History - World War II, Berlin
The German-Russian Museum is housed in the former School of Pioneers in the Karlshorst District of Berlin. The building has a historical significance because the instrument of surrender was signed in the former officer’s mess on 8/9th May 1945 that ended WW2 in Europe. The museum covers major parts of the history between Germany and the Soviet Union before, during and after WW2. A copy of the surrender document is on display, together with a uniform of Marshall Zhukov, a film of the signing of the surrender document and the officer’s mess is laid out as on the night of surrender. The staff at the museum are friendly and some English is spoken, there is a small café, cloakroom and entrance to the museum is free. The exhibits only have information in German and Russian so it is essential to purchase a guide book in English that gives an overall explanation of the various rooms and exhibits. Outside the museum there are some artillery pieces and vehicles. This is a little known museum but a must for anyone with an interest in the history of WW2.
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.
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.
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.
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.
All over Berlin you will find memorials and reminders of the horrors of the war years. These pieces of slate stand outside the Reichstag. Each one bears the name of membersof parliament who lost their lives to the Nazi regime. Notably, most of the dead were members of socialist or communist parties.
In lots of ways I found Berlin a very sad place. I was there in winter, which probably doesn't help, but much of the landscape still seems scarred by both the war and the years of partition. It's a place where people's past pains and loss are unavoidable and where tourists are coerced by little markers to remember those who died.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sachsenhausen was the earliest concentration camp constructed during the Third Reich and it is in Oranienburg, north of Berlin. It was a prototype for later more notorious camps such as Auschwitz, and was later used by the Soviet Union as a prison camp. It is a truly powerful and moving experience to walk the grounds, and there are handheld listening devices that can be purchased at the entrance booth to guide you along. Two museums detailing the site's history, original barracks, the original entry gate and watchtowers are also there. There is a small historical marker along the route to the camp dedicated in memory of the April 1945 "Todesmarsch."
On the northern edge of the old village green at Lichtenberg stands the parish church which dates back to the 13th century. The green, now named Loeperplatz has one of the first memorials that was erected after WW2 on the southern edge. The simple Memorial to the Victims of Fascism was erected in 1948. It has a plaque on each of the four sides with a simple message. The memorial is topped by a red triangle which was the symbol used by the SS in the concentration camps to denote political prisoners.
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.
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.