Hans Heinrich Müller. Two buildings in Kreuzberg.

In the upcoming mini-series, I gather photos of the architecture made by Hans Heinrich Müller (1879-1951). The work of this man is too forgotten, although he was the mastermind behind dozens of Electricity Stations which were constructed in Berlin’s 1920s and early 1930s. The Umspannwerk Kreuzberg is the first of his buildings that catched my attention. In later days, it happened often that I was researching a peculiar building that I’ve seen briefly and (once again) used to be an original Müller. Clear as the day, it’s time to hunt and collect his work once and for all!

Umspannwerk Kreuzberg (Paul-Lincke-Ufer, 1924-26)

Hans Heinrich Müller's Umspannwerk Kreuzberg. Photo from the 1920s.

Hans Heinrich Müller's Umspannwerk at the Paul-Lincke-Ufer (Berlin-Kreuzberg, March 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser)

Hans Heinrich Müller's Umspannwerk at the Paul-Lincke-Ufer (Berlin-Kreuzberg, March 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser)

Hans Heinrich Müller's Umspannwerk Kreuzberg at the Paul-Lincke-Ufer. Photo from the 1920s.

Hans Heinrich Müller's Abspannwerk Kottbusser Ufer (now Paul-Lincke-Ufer). Berlin-Kreuzberg, March 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser. Hans Heinrich Müller's Abspannwerk Kottbusser Ufer (now Paul-Lincke-Ufer) Berlin-Kreuzberg, March 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser.

Hans Heinrich Müller's Abspannwerk Kottbusser Ufer (now Paul-Lincke-Ufer), detail. Berlin-Kreuzberg, March 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser. Hans Heinrich Müller's Abspannwerk Kottbusser Ufer (now Paul-Lincke-Ufer). Front-side. Berlin-Kreuzberg, March 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser.

Hans Heinrich Müller's Abspannwerk Kottbusser Ufer (now Paul-Lincke-Ufer). Detail. Berlin-Kreuzberg, March 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser. Hans Heinrich Müller's Abspannwerk Kottbusser Ufer (now Paul-Lincke-Ufer. Details at the courtyard. Berlin-Kreuzberg, March 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser. Hans Heinrich Müller's Abspannwerk Kottbusser Ufer. Detail. Berlin-Kreuzberg, March 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser.


Umspannwerk Bergmannstraße (1929)

Hans Heinrich Müller's Umspannwerk at the Bergmannstrasse under construction (Berlin-Kreuzberg, 1929)

Hans Heinrich Müller's Abspannwerk Kreuzberg (Bergmannstraße). March 2014, photo by Joep de Visser.

Hans Heinrich Müller's Abspannwerk Kreuzberg (Bergmannstraße) March 2014, photo by Joep de Visser.Hans Heinrich Müller's Abspannwerk Kreuzberg (Bergmannstraße) Details. March 2014, photo by Joep de Visser.

Hans Heinrich Müller's Abspannwerk Kreuzberg (Bergmannstraße). Details. March 2014, photo by Joep de Visser.


Hans Heinrich Müller’s Kraftwerk in Berlin-Moabit.

In the upcoming mini-series, I gather photos of the architecture made by Hans Heinrich Müller (1879-1951). The work of this man is too forgotten, although he was the mastermind behind dozens of Electricity Stations which were constructed in the 1920s and early 1930s. My last post ended with Müller employee -the municipality of Steglitz- being gobbled up by the German capital in 1920…

…In the summer of 1921, Müller got an administrative job at City Council of Berlin-Neukölln. His agreement gave him security for the next twelve years, but Müller broke the contract in 1924 already. That same summer, he was hired by the Berliner Städtische Elektrizitätswerke Akt.-Gesellschaft (Berlin’s City Electricity Fabrics Stock Society) or BEWAG in short. Clearly, Hans Heinrich Müller must have felt bored in his previous years. From the summer of 1929 till1929, Müller builded around the fourty electricity works. Müller’s first assignment for the BEWAG was the expansion of the Kohlekraftwerk Moabit, a coal power plant in a working class district.

Kohlekraftwerk Moabit (1924/25)

Hans Heinrich Müller's Kraftwerk Moabit (Berlin-Moabit, April 2014, photo by Joep de Visser) Hans Heinrich Müller's Kraftwerk Moabit. (Berlin-Moabit, April 2014, photo by Joep de Visser)

Hans Heinrich Müller's Kraftwerk Moabit. Details. (Berlin-Moabit, April 2014, photo by Joep de Visser)

Hans Heinrich Müller's Kraftwerk Moabit. View from the side (Berlin-Moabit, April 2014, photo by Joep de Visser)

Hans Heinrich Müller's Kraftwerk Moabit. Details (Berlin-Moabit, April 2014, photo by Joep de Visser)

Hans Heinrich Müller in Steglitz. The start of an architect (1909-1919)

In the upcoming mini-series, I gather photos of the architecture made by Hans Heinrich Müller (1879-1951). The work of this man is too forgotten, although he was the mastermind behind dozens of Electricity Transformer Stations which were constructed in the 1920s. Müller’s usage of red bricks in odd shapes and eccentric ornaments have something magic, even oriental. It happened already five times to me, that I was researching a peculiar building I’ve seen somewhere in Berlin and (once again) used to be an original Müller. Clear as the day, it’s time to research his work once and for all.

Yet, Müller didn’t get the assignment to build transformer stations straight away. He had to work for it earlier. Müller’s career started with the construction of the ‘Landhaus Scheringer‘ (a residential house in Zehlendorf) in 1906/7, followed by projects in the countryside around Berlin and in other parts of Germany. His breakthrough as an architect came in 1909/10, when he worked as the Gemeindebaumeister (±Building supervisor) of Berlin’s suburb named Steglitz. In this function, Müller was responsible for all public buildings that were to be constructed. In this period, Müller planned four buildings for the municipal of Steglitz himself. On the first sight, the three schools (1909 – 1911/12) are different than the brick electricity work (1910), the financial office (1911/12) and the Wasserturm (1915/1919). However, when you keep an eye to the ornaments, one will find these details back in his later work.

The ‘Gemeindedoppelschule’ (1909)
Müllers first public assignment was the construction of a ‘Municipal Double School’ in 1909. After all, the urbanisation made that the population of the Berlin suburb was booming. Müller was inspired by a country houses around Berlin. The two entrances, with sculptures of Hans Lehmann-Borges, separated the boys from the girls. These sculptures have been damaged during World War II, when the school was used by the Nazi’s. Here, they shot several Soviet Union’s prisoners of war as well as imprisoned civilians. Nowadays, the school still serves its original function.


Hans Heinrich Müller's 'Gemeindedoppelschule' at the Markusplatz. Details. (Berlin-Steglitz, March 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser)


Gemeindekraftwerk Birkbuschstraße (1910/11)
In April 1910, the city council of Steglitz decided to construct an electricity-works to attract more industry. The coals, which were burnt to produce the electricity, were transported over nearby Teltowkanal (Teltow’s canal) – which also provided the cooling-water. Interestingly, Müller’s design was based on the Chorin monastery in the countryside around Berlin. Typically for Müller, the estate has a variety of forms and heights. However, the same type of bricks (‘Rathenower Handstrichziegel, or: bricks from the town of Rathenau) are used, while a row of white bricks underneath the gutter unifies the whole complex.

Hans Heinrich Müller's Elektrizitätswerk (Berlin-Steglitz, March 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser)

Hans Heinrich Müller's Elektrizitätswerk in Berlin-Steglitz, Birkbuschstraße. Details. (Berlin-Steglitz, March 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Hans Heinrich Müller's Elektrizitätswerk Steglitz in Berlin-Steglitz, Birkbuschstraße.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Hans Heinrich Müller's Elektrizitätswerk Steglitz in Berlin-Steglitz. Backside. Photo from 1989. ©Paul Kahlfeldt
Steuerverwaltungsgebäude Steglitz (1911/12)

Hans Heinrich Müller's Kaiserin-Auguste-Viktoria-Lyzeum (Berlin-Steglitz, April 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser)Hans Heinrich Müller's Steuerverwaltungsgebäude Steglitz. Details at the entrance. (Berlin-Steglitz, April 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser)Hans Heinrich Müller's Steuerverwaltungsgebäude Steglitz. Details. (Berlin-Steglitz, April 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser)






Kaiserin-Auguste-Viktoria-Lyzeum (1911/12)

Hans Heinrich Müller's Kaiserin-Auguste-Viktoria-Lyzeum (Berlin-Steglitz, April 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser)

Hans Heinrich Müller's Kaiserin-Auguste-Viktoria-Lyzeum. Details. (Berlin-Steglitz, April 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser)



Hans Heinrich Müller's Kaiserin-Auguste-Viktoria-Lyzeum. Finest details. (Berlin-Steglitz, April 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser)






Gemeinderealschule Steglitz (1911/12)

Hans Heinrich Müller's Gemeinde-Doppelschule. (Berlin-Steglitz, April 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser) Hans Heinrich Müller's Gemeinde-Doppelschule. Details. (Berlin-Steglitz, April 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser)
Gemeinderealschule Sachsenwaldstraße (1913/14)

Hans Heinrich Müller's Gemeinderealschule Sachsenwaldstraße. (Berlin-Steglitz, April 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser)Hans Heinrich Müller's Gemeinderealschule Sachsenwaldstraße. Entrance's details. (Berlin-Steglitz, April 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser)


Wasserturm Steglitz (1915-1919)

Hans Heinrich Müller's Wasserturm Steglitz at the Friedhof Steglitz. Photo from 1914.


Müller served as a lieutenant at the Eastern front during the First World War. He was injured in 1915, after which he was given a more relaxing job as an observer for captive ballons. World War #1 made that it took till 1919 to finish the Wasserturm. The water tower was constructed in order to secure the independency of Steglitz. Ironically, it was gobbled up by the German capital a year after the Wasserturm opened. For Müller, it meant that it was his last assignment as being the Gemeindebaumeister for the municipal of Steglitz…

Thanks to Dan Borden (my friend and former colleague at Exberliner) who wrote an eye-opening column about Hans Heinrich Müller. In addition, I want to further recommand the publication Die Logik der Form. Berliner Backsteinbauten von Hans Heinrich Müller by Paul Kahlfeldt.

Re-shaping the ‘U-Bahn Spinne’? A new design for Map of the Berlin Underground – and the old ones.

Berlin's current U-Bahn Spinne, 2014. ©BVG

Earlier this week, I heard about the architect Jug Cerovic who re-shaped various maps of the underground, including the London Tube. After I briefly took a view on his new design for the U-Bahn Netzspinne (the Map of the Berlin Underground), I only noticed a few minor changes. For example, the Ring-Bahn is a circle shape now – which is mostly an aesthetic difference. Secondly, the Tiergarten park is shown on the map. I’m unsure about the reason for this, but it comes as a bit redundant to me. At last, which is the only mistake of a certain importance in the new design, is the new scale of the S3. It looks like Erkner is not much further than Schöneweide. Don’t get me wrong, I also encourage people to visit the outskirts of the German capital – but I won’t lie about the distances!

The alternative U-Bahn SpinneHowever, this post is not meant to be a critique. Cerovic doesn’t even have the goal to replace the U-Bahn Netzspinne. The news about this, just made me realise that I’ve once been looking for old versions of these public transportation maps earlier. It reveals a long history of trams, being replaced by an expending underground. Names have changed from Reichskanzlerplatz to Adolf-Hitler-Platz and back to Reichskanzlerplatz before it was named Theodor-Heuss-Platz. A turbulent era for the U-Bahn started when the Berlin Wall was build in August 1961. The ‘Underground Wall’ turned various East Berlin stations into ghost stations. East-German maps of the public transport don’t even show the existence of West Berlin. All summed up: a serious thrill!

1890: Horse-drawn trolley
Horse-drawn railway Berlin, 1890.

1896: Another horse-drawn trolley
Horse-drawn railway 1896.

1914. When most of the public transport was still Hochbahn (above-ground railway)
1914 U-Bahn

1936. Notice the ‘Adolf-Hitler-Platz’ and the ‘Horst-Wessel-Platz’.

1947. Stations marked with a cross were damaged in World War II & out of use.

1966. West Berlin’s map. White stations are East Berlin. Stations with a cross are on a Western line but in Eastern territory; the so-called ghost stations.

1984. East German, only S-Bahn stations.

1984. West Berlin.

1988. East German. Notice the way of ignoring the existence of West Berlin.
1988. East-German.

1988. East German.

1988. West Berlin.
1988. West-German.

The Holocaust and the Holocaust Memorial. A few insights, evoking many questions…

Today, I’m publishing my 50th update. I’ve seen and written about 49 locations of historical value earlier. Often, it is proved that Berlin is not a city in which the centre is the only area that counts. I’ve seen heavenly areas I didn’t knew, as well as the dark past of my favorite district Neukölln. Updates have brought me from Adlershof till Zehlendorf and -outside of Berlin- from Großbeeren till Oranienburg. However, I don’t think there is a place which is of such historical importance as the Holocaust Memorial in the heart of Berlin’s city centre…

So far, I’ve waited to publish an entry about the Holocaust. The topic is heavy and it brings a huge responsibility with the author – of who I think that (s)he has to be -very- informed about this topic. Moreover, it is hard to sum up the insights about the Holocaust at something as easy accessible such as a blog. It remains a topic that cannot be explained within only 3000 words and five photos. On the other hand, I cannot ignore this historical event at a blog which is about German history. Since I plan this to be my last investigative post, it feels like it’s the last chance to write about the extermination of the European Jews. Now, without pretending that this is a complete history of the Holocaust, I want to inform visitors before going to the Holocaust Memorial.

Creating ‘Lebensraum’: the start of the ‘Germanisation’ of Eastern Europe during WW2.

The most recommendable work of reference I’ve read about the Holocaust has been the well respected historian Ian Kershaw’s publication Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution. In one of its chapters, Kershaw defends that Hitler worked towards a new War since the end of WW1. By 1925, when Hitler wrote his autobiography Mein Kampf, he had a core ideology that consisted the expansion of ‘Lebensraum‘ (‘Living Space‘, or: German territory) in Eastern Europe and the ‘elimination’ of Jews in these territories. In this stage, no one understood what this ‘elimination’ should look like – including Hitler himself. Before Hitler took the power, he realised that he wouldn’t win elections by this core-belief only. In the early 1930s, he tempered his antisemitism and gained votes by his anticommunism. However, when Hitler consolidated his power in the years after 1933 – public debate was controlled and organised antisemitic propaganda was without critique. Jews were boycotted (April 1933), excluded by law (September 1935) and killed (November 1938).

Important in the cumulative discrimination was a certain dynamic pattern that is typical for Nazi Germany. In this dynamic, Hitler knew how to contain the radical antisemites in his party – and how to time and canalise their aggression. In his speeches, he gave signals for his radical party members to do a ‘bottom up’ violent act. As a result, the Nazi Party had to ‘soothen’ the radicals by further discriminating the Jews. In public sphere, Hitler would make virulent comments and in private sphere, he explained of what he thought that should happen. An important example of such a green light was a part of Hitler’s notorious speech from January 1939, the so-called prophecy speech:

“Today I will once more be a prophet. If the international finance-Jewry inside and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations of the world into a world war yet again, then the result will not be the bolshevisation of the earth, and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe”

By Hitler’s invasion and occupation of Poland, the War broke out in September 1939. However, the “annihilation of the Jewish race” did not start yet. A couple of escalations had to take place before. In this, the Warthegau (Warta shire) played a key role. In Hitler’s ambition to create ‘Lebensraum‘, the Warthegau would be the first district to ‘Germanise’. This district had to function as a prototype for others and therefore, the most fanatic Nazi’s were stationed in this district. Here, another crucial pattern that was typical for Hitler’s ‘style of ruling’ becomes visible. This pattern derived from the vague command to ‘improve the objectives of the Führer‘. After Hitler spoke out his expectation that the Warthegau would be ‘Germanised’ within ten years, career-making civil servants took this as a licence to ‘work in the spirit of Hitler’. In the Warthegau, the police was under the control of the regional head of the SS, Wilhelm Koppe. By May 1940, he was a key figure in the extermination of more than 2000 disabled patients. Now Koppe was held responsible for the ‘Germanisation’ of the Warthegau, it meant that he had to make the Jews invisible (by putting them in concentration camps) or deport them further to the East, in the General Government district where already a few million Jews were concentrated. In May 1940, the Jewish district of Łódź -the biggest city in the Warthegau- was already immured and turned into a ‘ghetto’ containing 163.000 Jews. The ghetto was more than full, but trains with German Jews kept arriving. Hunger ruled and diseases came up, but administrative and logistic problems restrained deportations towards the General Government. The Jews were stuck in the ‘to be Germanised’ Warthegau, while Wilhelm Koppe realised what Hitler wanted him to do…

Children from the ghetto of Łódź, being deported to the extermination camp Chełmno. ©USHMM

When Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, June 1941, the Nazi’s again planned to create a buffer zone for all German and Austrian Jews – the East of the Ural Mountains. As often, the Nazi’s overestimated themselves heavily. Unfortunately, and this is crucial, it were not only the Nazi’s that suffered from their setbacks. Already in September that year, it was forecasted that the German Army won’t win the War before the winter – which meant that a ‘territorial solution for the deportation of Jews’ had no chance. An other ‘Final Solution’ about what to do with the Jews had to be found in the East of Europe. In the following weeks, the first steps were made in the systematic extermination of the Jews. The ‘Einsatzgruppen‘ (‘Task forces’) in Ukraine murdered 33.000 Jews at the Babi Yar ravin by the end of September. In the Warthegau, Wilhelm Koppe understood well how he could ‘work in the spirit of Hitler’. In October that year, 3000 Jews within the county named Konin were concentrated in the town of Zagórów (in German: Hinterberg) and killed in the forests.

The 26th of November 1941, the mechanical extermination of the Jews had started by the SS. The first gassings of several hundred Jews took place that day, in the Warthegau county of Kalisz. For committing this crime, the Wilhelm Koppe used his experience with the usage of ‘doctors’ who killed disabled patients in the Aktion T4. This ‘experience’ was most of all how to direct the exhaust gasses of a truck into its trailer. By the 8th of December, two of these ‘gas trucks’ were driven from Berlin to Chełmno. Here, 97.000 Jews were exterminated within seven months.

At the 11th of December, Hitler declared war to the USA – which was answered with a a declaration of War in return. Nevertheless, Hitler stated that it was a Jewish conspiracy and held his notorious ‘prophecy speech’ from January 1939. The next day (December 12th), Goebbels wrote in his diary about a conversation with Hitler – in which the latter stated that a new phase concerning the ‘Jewish question‘ could start. In other words, due to military and logistical problems – the Nazi dynamic created a radical ‘solution’ for their self-invented and created problem. After being unable to take care of the Jews that they had deported, the extermination had started. The Warthegau may have been crucial to in taking this first steps in the mechanisation of the Holocaust, another 3.5 million Jews were already at the ‘General Government’ district. This is where four notorious extermination camps -Belzec, Sobibór, Treblinka and Majdanek- were constructed rapidly and opened from March 1942 onwards. Also the camp Auschwitz prepared for the extermination of Jews in this phase. It wasn’t located in the ‘General Government’ or in the Warthegau, but in the discrict of Upper Silesia. By the summer of 1942, the extermination machine ran at full speed. Most of the casualties would fall in the following year.

Important is though, that not all Jews were killed in the extermination factories. About half of the Jews were killed by shooting. In moral view, there may not be much of a difference. Taking someones life, either way, remains murder. However, from a humanist point of view it is worth telling how these millions came to their end. As historian Christopher Browning had written in his case-study, these shootings were committed by ‘Ordinary men’. A certain Reserve Police Battalion from Hamburg, mainly fathers from families, were among the execution squads. After they were brought to occupied Poland, they were asked by their commander -pale, tears in his eyes- if they want to cooperate doing ‘a frightfully unpleasant task’ or wanted to leave without consequences. After some hesitating, only eleven out of the initial 174 men stepped out. The others were added to the ‘Battalion 101’ of a mere 500 ordinary men, that became an incarnated killing machine. Between July and November 1942, this Battalion 101 deported over 40.000 European Jewish men and women to the extermination camp Treblinka – while executing 8000 Jews themselves. In the late autumn and spring of 1942/1943, the trained killers volunteered to take part in hunting the Jews that were hidden in the forests and in small towns. In short, the ordinary men became fanatic murderers…

The Police Battalion 101 during Christmas (1942/3)

What went wrong here? Are we still talking about ordinary family-men from the Nazi-sceptic city of Hamburg? Working class heroes -dockers truck drivers- and white collar workers who grew up before Hitler took power? Yes, antisemitism was all around in Nazi Germany – but still it is not plausible that these ordinary men were eager to actively murder Jewish civilians… One of the morbid answers in here is solidarity. Not with the victims, but with their fellow ordinary men. When they were interrogated after the War, many of these men said that they wouldn’t leave their colleagues doing the dirty job. Them who stepped out after a few round of executing -and had to do logistic work at the German camps– were told to be ‘cowards’. Moreover, the ordinary men had weekly briefings of 30 till 45 minutes. In these, they were ‘educated’ about Nazi topics such as loyalty, the offensive spirit and… comradeship. In addition, they were brainwashed with statements that ‘the Jews’ initiated the USA boycotts of Germany – and that it were them who bombs on the homeland…

Nazi-propaganda. “The Jew. War’s starter. Extending the war.”

The question arises about what the German people knew about the Holocaust. Till which level were they supporting Hitler’s antisemitism? In the last free elections of November 1932, 33% of the German people voted for Hitler. In this, Hitler tempered his antisemitism, focusing on the fear of socialism and communism. After Hitler took power in 1933, the Nazi’s slowly but steadily controlled the media, the opinion and would cumulatively discriminate the Jews. However, unlike the War that Hitler always wanted, the Holocaust had not been an intended plan – but a result of the dynamics between the Nazi-top in Berlin and experienced, fanatic Nazi’s in the province. The Holocaust was an unpredictable side-effect of the War, but completed consciously – and fatal for millions…

So, when 33% of the German people voted for Hitler in the last free elections (November 1932) – they did not vote for the Holocaust to take place in the future. On the other hand, there have barely been any resistance against the discrimination and the deportations of Jews. The protest in Berlin’s Rosenstraße, where German wifes of Jewish men protested to prevent their deportation in February 1943, have been the only protest – as far as I know. Now, why did the German people not resist against the extermination of Jews? An obvious answer may be the existence of control departments, such as the Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei; Secret States Security) that prevented people from protesting. However, the Gestapo had relatively few staff for its German population. There has been more than only control: the people just didn’t protest that easily. According to Ian Kershaw, the reason of this may be a hardly understandable moral indifference. “The crooked road to Auschwitz was build with hate, but paved with indifference” is how the historian states it. This incomprehensible mentality becomes a bit more understandable after Kershaw explains that the German people had their own trouble during wartime. Everyone had a male family member that was missing at the war’s front, while air raid attacks became increasingly a constant threat. Due to gossips, the people could – but didn’t want to know what happened to the Jewish countrymen. In addition, people thought that they could not be held responsibly either. This moral indifference provided the criminal Nazi regime to radicalise their murderous acts. Whether this is moral indifference or passive accessory – I remain for you to consider…

So far, this article has been about Hitler, local Nazi fanatics, ordinary men and indifferent civilians. About the timing of Hitler’s speeches, about dynamics in Nazi Germany – and about the crucial timing that the European Jews were deported. Still, many questions remain. For example, what did the Nazi-officials show its population of the deportations, the ghettos and the extermination camps? What did the Jews go through in those camps, and who were in charge? What happened with the possessions of deported Jews? Or, formulated more clear: how did the people feel after confiscating such property of fellow citizens that were killed? And how fast did information about the extermination camps spread among the people? When it comes to the Holocaust, countless of questions can be asked…

The'Treblinka' monument by Vadim Sidur (Berlin-Charlottenburg, April 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser)In earlier posts, I’ve shown memorials that remember events that were prior, but participating in the Holocaust – for example the deportations of Jews or the violent round-ups. However, before the construction of Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe, only one small monument to remember the Holocaust was to be found in the German capital. In 1966, the Soviet vanguard artist Vadim Sidur made a rather grim sculpture. Abstract, but clearly a pile of dead human beings. Sidur named his sculpture after the extermination camp ‘Treblinka’. In 1979, the sculpture was placed in front of a court’s house: the Amtsgericht Charlottenburg.

Yet, this memorial actually only remembers one of the many extermination camps. A central memorial for the murdered Jews of Europe was still lacking. Intitiated by the journalist Lea Rosh, a support group for a Holocaust Memorial was found in January 1989. Before the Holocaust Memorial opened in May 2005, many debates had taken place. The location has been changed, competitions with hundreds of designs had been rejected by an intervention of the contemporary prime minister (Helmut Kohl) and the winning design of the second competition has been changed. The construction symbolically started at the 27th of January 2000, the day that Auschwitz was liberated 55 years earlier.

The site of the Holocaust Memorial, before the memorial’s construction.

While the design of Peter Eisenman became tangible, discussions only intensified. One of the main critique is that a monument for Jews only would create a ‘hierarchy’ in the ‘victimship’ of Nazism. Other monuments, such as for Roma and Sinti, homosexuals or disabled people, won’t have the same dimension. And why would one make a difference between Jewish, political, homosexual or other victims of the Nazi’s? Was the Holocaust even different than the Porajmos? Other critiques thought that the monument would be too artistic, or too much a sensational ‘tourist attraction’ that wasn’t sincere. In 2003, the construction works were temporarily brought to a standstill when a newspaper found out that the producer of the anti-graffiti coating had produced Zyklon B, the gas that was used in the gas chambers, during wartime. The leading architect, Peter Eisenman, decided to continue working with this company.

The Holocaust Monument under construction.

Peter Eisenman, besides the architect also the mastermind behind the Holocaust memorial, stated “This is a place of no meaning” – and did explicitly not explain what the highly abstract monument resembles. For Eisenman, the Holocaust memorial had to break with the tradition of other memorials. “The scale and dimension of the Holocaust makes every attempt to describe it in traditional ways inevitable to a hopeless project. Our memorial tries to develop a new idea about remembering that clearly distuingishes from nostalgia.” This new concept of remembering had to be an experience. “Nowadays, we can only understand the past by an experience in the present day.” That is quite much all. Thoughts are absolutely free. “When a swastika is graffitied on the memorial, this is a reflection of people who feel this way. When it stays there, it is a reflection of which the government thinks about it that people paint swastikas here. I can not influence that. There will be children that play tag and mannequins that strike a pose. The location is not holy.” Thus the responsible architect. The memorial was inaugurated at the 10th of May 2005, exactly 60 years after the War’s end. The time had come to compare expectations with experiences.

How will you -as an average, relatively informed visitor- experience the Holocaust Memorial? After telling your social network that you plan to visit Berlin and the Holocaust memorial, your friends who have been there probably told you that it resembles a graveyard. In this fictive graveyard, the grey steles are the coffins – which are given posthumously to the Jews. The colour grey is chosen for being the colour of ash, referring to the bodies that were burned. However, a couple of questions remain. A very obvious question concerns the meaning of the the number of steles. You won’t find information about this at the location itself – so you already feel that you misunderstand the memorial. When you get to know that there are 2711 steles, you may only conclude that this number has no meaning. Why is the ground uneven? Should you look for the spot where the steles are the highest? And why are there over a hundred ‘coffins’ implemented in the busy pavement? Does this make (unaware) passers-by desecrators of a grave? Why would an architect do that on purpose? And what to think of visitors of the Holocaust memorial that jump from stone-to-stone? Walking through the memorial, you’ll even experienced people playing hide-and-seek. Walking out of the memorial, you will see the average sight-seeing tourist taking a snapshot while smiling towards the camera. Your experience probably ends by standing aside, looking over the memorial for a while. You may be disappointed because you haven’t got the feeling that you’ve learned something, or ‘felt’ a message. And only if you are lucky, you’ll find an arrow pointing you to the underground ‘information point’…

Taken everything into account, I think we all agree about the importance of a central and spacious location to remember the Holocaust. The intention of Eisenman -using an experience to remember the Holocaust- may be interesting. Unfortunately, and Eisenman already realised this, people behave questionable: they will pose at group-photos and children will run and play. For them, the absence of information about the Holocaust and a clarification of the memorial makes that the level of abstraction is too high. After all, even an informed or a frequent visitor can’t tell whether the Holocaust memorial resembles a graveyard, or not at all. This lack of clearness may easily lead to dissatisfaction at the first place. Understandable, because – wouldn’t it be desirable here, to have a memorial that makes a strong statement that everyone understands? However, I’ve noticed that the shortcoming of clarity has a side-effect. It really keeps me thinking, and brings up many questions about what it remembers after all: the Holocaust…

The Holocaust Memorial (Berlin-Mitte, April 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser)

Making Berlin ‘Judenfrei’. The decimation of Berlin’s jewish population by railway deportations.

In an earlier update, I wrote about the monument for the round-ups of the jewish population at Berlin’s Koppenplatz – a crucial step within the Holocaust. This article is about the next step in the darkest page of history, the deportations that followed.

Memorial 'Gleis 17' at S-Bahnhof Grunewald. Berlin-Wilmersdorf (April 2014, photo by Joep de Visser)
When Hitler took power in January 1933, 160.000 jews lived in the German capital. In the following years, nearly 100.000 of them fled to countries as the USA and England, or even to Shanghai. Although this emigration had never been voluntarily, it was even impossible to emigrate from Nazi-Germany when the War started in September 1939. In August 1941, about 66.000 jews were trapped in Berlin. Now, more than elsewhere – the population of Berlin suffered more Joseph Goebbels, the infamous Minister of Propaganda. In the German capital, he was also an ambitious Gauleiter (District leader). The virulent antisemite wanted Berlin to be ‘Judenfrei’ (Nazi-German for ‘Free from jews’) – and he even bothered Hitler with this. On August 19th 1941, Hitler promised the fanatic Gauleiter to ‘transport’ the jews out of ‘his’ city when the possibility was there. Only one month later – Goebbels confirmed that this day came closer. In an diary entry of September 24th, he wrote that Hitler stated Berlin would be the very first city to be ‘Judenfrei’ indeed. The deportations were in sight. Another month later, at October 24th, Goebbels wrote

“Gradually, we start with the evacuation of the Berlin jews to the East. A couple of thousands are already on their way. In first instance, they go to Litzmannstadt (Nazi-German for: Łódź). This causes commotion in the affected circles. The jews ask for support in anonymous letters to foreign correspondents. (…) It is annoying that this topic is getting attention in the world’s media, but we have to deal with it. The main thing is that the Reichshauptstadt (Berlin) is made Judenfrei. I will not rest before this goal is totally realised.”

Deportation of Jews from Hanau to the Theresienstadt ghetto. (Hanau, Germany, May 30, 1942. ©US Holocaust Memorial Museum)

From three stations in the city, about 50.000 jews from Berlin were deported. The first deportation took place at October 18th, when over a thousand jews were transported from Berlin’s S-Bahnhof Grunewald to the ghetto in Łódź. Men that lost their job during the discriminative laws, women and children were among the first to be deported. Already in this early stage, deportations were connected with the Holocaust. By November 1941 till January 1942, 4000 jews were sent to the ghetto of Riga – where Nazi authorities knew that ‘Einsatzgruppen‘ (‘Special Forces’) executed these jews.

Detail at the Memorial Gleis 17. Details of the first deportation from S-Bahnhof Grunewald. (Berlin-Wilmersdorf, April 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser)From January 1942 onwards, jews were deported from another location – the Güterbahnhof Moabit (‘Cargo station in Moabit’) fairly close to the city centre. Here, a platform was used that was seperated and parallel of the S-Bahn tracks. In June 1942, a new stage in the deportation had started. By then, elderly jews were deported from the Anhalter Bahnhof in the middle of Berlin. In these ‘Altertransporte‘ (‘Elderly transports’), about 9600 people were deported in 116 times. In these Altertransporte were one or two railway carriages (maximum of 50 people in one carriage) placed behind the public train towards Prague, that left at 06:07am. Now, the jews didn’t end up in the City of a Hundred Spires – but in concentration camp (annex ghetto) Theresienstadt.

German Jews board a train that will deport them to Theresienstadt. Hanau, Germany, May 30, 1942.  ©Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz

The deportations themself were already horrible. Trains from the Wehrmacht (German Army) had precedence, so by 1944 – the average speed of a deportation train was only 25 km/hour. Railway carriages were overcrowded, while there were no toilet facilities. In combination with a lack of air, the stench must have been horrible. Throughout the tens of hours, people slowly died for breathing problems or even dehydration. The train was guarded by the SiPo (Security Police) and the Ordnungspolizei (Order Police). Them who decided to take the risk and escape the train, would face a harsh life into the wild – where they were still hunted by German battalions.

Still, if the transport wasn’t the hell on earth, their destination was. The ghettos and camps in which the jews were concentrated were overcrowded and fatal diseases came up. From the ghetto in Łódź, jews were deported to the variety of extermination factories. The first one was already taken into use by December 1941. From Theresienstadt, the jews were mostly deported to the concentration and extermination camp of Auschwitz – which has been in use by March 1942. All summed up, for a jew – there was only a very small chance of surviving after being deported.

At the start of 1943, most of the jews were already deported and murdered. Still, there were about 8000 jewish men in Berlin that worked as a forced labour for factories of War’s importance. Due to the use of forced labours from occupied territories, the Nazi’s considered to be the working jews as redundant as well. In the morning of February 27th, these 8000 jews were rounded up in the ‘Fabrikaktion’. Only the 2000 jews that were married to Germans -and who resisted the Nazi-pressure of divorcing- were saved from deportation – and only after a courageous protest. With only a fraction left of the 166.000 people that once lived here, Berlin was officially declared ‘Judenfrei‘ on the 19th of May 1943. However, deportations of smaller numbers of jews took place up till January 1945, when the Nazi’s knew that the War was lost – and the killing of jews was even more useless than ever been before. I’ve read that 7000 jews lived in Berlin when the War ended in May 1945. I estimate that around 4000 of them were married with a German. Another estimated 1500 survived by living in hiding. The other 1500 survivors remains a mystery – but I think, these survived due to the usage of counterfeited passports.

Cargo Station Moabit (Berlin-Moabit, date unknown). Bildarchiv Preussischer KulturbesitzRailway tracks underneath the Putlitzbrücke (Berlin-Moabit, April 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser)
So far the mass deportations of the jews, earlier described as the second step in the Holocaust. My question now is how these deportations have been remembered? And, somehow, who would guess that it took over four decades for people to realise how several Berlin stations have been locations that participated in the Holocaust? Now, three locations in the city remember the deportations of the jewish population. Since 1987, a monument is revealed at the Putlitzbrücke, close to the S-Bahnhof Westhafen. It remembers the more than 32.000 people that were deported from this since the beginning of 1942. They’ve set their last feet on Berlin soil at the platform of this Güterbahnhof (‘Cargo station’). An information panel is located at the Anhalter Bahnhof. Here, the so-called ‘Altertransporte‘ are remembered, in which 9600 jews were deported.

Memorial at the Putlitzbrücke (Berlin-Moabit, April 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser)

Memorial panel for the Altertransporte next to the ruins of Anhalter Bahnhof. Berlin-Kreuzberg, April 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser.





At the S-Bahnhof Grunewald, thousands of jews were deported from October 1941 on. Here, various intiatiors have constructed monuments. Already in 1953, a communist group published a plaque at the railway station’s signal house. Typical for the 1950s, when West Germany was barely denazified and fanatic anti-communist, this one was removed by the police at some point. In 1973, another memorial tablet was revealed. At least, this one lasted thirteen years – when it was stolen after all. Since April 1987, a new memorial stone states in Hebrew and German. In addition, the local evangelics made a plaque in October that same year. In the early 1990s, the district of Wilmersdorf asked the Polish artist Karol Broniatowski to make a memorial. Broniatowski designed a concrete wall, with hollow human figures in this. As the succesor of the Deutsche Reichsbahn (German Imperial Railway), the Deutsche Bahn added the fourth memorial at S-Bahnhof Grunewald. After a competition, there was chosen for a design in which the details of all the 186 transportations (so, directions and numbers of deported jews) that are written in steel plates. These plates are integrated at the ‘Gleis 17‘ (‘Railway Track 17’) where most of the deportation trains left. For this, the platform had to be restored – while the railway tracks were kept grown over by vegetation. The latter symbolises that there won’t ever be a train leaving from this platform with its horrific history…

Memorial 'Gleis 17' at S-Bahnhof Grunewald. The overgrown railway tracks. Berlin-Wilmersdorf (April 2014, photo by Joep de Visser)Taking everything into account, this has been an article about the decimation of the jewish population in Berlin. In contrast to what the Nazi’s stated, their capital has never been really ‘Judenfrei‘. Joseph Goebbels, who repeatedly stated that he wouldn’t rest before the last jew had left Berlin, did not survive the War – but 7000 jewish men did. Nevertheless, this is incomparible to the 166.000 jews that once lived in Berlin. And for the 50.000 Berlin jews that were deported -and murdered-. Memorials only came up from the later 1980s. But why? Is a question that still remains. Perhaps because the deportations only have been a part of the Holocaust? Because the intended extermination took place in camps, not in carriages? …I don’t even think so. In the next article, I’ll write about the Holocaust and Berlin’s memorials – which only came in the 1990s…

Debunking the Hitlerbunker. About the myths of Hitler’s death and his last accommodation.

In despite of the many topics that a student in German history can focus on, one specific topic is inevitable. As the most infamous European of the 20th century, I had to learn all the ins and outs about Hitler. I’m not joking when I tell you that I’ve read three biographies about him. In these, the last chapter always took place in the so-called Hitlerbunker. This underground bunker in the city-centre of Berlin is the location where Hitler committed suicide on the 30th of April 1945. Easy as that. However, the dictator’s last accomodation and his death remained dubious – and not only for the lay people. In other words, rumours and myths took over…

"Here, the New Reich Chancellery underground bunker after it was uncovered by demolition work to make way for a new apartment complex in 1987. In 1938, Hitler commissioned Albert Speer with the construction of the building, because the old Reich Chancellery had been outgrown."
To sum up a few of these myths, the six story high Hitlerbunker would have an underground highway up to the Tempelhof Airport. Here, an airplane was reserved to make Hitler escape from Berlin. Via Denmark, he and Eva Hitler-Braun took a submarine towards South America – where he and Eva gave birth to two daughters. In the meanwhile, Hitler’s Doppelgänger and an actress that looked-alike Eva Braun staged the Nazi-funeral. These myths are anything besides harmless. They implicate that Hitler had successfully fooled us and that we couldn’t beat Nazism after all. None of this is true. For me, this vagueness about my field of studies is more than unbearable. It’s time to debunk the myths around Hitler’s death and the location that is mostly connected to it: the Hitlerbunker.

First of all, one shouldn’t be surprised that Hitler committed suicide. One can remark a lot about Hitler’s personality and character, but he was not a coward that avoided pain or death. One could say that Hitler was brave, I rather say that he was alien. For example, Hitler volunteered for the army during the First World War and fought against armed police in November 1923. In the early 1930s, Hitler threatened to commit suicide during various political crisis within the Nazi-Party. In this, he would count down his suicide attempt. The message “If you don’t obey me, I’ll commit suicide in ten seconds!” was overstated by “in five seconds!” and -eventually- “in one second!”. Unfortunately, these menaces turned out to be false promises.

"The air raid shelter in the New Reich Chancellery was flooded, with sediment marks on the walls showing different water levels. On the left, an overturned steel cabinet can be seen."
And what is true of the ‘overwhelming’ Hitlerbunker? Well, it has not been constructed out of a powerful position – on the contrary. The decision to build to bunker in Berlin was made in early 1942, which may be connected with the secret understanding that The War wouldn’t result the dictator’s favor. For Hitler’s worst-case scenario, serious precautions were made. From the Neue Reichskanzlei (New Reich Chancellery) there already was an underground corridor that led to a bunker that was five meters underneath the surface. In addition, Hitler commanded the construction of a new bunker right next to it which had to be another four meter deeper. This bunker’s roof and walls were made of reinforced concrete – and were at least 3.5 meter thick. Due to the high groundwater level, the surface had to be drained permanently. The bunker only consisted 250m² – which is not big at all. Its interior was modest, if not: Spartan. Light-bulbs without lampshades ‘decorated’ the ceilings in all the sixteen small rooms. When Hitler moved into the bunker mid-January 1945, his interior consisted of a sofa and a few paintings, such as a Dutch still life above it and a portrait of Frederick II (alias: Frederick the Great) by Anton Graff.

At the 16th of April, the Battle of Berlin had started. Within the following two weeks, a comparable weight of explosives as during the earlier 360 air raids were launched on the German capital. In his last weeks, the dictator bothered his secretaries more and more with trivial topics such as dogs and dogtraining as advocated his art of nutrition. Meanwhile, he would combine many medicines and eat masses of pie – which he was given for his birthday at the 20th of April. Due to a (self)destructive lifestyle, Hitler looked much older than only half a year before. His clothes were full of stains and, for the first time during his dictatorship, Hitler made a sloppy impression to his surrounding. At military briefings, Hitler rested his hope at battalions that didn’t exist anymore. The military staff -albeit in secret- thought of him as ridiculous. Many military orders that Hitler gave were set aside or ignored. High ranked officers fled to Southern Germany – or the Vatican state helped them for an escape to Spain, Argentina, Chile or Paraguay. Hitler did not: he was determined to die in Berlin. He married Eva Braun on the 29th – it would be a honeymoon to hell. The next day, Hitler tested the poison on his dog and Eva – after which he shot himself. Two days later, the Red Army besieged the area around the Hitlerbunker. Another week later, Nazi-Germany surrendered.

The Soviet general Georgy Zhukov stated in June 1945 that no body of Hitler is found, and he may got away with an airplane. Even Stalin himself stated during the Potsdam conference in July that year, that Hitler may have fled to Spain or Argentina. The earlier stated myths and conspiracy theories found their origin in this period. The first debunking took place in 1968, when the Soviet journalist Lev Alexandrovitsj Besymenski published a book about secret Soviet documents. In the book is revealed that the Red Army have been looking for Hiter’s corps already at the 2nd of May. Three days later, first lieutenant Panassow and his inferior Tschurakow found what they were looking for in a shell crater, with a three meter distance from the exit of the ‘Führerbunker‘. However, the 200 liter benzine had turned the corpses quite much into coal. The remains were brought to Berlin-Buch, where an autopsy confirmed the identity of Adolf Hitler and Eva Hitler-Braun. The most important prove of the identification were his crooked teeth, which Hugo Blaschke -one of Hitler’s dentists- recognised. In 1990, a news item stated that Yuri Andropov (the Soviet Secret Service leader back then) commanded in 1970 to burn Hitler’s remains and dump them into the Elbe river. Soviet officer stated that Hitler’s ashes were dumped into the Elbe river. Only a few fragments of Hitler’s scull were archivated in a Russian States Archive. These fragments however, turned out to be from a woman…

The Hitlerbunker after the Soviets tried to destroy it. ©Bundesarchiv. Bild_183-M1204-319,_Berlin,_Reichskanzlei,_gesprengter_Führerbunker

What about the bunker? In despite of various attempts, the outer walls was too solid for being demolished with Russian dynamites. Only the inner walls were blown up, while an artificial hill was heaped over it. In the meanwhile, the high groundwater level changed the bunker into an underground swimming pool. Until 1986, when the area was changed into a construction site for the next three years. A certain man named Robert Conrad photographed the bunker in decay. He may be the last person on earth who got to know Hitler’s bunker; in 1989, the bunker was filled with rubble, sand and stones. After the Fall, a parking lot is build over it. The German authorities were afraid for far right groups to turn the location into a neo-Nazi pilgrimage site. As a consequence, rumours again overstated the reality. Only before the World Championship of 2006, an information panel by Berliner Unterwelten made an end to the endless rumours and expending urban myths.

In short, with this entry – I hope that once and for all I’ve clarified that Hitler didn’t spend his last days as a free man in the Argentinian sun. On the contrary, the Hitlerbunker was far from luxurious. Also, The Great Dictator saw that his power was waning in the last days of his life. Only his last order, to make sure that his body can’t be exposed in a Soviet museum as a triumph, was carefully accomplished.