Posted Monday, February 12, 2001

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Sunday 11 February 2001


Germany turns the relics of its Nazi past over to tourism

By Allan Hall in Berlin


BUILDINGS used by the officers at the notorious female concentration camp of Ravensbruck - where Anne Frank died - are being converted into a youth hostel and an educational institute.

Anne FrankThe project is the latest in the past 12 months in which many of the Third Reich's most infamous sites have been transformed into tourism or leisure venues as Germany seeks to draw a line under its past. Germans are queuing up for a glimpse of a time that has been buried beneath layers of guilt, uncertainty and shame.

While Hitler and his legacies will never beat Euro Disney as the holiday destination of choice, there is a quiet but defineable determination within the German psyche to visit the places where the madness was spawned and to understand it.

Ravensbruck, 50 miles north of Berlin, where the teenage diarist Anne Frank died along with as many as 92,000 other female and child inmates including the British SOE agent Violette Szabo, was earmarked for change last month. Eight of the 23 former SS guardhouses will be converted to cater for an estimated 13,000 visitors each year.

The money will come from the European Union, the German Youth Hostel Association and the local state government of Brandenburg. Günter Morsch, the head of the foundation behind the conversion, said he found it fitting for the new role for the buildings in this year of rising neo-Nazi violence in Germany. The aim is to open the accommodation on April 20, 2002, the 57th anniversary of the camp's liberation by the Red Army.

Ravensbruck is but one Nazi site among many that has been or is about to be transformed for "educational tourism". After the war many buildings which represented the monstrosity of National Socialism were destroyed. The Allies had a dual motive for this: to erase the memory of Nazism and to prevent "shrines" developing in the future - an idea that persisted for decades.

Hitler at BerghofThe Berghof [left], Hitler's mountain home in Bavaria, was destroyed in 1945 as was Spandau prison in the late 1980s after the last inmate, Hitler's deputy Rudolf Hess, died. In the past year, however, many other sites of importance in the Third Reich have become tourist magnets.

The German acceptance, and sometime embrace, of its monstrous past is seen as a sign of maturity by historians and academics. Several weeks ago record numbers of German television viewers tuned in to a domestically made documentary on the Holocaust, a programme unthinkable just a few years ago.

Last summer, thousands of people traipsed through a new museum carved in the air-raid tunnels of the Kehlstein, the mountain at Berchtesgaden where Hitler had his summer residence.

Four hundred miles north, 35 miles from the centre of Berlin, a more alfresco pursuit takes place in a wood where once stood the ostentatious hunting lodge of Karinhall, the country seat of Hermann Goering - the Luftwaffe chief and art thief extraordinaire. Amateur treasure hunters rake the ground each weekend for lost artefacts.

Further north, on the Baltic island of Rugen, lie the four miles of seafront flats that Hitler built for his disciples at Prora as the biggest holiday camp in the world. It was never used - holidays were cancelled after the invasion of Poland and the start of the Second World War. Prora has become a tourist attraction in its own right while work begins to turn the flats into fashionable apartments.

In Berlin, the subterranean constructions of the National Socialists now pull in huge crowds. For every foot of building above ground in the German capital, there are three below; secret tunnels and bunkers begun when Hitler came to power in 1933. At Gesundbrunnen in the working-class district of Wedding, a resolute band of weekend enthusiasts opened up an air raid bunker and tunnel complex.


Above ground there are walking tours that take in the architecture of the Third Reich; Goering's Luftwaffe ministry, the sweeping lines of Tempelhof Airport - still one of the largest interior spaces in the world - and the Topography of Terror, a words-and-pictures exhibition set against the ruins of the Gestapo building.

Every day thousands of people visit the former secret police headquarters at 8, Prinz Albrecht Strasse, once the most feared address in Europe, or travel south to the beautiful lake at Wannsee [Haus am Wannsee, right; click for Wannsee conference index] where Hitler's Final Mare's nestSolution for the extermination of the Jews was decided. Along the Baltic coastline, the government is investing £3 million in a new museum and tourist centre at the site of the V1 and V2 rocket launch pads.

Related items on this website:

 Anne Frank index (she died of typhus at Bergen Belsen, not Ravensbruck)
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