The Topography of Terror

The Outdoor Gallery, Berlin Wall and Air Ministry Building

The Topography of Terror

The Topography of Terror is both an outdoor and indoor museum on the site of the former Nazi headquarters for the Gestapo and SS.

It lies at the intersection of Wilhelmstrasse and Niederkirchnerstrasse, and covers the area once occupied by the Prinz-Albrecht Palais.

The area around Wilhelmstrasse was the main centre for the Nazi administration, and although Hermann Goering’s former Reich Air Ministry building (now German Finance Ministry) still towers over the Topography of Terror, most of these buildings have long gone.

Niederkirchnerstrasse in 2003

The entrance to the museum is in Niederkirchnerstrasse, formerly Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse, where at No 8 was the School of Industrial Arts and Crafts.

After the seizure of power by the Nazis in 1933, the newly formed Gestapo (Secret Police) took over the building for its headquarters, and a year later Heinrich Himmler’s SS took over the Prinz-Albrecht-Palais around the corner in Wilhelmstrasse.

By 1939, with the help of Reinhard Heydrich, Himmler transformed this former palace of the Hohenzollern family into the main office of the Reich Security (RSHA).

The Former School of Industrial Arts and Crafts
The Former School of Industrial Arts and Crafts

Being both head of the Gestapo and the SS, Himmler’s enthusiasm for his job is well known. If he wasn’t torturing people here, he was planning where he could do it elsewhere, but on 23rd Nov 1944 all his plans started to fall apart when the RAF bombed his headquarters. With the end of the war in sight Himmler was eventually captured and taken to Luneburg where he committed suicide.

Inside the Gestapo Headquarters
Inside the Gestapo Headquarters
The SS Headquarters in Ruins (The former Prinz Albrecht Palais)
The SS Headquarters in Ruins (The former Prinz Albrecht Palais)

The Russians captured Berlin but under the London Protocol of 1944 the site ended up in the American Sector – but only just, because the boundary ran along Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse. The longest stretch of the outer wall still left standing in Berlin still runs along here and has become part of the museum’s outdoor museum space.

The Berlin Wall in 2003
The Berlin Wall in 2003
The Outdoor Museum in 2003
The Outdoor Museum in 2003

By the early 1960s what had been left of the buildings was cleared and left as a wasteland until 1987 when Berlin celebrated its 750th anniversary and re-discovered the site. During excavation work the cellars of the Gestapo headquarters were unearthed and an outdoor museum was created with a roof covering what remained, and illustrated with pictures of events and people of the times.

After lots of deliberation with what to do with this waste land the idea of a permanent museum was suggested, but it took until May 7th 2010 before the suggestion became a reality.

There are three sections to the museum – the outdoor section as mentioned above which runs under the Berlin Wall, the grounds of the entire site with 15 information stations explaining the various points of interest, and an indoor exhibition.

The modern steel and glass construction of the indoor exhibition is in complete contrast to the classical buildings that once stood here. It’s known as the Documentation Centre which explains its function, and the layout inside is light and airy, which I suppose lightens the tone a bit for such a dark subject. Most of the space is used up by boards showing copies of photographs and documents covering the major themes connected with the site and beyond. This is where I took the old black and white pictures of how the site used to be. The pictures taken in 2003 were from my first visit.

The New Documentation Centre
The New Documentation Centre
Inside the Documentation Centre
Inside the Documentation Centre

Entry to the whole museum is free, very central and should be a ‘must see’ on everyone’s visit to Berlin.

If the people of Berlin think that this place should be remembered, then I think we all should too.

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6 thoughts on “The Topography of Terror

  1. Alli Templeton

    Couldn’t agree more. Anything that acts as a reminder of the horrors wrought by the gestapo and the SS has to come to the fore.

    Reply
    1. Malcolm Post author

      Places with a chilling history don’t sit comfortably with everyone, me included, but sometimes it helps us to understand why things happened the way they did and to make sure that they don’t happen again. Thanks for taking a look. It’s much appreciated

      Reply
  2. Don Porsché

    This is a part of Berlin I have never visited, though I certainly intend to. Unfortunately both of my sons have moved away from Berlin by now, so I don’t go there as often as I used to.

    Reply

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