Berlin museum unveils replica of Adolf Hitler's bunker
“In this room ended the greatest mass murder of all times,” advertises the Berlin Story Museum, inviting visitors to its new exhibit recreating Adolf Hitler’s study, where he lived and worked until committing suicide in that very room on April 30, 1945.
The exhibit, located inside a preserved WW2-era bunker, less than two kilometers from where the Führerbunker actually stood, includes a 1:25 scale model of Hitler’s underground bunker, original photos and stills from the film “Downfall” depicting the final ten days of Hitler, and one fully reconstructed room, his office.
The recreated study features a painting of Frederick the Great on the wall, a small statue of a German Shepherd on the desk, a grandfather clock, and a single oxygen tank in the corner, to alleviate the Führer’s fears of asphyxiation, according to the exhibit’s curator Wieland Giebel.
“What we are doing is completely unusual in Germany, it has never been done before, but our goal wasn’t to break any taboos,” he insisted. “We wanted to show the end of National Socialism and to stress that we don't want to have this time ever again.”
Access to the exhibit is permitted only at the end of a 90-minute guided tour, which also reviews the history of the bunker-turned-museum next to Anhalter Bahnhof. The bunker, which provided shelter to residents of the area from the Allied air raids, was originally designed for 3,500 people, but towards the end of the war housed 12,000 Berliners – five per square meter – who were left without food and electricity, and in substandard sanitary conditions.
The exhibit takes care to highlight the stark differences between the public’s living conditions and the relative luxury in which the top-ranking Nazis lived in the Führerbunker, under Hitler’s Reich chancellery.
The Reich chancellery was leveled by the Soviet forces, who planned to destroy the underground complex as well, but after several failed attempts sealed most of it off instead.
Residential buildings and a parking lot were erected on the site, which remained unmarked until 2006, when a plank was put in place with explanations on the Führerbunker's structure and demolition.
The new exhibit’s attempt to partially recreate the site stirred up a debate among scholars involved in Holocaust commemoration as to the merits of such reconstruction.
“We look on this as a kind of Disneyland approach trying to create an effect,” criticized Kay-Uwe von Damaros, spokesman of the Topography of Terror museum, which itself is built on the site of the former headquarters of the Gestapo and the SS.
“We explain history, document it, and stick to the facts. That is why we cannot support such productions. Sensationalism isn’t our thing,” he told to the German Press Agency.
Others, however, see no problem in the display. Visitors have a great need to seek out the authentic sites, but that’s no cause for concern, said Adam Kerpel-Fronius of the foundation operating the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, which stands next to the Führerbunker’s original location.
“The fear used to be that it would become a place of pilgrimage for neo-Nazis, but this hasn’t been the case,” he assured. “Everyone who comes to Berlin interested in its history, knows that there used to be a Führerbunker – and they are all the more surprised that once there, they find only a parking lot.”
Giebel offered his own explanation: “Neo-Nazis simply don't want to see how Hitler died,” he argued, and the fact that the visit to Hitler’s chamber is an inseparable part of the tour on the horrors of war, helps prevent if from becoming a place of pilgrimage for extremists. The organizers also prohibited taking photos and included almost no Nazi symbols in the exhibit.
“Some people just want to have five minutes of Hitler and that’s it, but we are making visitors see the whole tour, hear the whole story,” noted the curator.
That story, he believes, is more appealing to visitors than the chance to see the bunker’s decor. “Most people are not very interested in this special room but they wanted to see the complete tour.”
In the case of Jaren Warren, an 18-year- old student from Michigan, that indeed left the strongest impression. “It’s amazing to be able to come to a place like this and and get a feel of how people lived and how they survived and came together. There are definitely lessons that can be learned here about looking out for one another as a community.”
Christopher Czechowicz (29), on the other hand, was more curious to see the reconstruction of scenes he have seen as a teenager in the film “Downfall.”
“It amazes me that people still have such a fascination with this,” he said, leaving the bunker. “The man died 70 years ago, but considering everything that is going on in Europe right now with the right wing and the refugee situation, it’s interesting to see how you can draw parallels between that time and what's going on now.”
And that is what the exhibition hopes to achieve, asserted Giebel. “We want people to finish the tour feeling like they too should be active in our society. We tell them, 'look at the situation in Europe at the moment, in Hungary, in Britain, in France, in Germany – act, do something. Just visiting Hitler’s room won’t convince anybody, but the whole tour might.”
Polina Garaev is i24news' correspondent in Germany.
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