This Way to the Führerbunker : Gertrud-Kolmar-Straße, Berlin, Mitte

By Beidler, Philip | Michigan Quarterly Review, Winter 2016 | Go to article overview

This Way to the Führerbunker : Gertrud-Kolmar-Straße, Berlin, Mitte


Beidler, Philip, Michigan Quarterly Review


The visitor to twenty-first-century Berlin finds it hard it to accuse the government of a reunified Germany of failing to acknowledge the horrors of the National Socialist era. The block on Prinz Albrechtstraße once housing the police apparatus of the RHSA, SS, SD, and Gestapo has been leveled to its subterranean core and now holds a comprehensive exhibition on the Nazi crimes entitled the Topography of Terror. Several blocks north along the Wilhelmstraße, once the axis of the old Hitler ministries, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, a vast, undulating, horizontal field of unmarked stelae, features an underground information complex fully documenting the Nazi death apparatus across the occupied lands. The suburban Wannsee villa where plans were adopted for the Final Solution has now become a permanent historical center. The Jüdisches Museum Berlin details the once vibrant culture and eventual fate of Germany's Jewish community. The Bendlerblock, former Reserve Army staff headquarters, where several of the 20 July 1944 conspirators, including Count Klaus Schenck von Stauffenberg, were executed in the courtyard, now houses a memorial museum to the German Resistance.

Not without reason-given the continued existence of neo-Nazi organizations in Germany and elsewhere-one other location of substantial notoriety is less noted on maps and in guidebooks. It is the site of the bunker where Adolf Hitler committed suicide on 3 May 1945 and where, just outside the chancellery garden entrance, an attempt was made to burn his body along with that of his wife, Eva Braun. Once a barren expanse of rubble just beyond the Berlin Wall in the Communist zone, it is now a parking lot, used by tenants of a cluster of surrounding high-rise apartments built in the mid- to late 1980s by the former East Germany, presumably for party elites. Erected nearby is a panel giving historical information and including a detailed diagram of what turns out to have been an extensive set of underground fortifications built for various ministries and official residences. Taking the diagram at ground level as an overlay of the present terrain, one finds it possible to place with fair precision various final scenes in the shabby Hitlerian Götterdämmerung: the small parade ground where a visibly decrepit Führer is shown in a famous photograph giving a boy hero of the Volkssturm a fatherly pinch on the cheek, the rubble-strewn dooryard where another shows him allegedly taking his last mortal glimpse of the outside world, the nearby shell crater where the Russians discovered the decomposing, partially incinerated bodies of the newly married Herr and Frau Hitler. Along with a piece of skull and some dental bridgework in a Moscow forensic lab and some leftover ash and bone scattered under an old Soviet truck park in Magdeburg, this patch of asphalt and concrete in Berlin is as much of Hitlers tomb as we will have. Though no one can say how the historical marker came to be there, it is acknowledged to be of private installation. It is said residents of the housing complex are extremely desirous that it be removed.

For a historical person such as me, an American born in the waning days of World War II, it remains a place of dreadful fascination. Now in my late sixties, I have grown up on images of good-guy Americans fighting Hollywood-movie Nazis and brave, freedom-loving, postwar West Germans striving against their totalitarian East German Communist counterparts. In my young adulthood, I myself served my nation in combat as a military officer in Vietnam, a war of dubious moral and political legality frequently described as genocidal; in my later life and career I have written a great deal about war and its cultural representations, of the degree to which leaders devise military myth to clothe their designs of aggression with false vestments of just ideological or geopolitical purpose-and not least of the degree to which war continues to be a vehicle of political and religious extermination. …

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