Berlin museum controversially recreates Hitler bunker

The fine line between sensationalism of history and accounting for the past is being disputed over a new Berlin museum exhibition.

Berlin museum controversially recreates Hitler bunker
The reconstruction of the Hitler bunker. Photo: DPA

In the Berlin Story Museum, you can now visit a reconstruction of Adolf Hitler’s living and work rooms from the “Führerbunker”.

A picture of Frederick the Great on the wall. A small sheepdog statue on the desk. The grandfather clock in one corner, the oxygen canister in the other. That’s how it is thought Hitler’s rooms looked in the underground bunker.

The private museum’s curators have recreated the rooms in which Hitler committed suicide on April 30th 1945. It’s been installed in a preserved Second World War bunker, just two kilometres from the location of Hitler’s former bunker.

But is it just sensationalism or an approachable way to convey history?

“We don’t want to make a Hitler show,” said Wieland Giebel from the Historiale organisation, which runs the Berlin Story Museum in the former air-raid bunker at the Anhalter Bahnhof. Visitors can only see the Hitler rooms as part of a guided tour.

“The tour begins in the bunker, which was designed for 3,500 people, and by the end of the war provided refuge for 12,000 citizens. On the other side, there is what happened in the “Führerbunker”. We did not want to separate one from the other.”

The new display has come under criticism from the archive centre and museum the Topography of Terror, which was built on the site of the former headquarters of the Gestapo (Nazi secret police) and the SS.

“We explain history, document it, and stick to the facts. That is why we cannot support such productions,” said The Topography's spokesman, Kay-Uwe von Damaros. “Sensationalism isn't our thing.”

But the reconstruction of the Hitler rooms is roughly correct, according to Christoph Neubauer, who researched the history of the bunker for an animated 3D documentary of the bunker using photographs and building designs. But he said the couch suite would have looked different in reality.

The German capital is rich in authentic artifacts but also in recreations, which attract visitors from all around the world.

In the Stasi museum, the office of the East German secret police head Erich Mielke is preserved in its original condition.

But the room in what is now the German Russian Museum where the German surrender was signed in 1945 is furnished with replacements which approximate how the originals would have looked.

There was uproar when Madame Tussauds unveiled a wax model of Hitler at the central Berlin tourist attraction. The statue of the dictator was described as tasteless being so close to the Holocaust Memorial.

But the model only lasted a few minutes. Just after it was installed in 2008, a man attacked the statue, decapitating it while shouting “War never again!”. The model was restored and is now displayed behind glass.

People want to see the authentic sites, according to Adam Kerpel-Fronius, who works for the Berlin Holocaust Memorial. “I don’t see that as a bad thing,” he said.

Only an information board now stands at the actual location of the former bunker. “The fear was always that it could become a shrine for neo-Nazis, but that is not the case,” he continued.

“Everyone who comes to Berlin and is interested in history knows that the “Führerbunker” existed. They would be surprised if they could only find a car park at its location,” concluded the academic.

Monika Bauert, the set designer for the iconic German film Das Boot, designed the controversial bunker reconstruction.

“The information board does not address the topic sufficiently,” she said. “I think that it is important to re-visualise a three-dimensional model.”

The Berlin Story Museum curators emphasize that photography is not allowed during the bunker tour.

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‘We will fight for our Germany’: Holocaust survivor issues warning to far right

Holocaust survivor Charlotte Knobloch on Wednesday called for a stronger defence of the country's "fragile" democracy and issued a searing rebuke to the far right: "We will fight for our Germany".

'We will fight for our Germany': Holocaust survivor issues warning to far right
Knobloch addressing the Bundestag on Wednesday. Photo: DPA

In an emotional speech to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Knobloch told the Bundestag lower house of parliament that extremists and conspiracy theorists were exploiting fears around the pandemic and a diversifying society.

“We must not forget for a single day how fragile the precious achievements of the last 76 years are” since the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp on January 27th, 1945.

“Anti-Semitic thought and words draw votes again, are socially acceptable again — from schools to corona protests and of course the internet, that catalyst for hatred and incitement of all kinds.”

Knobloch, 88, a former leader of Germany's 200,000-strong Jewish community who survived the Holocaust in hiding as a child in Bavaria, warned that the enemies of democracy are stronger than many think”.

“I call on you: take care of our country,” she said, describing right-wing extremism as “the greatest danger for all” in Germany.

'You lost your fight'

Addressing deputies of the hard-right Alternative for Germany, the largest opposition group in parliament with nearly 100 seats, Knobloch accused many of its followers of “picking up the tradition” of the Nazis.

“I tell you: you lost your fight 76 years ago,” Knobloch said. “You will continue to fight for your Germany and we will keep fighting for our Germany.”

Knobloch fought back tears as she recounted the terror of the Nazis' rise and the deportation of her grandmother, Albertine Neuland, to the Theresienstadt concentration camp where she starved to death in 1944.

READ ALSO: 'Fight against forgetting': Germany marks Holocaust anniversary in shadow of coronavirus

“I stand before you as a proud German, against all odds and although much still makes it unlikely. Sadness, pain, desperation and loneliness accompany me.”

The window of a new synagogue which opened in Konstanz in November 2019. Photo: DPA

But she said Germany's enduring commitment to reckon with its history made her hopeful.

“I am proud of the young people in our country. They are free of guilt for the past but they assume responsibility for today and tomorrow: interested,
passionate and courageous.”

However Bundestag speaker Wolfgang Schaeuble, a respected elder statesman,
warned that the German consensus around atonement for the Nazis' crimes, long
seen as part of the bedrock of the post-war order, was showing signs of vulnerability.

He told the chamber it was “devastating” to admit that “our remembrance culture does not protect us from a brazen reinterpretation or even a denial of history”.

“And it doesn't protect us from new forms of racism and anti-Semitism,” said Schaeuble, 78.

Jewish journalist and activist Marina Weisband, 33, also urged continued vigilance.

“To be Jewish in Germany is to know it happened and can happen again,” she said.

“Anti-Semitism doesn't begin when shots are fired at a synagogue,” she said, referring to an extremist attack in the eastern city of Halle in October 2019.

READ ALSO: 'It doesn't change my feeling about Germany': Jewish community fearful but defiant after Halle attack

“The Shoah did not begin with gas chambers… It is not extinct, this conviction that there are people whose dignity is worth more than others'.”

Germany has officially marked Holocaust Remembrance Day every January 27th
since 1996 with a solemn ceremony at the Bundestag featuring a speech by a survivor and commemorations across the country.

Of the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust, more than one million were murdered at Auschwitz-Birkenau, most in its notorious gas chambers, along with tens of thousands of others including homosexuals, Roma and Soviet prisoners of war.

This year's anniversary is marked by growing concerns about extremist violence and incitement in Germany.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has spoken of her “shame” over rising anti-Semitism, as the Jewish community has warned that coronavirus conspiracy theories are being used to stir hatred.

In a speech recorded for Remembrance Day, Merkel thanked the elderly survivors “who muster the strength to tell the story of their lives”.

“Their first-hand accounts show us just how vulnerable human dignity is and
how easily the values that underpin peaceful coexistence can be violated,” she

Anti-Jewish crimes have risen steadily, with 2,032 offences recorded in 2019, up 13 percent on the previous year, according to the latest official figures.