the university library on its west side and from elsewhere in the city. They were piled high in the centre of the square to be burned by members of the SA ("brownshirts"), SS, Nazi students and Hitler Youth groups, on the orders of the Nazi minister for propaganda and public enlightenment, Joseph Goebbels.
Today you can peer through a glass panel, set among the paving stones near the opera house, at Michael Ullmann’s underground art installation the Empty Library, with its rows of empty bookshelves a stark reminder of that awful day – although sadly on our visit the pane of glass was misted over and the installation very hard to see. Nearby a bronze plaque (see photo 3) commemorates the event, and next to it another carries a quote from an 1820 work by Heinrich Heine:
"Das war ein Vorspiel nur, dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen"
("That was only a prelude; where they burn books, they ultimately burn people").
As well as the opera house and library the square is home to St. Hedwig’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, modelled on the Pantheon in Rome. Across Unter den Linden classical statues look down on the square from the roof of Humboldt University (photo 2), as they would have done on the day of the book-burning. The university was founded by Wilhelm von Humboldt in 1810, although at that time was known simply as the University of Berlin, and later as the Friedrich Wilhelm University, only changing its name to that of its founder in1949. At its gates you are likely to see a book sale being held. The books sold are reprints of those burnt during the Third Reich and the sale is intended to show atonement for the university’s complicity in the burning.
I hesitated as to whether to include this as a “Thing to Do”, because there really is very little to see here. But it’s such a significant spot historically that it seems worthy of mention. The place where Adolf Hitler had his war-time bunker is now an unprepossessing car-park for an anonymous-looking block of flats, marked only by this very informative notice. When we were there a group of (we think) Israeli tourists were engrossed by all that their guide could tell them, and this made it a little hard for us to get to and read the board. But we found their interest understandable and were more than willing to wait our turn.
The board describes the layout of the bunker, and the shallower Vorbunker that preceded it here. It describes the different rooms and all that went on there. It also tells the story of Hitler’s last few days. It is very detailed but sticks to the facts, and then goes on to explain what has happened to the site in the intervening years. At no point has it ever been a “tourist attraction” of any sort, as is only right, and I got the impression that it is only quite recently that the spot has been marked in any way, presumably in response to high levels of interest.
As the board explains, with the Soviet Army closing in on Berlin, Hitler committed suicide in the bunker on 30 April 1945, along with his wife Eva Braun. Their bodies were reportedly cremated and buried just outside the entrance of the bunker. This bunker was located below the garden of the Reichs Chancellery or Reichskanzlei. Following the war, the Communist government razed the ruins of the Chancellery and levelled the area, which was near the Berlin Wall. However, the bunkers remained underground. But in 1988-89, apartment buildings were built on the site of the Chancellery and along Wilhelmstraße, and the bunkers were destroyed in the construction process. The roof of the Führerbunker, which was reinforced concrete some 10 feet thick, was broken up and allowed to fall down into the rooms below, and the whole structure then covered over. The remains now lie under the parking lot seen in my photo, while the entrance would have been behind where I was standing to take it, which today is the middle of a road.
The Topography of Terror is an open-air exhibit that stands on the land where the Nazi regime was headquartered from 1933 to 1945, including the Gestapo and SS offices. The Holocaust and many aspects of the Second World War were controlled from the buildings that used to be here. Now, it’s an exhibit with dozens of poster boards explaining in detail the history of the buildings and what happened in those building in the infamous time leading up to the war and during it. There are also some very interesting profiles on individual victims of the war as well as information about prisoners from different countries or ethnic groups. I underestimated how long the exhibit would take as there is a lot of detail and a lot of reading. I found most of it incredibly interesting and we spent at least an hour and a half reading the panels, and we skipped several of the less interesting looking ones. They are building a museum to replace the open-air exhibit, but it was still under construction in August 2009 when we visited.