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The horror of national socialism – uncomfortable truths at Topography of Terror

The horror of national socialism – uncomfortable truths at Topography of Terror

History, Museums on April 4, 2012 8:10 am

Located on the site of the former headquarters of the three key players in the propagation of terror, control and coercion during the Nazi reign (the SS, the Secret State Police and the Reich Security), ‘Topography of Terror’ is one of the most popular centres in Berlin for the documentation of the Nazi regime, attracting over 600,000 visitors a year.

After the destruction of Wilhelmstraße and Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse at the end of WW2 the site was cleared of the rubble and debris. When the Wall was erected along Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse, the area became a no-man’s land at the Soviet/American border. In 1987 after the grim discovery of the makeshift torture and executions chambers in the cellar of the former Gestapo headquarters the excavated area was turned into an open air memorial and museum.

The permanent exhibition on display in the centre is very well laid out giving a fascinating insight into many aspects of how the Nazi regime operated and also life under the Nazi´s. The outside exhibition trench (open in the spring to the fall) has an added dimension to it as you can see excavated areas where actual interrogations and torture took place.

Given the subject matter highlighting this dark period of human history the exhibition is sure to leave most visitors with sad and mournful reflections.


Topography of Terror by silent stereo_flickr

Did you know? Just 3 of the 7,000 former employees at the terror headquarters the museum is based upon were eventually convicted, and much of the exhibition is dedicated to putting names and faces to the injustices that were committed, as well as the victims.

Context of centre, grounds and exhibitions

Viewing the grounds, the excavated prison cells and the photos in the centre showing Nazi high command going about their business at various closely situated headquarters, it is a little chilling knowing you are at the very location. The site adds a sense of poignancy to the exhibitions.

There is a very ‘stripped back’ feel to the site. The building is set back from the main road with and a large courtyard of crushed grey rock. Zigzagging paths follow the exposed building remnants, and the Site Tour leads you around 15 stations supplemented with informational signs that overview each areas use during the Nazi period.

Tip: Photographs are fine outside, but remember to be respectful when you enter the buildings.

Note: The exhibition is in both German and English

The main exhibition is split into five segments:

  • The National Socialist Takeover of Power (I)
  • Institutions of Terror (SS and Police) (II)
  • Terror, Persecution and Extermination on Reich Territory (III)
  • SS and Reich Security Main Office in the Occupied Countries (IV)
  • The End of the War and the Post-war Era (V)
Topography of Terror by damiendude_flickr

Computer stations and reading folders provide in-depth information about the crimes committed and the post war trials for war crimes, painting a picture of not only what happened, but how and why it happened, shedding light on the tools the Nazi’s used to indoctrinate such a large proportion of German citizens.

There is usually a guest exhibition, located either upstairs near the main one or downstairs in one of the spaces. At the moment ‘In Plain Sight – The Deportation of the Jews and the Auctioning of their Household Effects’ in Lörrach in 1940 guests, a collection of photographs from the era detailing the Jewish plight. And, in Spring and Summer only, the exhibition ‘Berlin 1933–1945. Between Propaganda and Terror’ makes its home along the outer site.

It is easy to spend the best part of an afternoon pouring through the literature and using the interactive facilities, so setting aside anywhere between three and five hours is wise if you want to get the most out of the information provided. And be patient with your fellow visitors, depending on how busy it is this very popular museum can get a little crowded.

Useful Information

As you enter the documentation centre there are lockers for bags and coats and a main desk with guides written in German and English, as well as interesting books and other bits of literature for sale. The main exhibition sits on the ground floor with a café serving hot and cold drinks and snacks at the end.

Stiftung Topographie des Terrors
Topography of Terror Foundation
Niederkirchnerstraße 8
10963 Berlin

Opening Hours
Daily 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.
The outdoor grounds are accessible until dusk (not later than 8 p.m.)
Closed on Dec 24th, 31st, Jan 1st

Admission: free
(The exhibitions are wheel-chair accessible)

0049 30 254509-50
0049 30 254509-55

Guided ToursKulturprojekte Berlin
0049 30 254509-70
0049 30 254509-77

Documentation Centre Cafeteria
0049 176 10303531

Subway station
Potsdamer Platz (U2) or Kochstraße (U6)
S-Bahn: Anhalter Bahnhof or Potsdamer Platz

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