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.
This is a sort of outdoor museum, which has been developed on the site of the one-time headquarters of the Gestapo and the SS, the principal instruments of repression during the National Socialist era. Here, between 1933 and 1945, the most important institutions of the Nazi terror apparatus operated from the Secret State Police Office, the Reich SS Leadership, and the Reich Security Main Office. These buildings were largely destroyed by Allied bombing during early 1945 and the ruins demolished after the war. When the city was divided this street, then known as Prinz-Albrecht- Straße, was one of several that had the boundary running down the middle, so when the Wall was constructed it followed that line, dividing the street. The south side, renamed Niederkirchnerstraße, lay in West Berlin, and the Wall that sealed it from the East still stands, the longest stretch of this outer wall still remaining (other long stretches, such as the East Side Gallery and in the Mauerpark, are of the inner wall). This section of Wall is interesting because, unlike elsewhere, it has been left exactly as it was after the assaults on it in November 1989, with exposed iron and crumbling concrete. You can almost sense the hands that wielded the tools that caused these scars ...
That line of wall now forms the backdrop of the Topographie des Terrors, and the ruins of the Gestapo HQ its base. Originally it was the latter that was the focus of attention, with the excavated cellar, where many political prisoners were tortured and executed, turned into a memorial and museum, in the open air but protected from the elements by a canopy, detailing the history of repression under the Nazis. Since reunification a “proper” museum has been built here (opened May 2010), but on our visit we only looked at the displays still located in that cellar area. This is the “Berlin 1933–1945. Between Propaganda and Terror” exhibition, which focuses on Berlin during the “Third Reich” and looks at National Socialist policy in Berlin and its consequences for the city and its population. The displays were detailed and informative, if rather static, and for me were less emotionally engaging than those we had seen earlier the same day at the Holocaust Denkmal’s Information Centre. Instead I found my main interest in studying the few remaining traces of the Gestapo HQ foundations and reflecting on the horrors (terrors indeed) that were perpetrated here. Various information signs around the site explain the locations and the site’s use during the Nazi period.
The museum is open every day from 10.00 am – 8.00 pm, and admission is free.
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.
The area west of Checkpoint Charlie used to be home to some of the most sinister buildings of the Third Reich, such as the Gestapo and Secret Service Headquarters.
After World War II all of the buildings were demolished except for the cellars. These days, the underground cells now house a very interesting open-air exhibition called the Topographie des Terrors.
This free exhibit documents the history of the brutal institutions of the Nazi regime that occupied its site and their historical importance. It consists of a large series of photographs with German captions. You can get a free audio guide in English from the information booth, or just walk around as we did, finding that the photos were descriptive enough to help us understand the accompanying text.
The Humboldt unversity library is a nice building to look at. It has a good name as well. The thing to look at here though is the glass tiles on the square in front of the Humboldt.
They where put there in rememberance of the bookburnings on May the 10th in 1933. The chambers beneath the tiles remain empty to remember us to that fact. The books burned were books written by Jewish authors and the ones opposing the National Socialistic regime. They were held in the whole country not only Berlin.
A statue of a mother holding a dead or dying son is in the center of the building which has an opening in the ceiling always to let in the light or whatever weather. Its very sober in this place as it should be, voices are low, and flowers often are laid here.
The website link is an interesting one. If you are looking to see if you have family member or friends who were victims, you can put their name in the database. Its huge. Its against forgetting anyone at all.
This was a vibrant jewish community since 1844 until the Nazi's came to power. There are a few memorials to Holocaust victims on Grosse Hamburger Strasse. One is the names of victims who lived in this area on the side of a couple of apartment complexes.Another is right in front of the old Jewish cemetery. It is of jewish victims that are waiting for the trains on a platform that will take them to any of the death camps under the Nazi's. The tiles on the floor are positioned in a way that they look like train tracks. It also shows the victims as already being malnourished and with the few rags of clothes on their backs.
The other memorial is of the Jewish cemetery itself that was destroyed by the gestapo in 1943 with the bones being disposed of. It is now a garden with plaques commemorating all the dead. They are all very sombre and rightfully so because the world should never forgot this dark chapter in its history.
Located on 17th June Strasse about a three minute walk from the Brandenburg Tor you will find the Soviet War Memorial or the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Some locals call it the Unknown Rapist due to the fact that Soviet soldiers committed many rapes when they took Berlin. 2500 Soviet soldiers with unknown identities that died in the taking of Berlin are buried here. Materials used were taken from Hitler's Reich chancellery. An inscription in Russian translated as "Eternal glory to heroes who fell in battle with the German fascist invaders for the freedom and independence of the Soviet Union" is written underneath the soldier statue. Red Army ML-20 152mm gun-howitzer artillery pieces and two T-34 tanks flank the memorial on each side. The memorial is located in what was the British sector of Berlin, its construction supported by the Allied powers. Until 1991 Soviet soldiers guarded the memorial. Today it is a site of pilgrimage by Russian war vets and is maintained by the City of Berlin.
When visiting Berlin make sure to visit the Topography of Terror in what was then the SS headquarters. It's an outdoor museum near Checkpoint Charlie. A piece of the Wall sits atop it. This museum documents the brutality of the SS. Entrance is free and an audio guide costs you next to nothing.
This cemetery was opened in 1909 when Marzahn was just a village. There are a number of memorials but in the northwest of the cemetery is the Soviet Memorial which was inaugurated in 1958. The oberlisk stands about 5m in height and is made out of red granite. A pathway from the oberlisk leads a pergola which has an limestone urn containing the ashes of 125 soldiers. Other graves are laid to lawn with surrounding hedges.
As you walk into the cemetery via the main entrance, usual for most cemetries there is an attractive pond with stone edges and plenty of wildlife including some ducks. Close by is a sculture called the oath hand which commemorates 3300 victims of allied bombing during WW2. Further into the cemetery and signposted off the main pathway is a memorial to the hundreds of Roma and Sinti victims who were interned in a camp close by during WW2, before they were shipped of to Auschwitz and murdered.
This air raid shelter was built in 1940 on site of a former Wehrmacht Engineering School. The shelter is 35 m long by 19m wide and the walls over 1m thick. It has 3 floors and could accommodate up to 500 people. It came equipped with showers and toilets. The buildings on the site were used by the Soviets after WW2 for various purposes. The most famous building that is part of the complex is the former officer’s mess which is now the German-Russian Museum where the German Wehrmacht signed the instrument of surrender for WW2. The air raid shelter has suffered from the usual graffiti that pervades Berlin and some of the site may be redeveloped with new housing. There are occasional open days but these are only advertised locally.
At first glance the Schwerbelastungskörper (heavy load bearing body) looks like a gasometer. The ground in this area is sandy and this huge concrete cylinder was constructed in 1941, at a cost of 400,000 marks. It weights 12,650 tonnes, it is 21 metres in diameter it extends 18 metres into the ground and is 14 metres tall. It was used as a test bed to assess how the ground would withstand such a huge force. It was hoped that the structure would not sink anymore than 6cm but in the end it sunk 18 cm. If things had worked out then a massive Triumphal Arch would have been built close by as one of the main structures for the new Germania. The Triumphal Arch would have stood on the end of 7 km long new avenue of victory. The new avenue would have been120 metres wide and would have formed the north/south axis. But it did not make any diffence in the end as the Nazis lost the war and the arch was never constructed. After the war it was considered blowing up the cylinder but this idea was dismissed as it would have damaged buildings close by. It has now become a listed historical monument. As far as I can ascertain entry can be gained to the site via Berliner Unterwelten who provide guided tours, but only in German. There is information on their website in the German Language section.