Berlin’s esteemed Humboldt University combines with the first independent
State Opera House and the azure dome of St. Hedwig’s Cathedral to frame the
atmospheric square known as Bebelplatz, which bore witness to a shocking
Nazi attempt to ‘cleanse’ literature. The Nazis made their dark statement
of book-burning and authoritarianism on May 10th 1933 amid the shadows of
these iconic structures. In addition to a visit being worthwhile purely for stunning, sandy-coloured architecture and central location, gracing Mitte’s prestigious Unter den Linden, the square endeavours to vindicate its history through an intriguing memorial from 1995 by Micha Ullman.
Within Bebelplatz’s cobbles, a small, square window reveals a curious site:
an empty, underground library. This understated commemoration is of the
book burning when 20,000+ books taken from the adjacent University
library were burned, under orders from Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbles,
for reasons such as content and author’s ethnicity or political/sexual orientation. Its floor-to-ceiling, simple shelves have space for every book burnt. The monument cuts an eerie image, best seen in dusky conditions to minimise reflection on its surface, but also to emphasise dramatic effect if you are so inclined!
Although not as overtly dramatic or eye-catching as many other holocaustrelated memorials, this is a striking reminder of the intolerance and barbarity that characterized Nazi regimes. Plaques nearby support the memorial’s relevance, bearing the words: ‘Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen’ (where one burns books, one ultimately burns people), haunting lines by German-Jewish author, Heinrich Heine. Crossing Unter den Linden, the commemoration is more interactive. Prestigious Humboldt University has gained its respected reputation for producing the masterful minds of 29 Nobel Prize winners but furthermore through its celebrated daily book market. The lure of bustling stalls is irresistible, making a visit essential. Hundreds of books rest on dozens of tables, waiting for prospective readers: works by Marx, Freud and even Mickey Mouse are among the finds you will unearth here. It is a place where the students, the bookish and those just keen to explore can unite. It is plausible to forget what the book market stands to remember, and that a burning pyre rose above what is now a chic, artistic tribute. Yet Bebelplatz’s monument and stalls are evidence that commemoration need not be a lavish statue, rather, the square embraces minimalistic design and purchasing books encourages you to remember in a conscious and lasting way.
(A.Stanton, J.Hyndman, S.Gleeson)