A partial replica of Hitler's Führerbunker can be toured in Berlin, only a mile from the original 3,000-square-foot bunker where Hitler, Eva Braun, and the Goebbels family offed themselves as the Russians advanced and the realization set in that their regime had fallen. Though the original bunker has been mostly destroyed and sits beneath a parking lot, plenty of tourists have shown interest in seeing the inside of the Führerbunker.
The exhibit's opening was met with critics saying that the faux bunker glorified and humanized Hitler. This is in line with how much of the world feels about portraying Hitler; auction houses like Sotheby's won't even deal in Nazi relics, and movies about Hitler have been met with vitriol.
But those running the exhibit see things differently, saying that a holistic and truthful picture of World War II as a whole means seeing Hitler as more than a supervillain, particularly as many German children don't get the true story of Hitler's rise. Some tour guides have had to tell students that Hitler was the one killing the Jews, not vice versa. Accordingly, the last 10 years have seen more representations of Hitler — and most importantly the German people's culpability — in response to rising German nationalism.
As one of the exhibit's curators said, the people put Hitler into power — he didn't seize it. The German people were all too ready to enable Hitler's rise to power.
Wieland Giebel, the exhibit's curator, has faced heat for the replica of the bunker, but he stands by it. Giebel's grandfathers make it personal for him, as one hid a Jew and the other was a part of a firing squad. Thus, Giebels continues to defend the exhibit, saying that he has questioned how someone — or something — like Hitler could happen in post-WWI Germany.
Giebels explained he wants the exhibit to show how a combination of the aftermath of the Treaty of Versailles, discrimination against Jewish people in Germany and Europe as a whole, and the fact that some Germans would benefit from exterminating the Jews all led to Hitler's rise to power.
Enno Lenze, one of the exhibit's organizers, resists the idea that the bunker replica is in any way glorifying Hitler or otherwise giving history a lobotomy. According to Lenzo, the German people have always been afraid that any personal Hitler exhibit makes someone into an extremist.
People start to panic when it involves Hitler. It’s sometimes hard to understand. We’ve got to stop panicking and have enough faith to look into all these aspects. I think it’s important to look at the end of Hitler to help understand how it all happened and how democracy got shunted aside.
This isn't the first time that humanizing Hitler has struck a chord with Germans, Jews, and the world at large. In 2004, the movie Downfall took a decidedly personal look at Hitler, showing him as more of a man than the leader of the Third Reich. The movie included scenes with Hitler and his beloved dog, Blondi, and his relationships with his staff. Seeing Hitler be kind is wildly uncomfortable for many. It challenges the accepted truth that Hitler was evil incarnate, the man solely responsible for the Holocaust.
In this way, the bunker does the same thing — showing where he slept, worked, and lived, giving a personal side to the man who was also giving orders to exterminate an entire group of people.
The bunker replica is a privately funded endeavor, and state-funded exhibits and museums aren't thrilled with it. The Topography of Terror, which sounds more like a horror show than a museum, is one such detractor, even calling the exhibit "Disneyland." Wieland Giebel, who curated the exhibit, has been called "Hitler Disney," even though the exhibit and replica are meant to document Hitler's victims and the horrors he committed.
But, as board member and guide of the museum, Enno Lenze, explained, "A common question we get is why the Jews funded Hitler even though he was against them. Another common question is is who drove Nazis into the bunkers to gas them. Those questions came from teachers." Lenze says that he wants to raise awareness about the Third Reich, not sensationalize it.