The year 2018 was the most successful in the bunker and one of the most successful in the publishing house. One year after the opening of the documentary „Hitler – how could it happen“ we already welcomed 200,000 visitors – a family from Denmark. Sales at the publishing house rose above all because the book „Why I Became a Nazi/Warum ich Nazi wurde“ (German only) met with broad interest. Published in September 2018, the fifth edition will go into print in January 2019.
The important historian Götz Aly describes it in the national daily newspaper Süddeutsche of 28 December as his most important book of 2018: „The often over-specialised studies of our contemporary historians are directed at a self-sufficient inner circle. The privately financed work of the Berlin author Wieland Giebel … He disapproves of the fashionable but inexplicable identification with the victims of Nazi rule and instead explores these central questions: Why did so many German Hitler follow? Why did they wage a monstrous racial war? Why did they commit or tolerate the millions of murders of innocent people?“
The appreciation of the visitors is expressed in conversations with the employees, in the entries in the guest book and on the evaluation portals.
The visit of Ruth S. from Israel in July 2018 could be seen as exemplary.
She approached us and noted how much responsibility we had taken on. We thanked her politely because that happens quite often. But then she continued that this bunker was an authentic historical place, unlike the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, the USHMM, and unlike Yad Vashem.
Of course we knew this because we know both institutions well, but we have never really become aware of it.
In Yad Vashem an Orthodox Jew would have pointed out to her that she should definitely visit us when she was in Berlin. She thought: oh, another museum. After her visit to the bunker she was astonished above all that we, as a non-governmental and non-subsidized institution, take on this responsibility, that is, we do not live from our fight against nationalism and anti-Semitism as employees like the employees of the Jewish Museum or the Topography. Of course, we are also aware of this, but no visitor has ever expressed it that way before. Of course, our employees are paid. And then, after seeing the documentation, R.S. stated: What we radiate is action, competence, authority and clear positioning.
Competence and authority are constantly being raised on two levels: We are constantly improving the qualifications of our employees. Anyone who decides to work in the bunker knows from the outset that their own qualification in our field is one of the essential requirements. Visitors notice this. They ask the staff daily about the contents of the documentation. This creates self-confidence among the service staff. Visitor orientation is the unchanging focus of our commitment.
Berlin Story Verlag/Publishing house creates competence and authority on a different level. The intensive examination of questions about National Socialism strengthens our knowledge, not only through the books, but also through discussions with the authors. With Hitler-Itinerary, Hitler Day by Day by Harald Sandner, the publishing house publishes the most comprehensive book on Hitler ever, a kind of diary of the dictator. This work of 2,432 pages will be published in 2019 in English for the world market.
The connection between the documentary „Hitler – how could it happen“ in the Berlin Story Bunker and the Berlin Story Verlag becomes even closer. Documentation and scholarly processing is at least here a unique selling point and, as R.S. from Israel said, otherwise only available in the USHMM and Yad Vashem.
„Clear positioning“ was R.S.’s further comment. There’s no room for manoeuvre for us. During discussions this year with educators, we were informed that our documentation does not leave the visitor the choice as it should be according to the „Beutelsbach Consensus“ of the state memorial sites. After that, the visitor should not be emotionalized and should be able to form his or her own opinion.
But we are not discussing whether there might have been anything good about the crimes of Hitler and the National Socialists. We do not want visitors to be given pros and cons. Our position on these crimes is so absolutely clear that we will not engage in such pseudo-enlightenment discussions. However, these discussions have helped us to make our position clearer without making any compromises.
If it is not about German (public-law) educators, the statements on the documentation „Hitler – how could it happen“ look quite different:
„I was very impressed and moved. An extremely effective reminder of how we should combat any form of antisemitism, racism and xenophobia.“
This is the opinion of Israel’s ambassador to Germany, Jeremy Issacharoff – after a three-hour visit together with his wife. His predecessor as Ambassador, Yakov Hadas-Handelsman, also paid us a three-hour visit with his family.
„Impressed and moved“ are the two poles, namely the emphatic account of why it could happen and the emotional level of what racism and nationalism actually mean: degradation, exclusion, genocide. The horror of National Socialism is our theme, how it came about and why so many Germans showed „loyalty to the Führer“ until the very last moment.
Jewish visitors are always surprised at how we present history. Raphi Bloom on 11 July 2018:
Our second day saw us start by visiting the Berlin Bunker. This is the one remaining air raid shelter still standing in Berlin and houses a fascinating and informative exhibition about Hitler, his childhood, early adult years and rise to power. It then chronicles how the Nazis slowly but surely enhanced their grip on power, used the emerging media as it was at the time to galvanise the people, and started to plan for the „final solution“. It then greatly details the Second World War, the Nazi’s victories and losses and the Holocaust. This was one the best exhibitions I have ever been to and taught me much I did not know about Hitler’s family, childhood, failing early adult life and the Nazi Party. The exhibition has received international acclaim from all quarters and was designed by Wieland Giebel & Enno Lenze. We spent 3 hours in the Berlin Bunker and this is a MUST SEE for anyone going to Berlin.
We were also encouraged by the visits of the mayor of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, Monika Herrmann, „one of the most important places in Berlin“. The bunker is located in her district of Berlin.
Berlin’s Senator of Culture has been with us several times, in small and large groups.
With his first visit Klaus Lederer wanted to declare his solidarity against the numerous (death) threats against Enno Lenze, here in Enno’s small hate-parade.
Afterwards he devoted several hours to the documentation – „thank you for your tireless efforts against right-wing ideas„.
Peer Steinbrück, former Federal Minister of Finance, took several hours to watch bunker and documentation with us. As a former regular customer of the bookshop Berlin Story Unter den Linden (until the end of 2016) he was now surprised „how much work you put into the bunker and how much money you took into your hands. The place makes you humble. This is a highly interesting account of contemporary history.“
In this first full year, it also became clear how our visitors are made up. 95 percent are individual visitors, i.e. no school classes or groups. Of these, 70 percent are between 25 and 35 years old, and the proportion of young women is surprisingly high. They come in pairs or in small groups. They celebrate hen parties in the evening and visit the Hitler documentary beforehand. More than half of the visitors come from other countries, i.e. preferably from destinations serving Easyjet, Ryanair and Co., but also from countries outside Europe. Since Scoot started flying, we have had significantly more visitors from Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines. There are no scientifically accurate statistics. But we know our visitors very well through numerous conversations every day and are aware of changes.
Jane arrived 21 November 2018 with Scoot:
„It was the best museum this trip! It was a very detailed recount of Hitler, from his birth to his participation in WWI and then him leading WWII, his extremism thoughts and eventually his death. With lots of photos, documents and even video clips and never heard before stories/information about him. Never knew he was such a great painter and that his charm when we spoke was due to his love for theatre, that of Richard Wagner’s.
Some never before seen photos on display was heartwrenching, like the one with a naked woman, carrying her naked toddler, amongst a group of women walking towards a mass grave where I suppose they were eventually killed and buried. The whole ideology of conquering the world, the holocaust and gas chambers being an efficient way of mass killing, is just so warped. Really, why? Why Hitler? How could this happen? And I think walking thru this bunker has this chilling effect as one walks thru the exhibit.
We didn’t expect a strong group of visitors, the military. For soldiers and for the management level, the questions are of importance, as it was in the National Socialist era, how generals and soldiers of the Wehrmacht behaved, where the limits of obedience lie, where own decisions are necessary. All these questions are addressed in the documentation: Did I have to participate? What happened to those who did not want to take part in the hunt for and murder of Jews? Soldiers came from Germany, from other NATO countries, the NATO task forces and especially many from Great Britain – together with Antony Beevor, the most important military historian. In the coming year we will be working on a seminar lasting several days on the battle for the Anhalter railway station – city warfare is still a topic.
Former General Wolfgang Schneiderhan thanks the documentary in the bunker for being deeply impressive. It shows how strongly the convincing message against racism, nationalism and xenophobia depends on individuals and their commitment.
There have been some additions to the documentation this year: the plaques about the former mayor of Kreuzberg, Dr. Herz, chased out of office by the Nazis; the plaque about the persecution of homosexuals; the plaque about the Anhalter Bahnhof as deportation station; and finally the plaque in the third Holocaust room about Ohrdruf, the concentration camp near Weimar. The US army first saw the half charred bodies there, the skeletons, as if on a stake over railway sleepers. General Eisenhower stands stunned in front of them. The US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington begins with this photo.
Other topic: We have extended the area 1, the conspiracy theories. There you can also see the Reichsflugscheibe, in front of which Hitler stands in a white captain’s uniform to disappear with Blondi to the back of the moon.
The SWR radio station has taken up the topic and – also with us – produced a multi-part radio podcast, „File 88“, in which the unspeakable conspiracy theories are taken for a ride, which continue to haunt and are spread by History Chanel through an eight-part series of the greatest bullshit.
We have done a lot of work on visitor orientation. We talk to the visitors and know pretty well who is visiting us. Here is an example of a Sunday shift on 24 June 2018: I ask a very young couple how they know that the Hitler documentary exists. „Uhh, we were actually going to the creepy cabinet.“ – „And were you here four hours?“ – „Yes, she has to go home now…“
I want to ask five younger Dublin Indians what it was like for them and get the answer „We give you a very good review on Google.“
A pair of 50+ goes past the cash register to the exit. You can’t read anything from their faces. I go after them and ask the open question „How was it for you?
„Fantastic. It was unbearable. You can’t smile when you get out. We need to get some air after three hours. At the hotel they wanted to sell us something else. We are happy to have come here.“ They’re from New York.
Then visitors see me in the courtyard in front of the bunker and ask, „Are you the Führer (leader/guide)?“ I think, do I look like that now?
To help visitors find their way around the 2,500 square metre area of the bunker, with more than 330 content panels on three floors, we are offering an audio guide in DE, EN, ES, IT and FR for 1.50 euros. It helps the visitors to keep an overview, it accelerates something and – above all – it opens up an additional level in the sense of political education, namely the curator’s narrative, enriched again and again by very personal impressions and remarks that help to identify with the project. Political education – this is recognized by the Landeszentrale für politische Bildung and the Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung. This year they included us on their recommendation lists on the Internet.
A small book about the history of the bunker has been published, about the Berlin Story Museum, the documentation „Hitler – how could it happen“ as well as about the „Making of …“ of the documentation. It is intended to make our work transparent. There will be a catalogue for the documentation in 2019 [but], because there is so much demand.
The Berlin Story Museum, with which everything began many years ago, has gained in importance since the „Story of Berlin“ at Kudamm was closed at the end of 2018. If the Märkisches Museum soon closes for three years due to reconstruction, it will be the only museum on Berlin’s history. Even today, it is only in this museum that the history of Berlin is presented chronologically from the very beginning until today. „Love of freedom – energy and passion – here everyone has his chance“ are the leitmotifs.
„Everyone has his chance here“ was also our first thought when 80 visitors from the tax office came to the door in June.
With energy and passion we led them through the bunker and at the end could see that they respected our love of freedom.
And because this review of the year appears at Christmas, the question arises: will anyone ever come to the bunker at Christmas? Is Hitler also a topic for people at Christmas? On Christmas Eve this year, it was full of interested visitors during the entire opening hours from 10 a.m. (queue in front of the bunker door) to 7 p.m. – here are the photos.