Suzanne Fields

BERLIN -- The sun shines bright on an unusually warm day for early June. Men, women and children in t-shirts arrayed in black, red and gold, the national colors, celebrate the German national soccer team playing for the World Cup in South Africa.

A visitor, untutored in the rules of the game, can tell from the spontaneous roars from all over the city that the game is going well. Diners at outdoor cafes watch television screens while nibbling a wurst and sipping a beer. Children dart between tables with ice cream cones, squealing with laughter, delighted to be staying up late even though there's school the next day. There's a distinct full-throated roar -- it seems to come from everywhere -- every time Germany scores a goal. There are four such roars as the Australians are shut out, 4 to 0.

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Berlin 2010 easily escapes from its history into the pleasure of the competitive moment. But in this very cosmopolitan of European cities, there are abundant reminders of a different kind of German experience, when very different collective feelings prevailed.

A new museum puts these reminders of the Third Reich on exhibit, recalling the terror that was once the operating force in Berlin. The most ominous reminder of all, the headquarters of Hitler's Gestapo, which was bombed during Word War II and languished in ruins until it was destroyed in 1956, is the site of the "Topography of Terror."

Intentionally modest in its architecture, the museum is ambitious in its aims to document Nazi crimes that took place here. Between 1933 and 1945, the building at Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse (now Neiderkirchnerstrasse) became the Nazi apparatus for terror, torture and murder. The emphasis of the museum is on the "perpetrators" of evil rather than on their victims. Memorials to the victims proliferate throughout the city.

The dominant photographs in the Topo (as the museum is called by those who work there) give the perpetrators, in the words of Andreas Nachama, the museum executive director, "a concrete face, stripping them of anonymity and mythology." The photographs show them in the offices where they drew up the plans and the orders for state murder.


Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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