History - World War II, Berlin
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.
I saw a short piece on a documentary called, The Nazis a warning from history about the deportation of Jewish Citizens from a freight station in Berlin called Putlitzstrasse. I decided I would visit the memorial not realising at the time that I had already been to the site a couple of times before but I had not fully realised the significance of the memorial. The first transport of 1,000 people left on the 18th October 1941 for the extermination camps. From then until the spring of 1945 a further 35,000 people were transported to their deaths. The memorial is made from stainless steel and was completed in 1992 and it is located on the Putlitz Bridge overlooking the freight yard.
The Levetzowstrasse Memorial is located at 7/8 Levetzowstrasse and it commemorates the former synagogue and collection point. The synagogue was one of the largest in Berlin and it survived Kristallnacht but was damaged during bombing latter in the war. From 1941 some 37,000 Jews were removed from their homes and taken to the synagogue which was used as a collection point. They were then transported by train to concentration and extermination camps. The memorial has a metal obelisk with the dates of the transports. There is a ramp with people huddling together as they are forced into a cattle car, which stands on rails.
These days it's just a non-descript parking lot, and for years anyone who walked by wouldn't know what dark place used to lie beneath. It wasn't until Germany hosted the World Cup in 2006 that a plaque was put up to remember this spot. This is the site of one of Adolf Hitler's bunkers, the bunker where he spent the last few weeks of his life and where he and his companion, Eva Braun, committed suicide in 1945. Even though there's nothing to look at now other than the plaque showing the layout of the former bunker and explaining the rooms and history of what went on there, I think it is worth visiting. If you use your imagination and realize that this is where one of the most prominent figures in history that had so much influence over the world killed himself, it's pretty mind-blowing.
On the grounds of the former Gestapo headquarters where the holocaust was directed, long a vacant waste ground, you can examine a series of displays that explain the bleak history of the site. Perhaps the bleak surrounding area is an apt landscape for the theme. The northern stretch of the area has one of the longer remains of the Berlin Wall.
If you've been to the holocaust memorial, this sight will provide some good background and context. Plenty to contemplate here.
Update - when I returned here in July, 2009, this whole area was being worked on and closed down to tourists.
The Germania Exhibition runs until the 31st December 2009. It displays the Nazi’s ideas for the new world capital of Germania which would have replaced Berlin. The exhibition contains photographs and plans of what the new capital would have looked like. The show piece of the exhibition is a model of how the main area would have looked. The huge model was built for the film Downfall. The staff speak excellent English and there are English translations for all the exhibits apart from the film. The exhibition takes a good 2 hours to view but unfortunately no photography is allowed.
Silent Heroes Memorial Centre is a new exhibition that documents the assistance given to Jews during the Nazi era. It is located in an old building off Hackesche Höfe in Rosenthaler Straße. Spread over 2 floors, it has interactive touch screens on the first floor that can be used to follow individual stories or gain information as to the various problems associated with try to hide your identity. On the second floor there are individual stories that you can listen too via headphones. The exhibition is in English as well as German and is free to enter
I first learnt about this WW2 bunker via VT Member johnjoe55. The bunker was originally built in 1942 and was meant as a refuge against allied air raids for nearby railway workers. The walls and ceilings were more than 1 metre thick and the building has 5 floors, with each floor divided into 8 chambers with seating space for 3000 people. After the end of the war the building has had a number of uses including a shelter for the homeless, storage space for food a night club and its present use being the most unusual as a family home and depository for the owner’s large art collection. The building has had a complete makeover and comes complete with penthouse, swimming pools, garden and 3,000 squares metres of exhibition space. The owner Christian Boros has a contemporary art collection of more than 400 pieces. Pre-arranged visits can be made to view the art collection via the below website.
Berlin has a quiet but eloquent way of commemorating the terrible events perpetrated by the Nazis during the Third Reich.
Over 20,000 books were burnt on May 10, 1933, according to the command of Goebels, the Nazi Propaganda Minister. These were books written by Jewish authors, by communists and by other opponents of the Nazi regime. This event took place on what used to be Opera Square, now Bebel Platz on the Unter den Linden boulevard.
Heinrich Heine, one of the Jewish writers whose books were burnt, said a century earlier: "Where books are burned, in the end people will burn".
The monument commemorating the burning of the books consists of white, empty bookshelves under the square stone surface, covered by a transparent ceiling.
It was conceived by the Israeli Micha Ulman in 1995.
It is both simple and powerful.
This was a controversial memorial when it was first thought of and was almost never constructed. It was erected in 1995 and consists of 18 polished stainless steel plates 9 metres wide and 3.5 metres in height. The memorial commemorates all the Jews from the Steglitz District who were sent to concentration camps. The memorial has the names, addresses and dates of birth of the victims, of which few survived the war. From some angles the memorial almost disappears and is difficult to see. The memorial reflects what is happening around it and signifies that life goes on. The downside to this was on the day I visited a market was taking place and the memorial was surrounded by boxes and stalls. I felt that another location free of market stalls but busy with people may have been better.
Gedenkstatte Plotzensee is a place of quiet reflection of what horror took place in the name of so called Nazi justice. The original prison was built between 1868 – 1879 and covered an area of 22 hectares and could accommodate 1,200 prisoners. When the Nazis came to power they set up the notorious People’s Court and the convicted prisoners where sent to various prisons including Plotzensee. An execution shed was set up next to the central prison building called House III, where prisoners were brought before execution. Under the Nazis the number of executions rose with over 1,000 taking place in 1943. After the failed plot to kill Hitler on the 20th July 1944, those who were thought to have been responsible were put on trial before the People’s Court. Most of the trials took place before the notorious Nazis judge Roland Freisler and were mere formalities with little chance for the accused to defend themselves. Many were sentenced to death and were hung with chicken wire in the exection shed at Plotzensee and the event filmed for Hitler to view. After the war House III which had been damaged by allied bombing was knocked down and the memorial built.
Grosse Hamburger Strasse was one of the main streets in the Jewish Quarter of Berlin until the rise of the Third Reich.
On the site of the former cemetery, which was destroyed during the war, there now stands a memorial sculpture of men, women and children awaiting there unknown fate and an accompanying plaque. The site was used as a collection point during the war, for Jews waiting to be transported to the concentration camps.
Outside of the city, this park/war memorial gives an excellent glimpse of Soviet-era propaganda. The final resting place of thousands of unknown soldiers, the mammoth park features several reliefs of the story of the oppression of the Russian people by the Germans and their eventual triumph. The location of the memorial was formally a amusement park (think Coney Island) and for this reason made it fairly conspicuous to the Berlin citizens. Definitely worth the visit for history buffs or those just interested in how governments use tragedy to push their own agendas.
This man without head and dotted with bullet holes is sitting in front of Martin-Gropius-Bau. It is one of the few things in Berlin that were left with the damage suffered in the bombings of World War II. Another – and more striking and famous – example is Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche on Kurfürstendamm.
There could not be a more suitable place, next to where the Wall once separated the East and the West, and next to the SS- and Gestapo headquarters, where all this terror originated that led to World War II and the horrors of genocide, murder and destruction.
Located right beside the splendid beauty of Martin-Gropius-Bau the documentation centre “Topographie des Terrors” sets a dramatic and shocking contrast.
The setting is on a space that hosted the centre of terror of Germany’s Nazi regime from 1933 to 1945. The Führer headquarters (SS), the security service (SD), and the Gestapo with its own prison were located here.
Only the cellars in which prisoners had been tortured were kept as a monument, all the other buildings were razed, so they could not become shrines of old and new Nazis who have not learnt from history.
The exhibition is placed along an excavation ditch right under the Wall and documents the terror that happened right behind your back some decades ago. A sombre place.
They are constructing a building on site which will once become home of this exhibition. I was mostly impressed with this open air exhibition. However, I was there in sunshine, and in winter a visit can be another story, although the panels are sheltered by aves. But I also think you get a better feeling for all the horror of the past by being out there.
Open 10am – 6pm (Oct – April) and 10am – 8pm (May – Sept)
Guided tours upon demand, call (030) 25 48 67 03